NEW ORLEANS -- Post-Katrina federal funds have allowed thousands of homeowners to raise their homes to avoid future flooding. But for some, elevating can lead to a different kind of razing.
Last weekend, the floor fell out of a Marrero home, and now others say the same contractor damaged their properties, with little resolution.
They are claims the contractor denies.
“We used to have a 2,300 square foot brick house,” said Matthew Defelice.
He and his wife Kori hired contractor Ernest Blackwell and his company, Professional Shoring Elevations, to elevate their Houma home.
After the project went wrong, the Defelice’s now only have an empty lot where their house once stood.
“He didn't put no beams underneath. He put jacks straight to the slab and they went straight through the concrete,” Defelice said about preliminary work done to elevate his home in 2010.
“If I drop the jacks back down, the whole house will go back together, then I can just separate the concrete from it, build a new floor and lift it up. I was like it's not Leggos, man. It's not gonna happen like that,” Defelice said he told Blackwell.
Blackwell told WWL-TV on the phone Monday, “The homeowner didn't want to do a slab separation. She wanted to claim the insurance and get out of there."
Terrebonne Parish Chief Building Official Mike Wich said he's raised about six or seven homes, and "every single one of them" have had issues.
"Not necessarily dropped and totaled like this one, but we've always had issues with getting him to finish the jobs," Wich said.
Wich and his staff of building inspectors said they weren't surprised to hear about the floor falling out of another home Blackwell worked on in Marrero over the weekend. Blackwell denies that the holes he dug to begin elevating the home in December caused the walls of the Marrero home to crack, and the floor to fall in after it sat there for weeks.
WWL-TV Reporter Katie Moore asked Blackwell, “So, you're saying that if you all hadn't done any work on the house, that the floor would've fallen out anyway?"
Blackwell responded, saying, "I'm not saying that. It was already sinking down.”
Sunday afternoon, Blackwell said he stabilized the home with support beams and that the second story is ready to be raised with a new foundation built underneath it.
Other homeowners are still waiting, including Christine Constant in Theriot.
“Two weeks ago, they came to drive some pilnigs because he said he wanted to be more safe than sorry and drive some pilings under the house and they drove a hole through my cement,” Constant said.
Blackwell since patched the hole, but once again, Constant said they didn't use support beams.
“Put the beam up against the slab and push up against the beam. They don't do that. They push up up on the slab of the house,” she said.
Both of Blackwell's companies, Professional Shoring Elevations and Professional Remodeling Specialists, have "A" ratings with the Better Business Bureau and he said he's completed many jobs with satisfied customers.
The La. State Licensing Board for Contractors did fine him $6,000 last May and put him on probation for six months for operating without a license and for hiring unlicensed subcontractors.
He has since gotten licensed and is back on the state's list of approved contractors for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
In fact, he has 35 more projects underway worth more than $2 million in grant funds. That doesn’t include any projects he’s working on using parish hazard mitigation funds, like the one in Marrero.
The State Division of Administration oversees the grant program. A spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on individual cases, citing privacy concerns, but she did say the program has received two complaints about the eight projects Blackwell has completed so far.
The State Licensing Board for Contractors has not yet gotten back to us to answer our request for information about complaints they have received about Blackwell or his companies. Jefferson Parish Code Enforcement officials said Monday they did report the situation with the Marrero house to the licensing board.