Bell Island resident Fred Parsons says he can’t sleep at night ever since Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. (NLHC) told him he owes the $724.98 for a wheelchair ramp he built onto his house.
Conception Bay East-Bell Island MHA David Brazil says he’s been speaking with Parsons and NLHC about the ramp, and he’s working to get the issue resolved. Still, Brazil says the situation suggests a need for improved communication between NLHC and their clients.
Parsons’ wife has been using a wheelchair for 12 years. In May 2017, her occupational therapist recommended a new ramp for the house to help with accessibility.
“There has to be a little bit more education…as to exactly what the parameters are, so people don’t misinterpret what they can do. These clients and these citizens get on the hook for monies that they can’t afford to pay as a result, and/or then their credit with the suppliers gets diminished.”
MHA David Brazil
The funds for the ramp came from NLHC’s Home Modification Program (HMP). According to the NLHC’s website, the HMP provides forgivable grants up to $7,500 to homeowners with low-to-moderate income requiring accessibility modifications to their homes.
Parsons was approved for up to $5,000 to build the ramp, of which he used $4,997.98. Parsons was under the understanding that he should use as close to the $5,000 grant as possible.
“The social services said to me when they came to my place in May (that) I was supposed to spend all the money for my ramp because I’m not getting no one to do it,” he said, adding he built the ramp himself using supplies from Clarke & Clarke Home Hardware on Bell Island.
However, while home modification clients are given a maximum amount they can spend as a grant, the money spent must fall under a given scope of work.
NLHC spokeswoman Jenny Bowring won’t comment on this specific case, but said clients are provided with a detailed scope of work and estimated costs for their project.
“Any work completed that is not listed and or approved under the scope of work is not eligible for payment,” she wrote in an emailed statement to The Telegram. “Anything over and above the scope of work that is not approved would be the responsibility of the client.”
Money not covered owed to retail outlet
NLHC reimbursed Clarke & Clarke Home Hardware for $4, 273, so Parsons is left with a $724.98 bill at the store.
According to Parsons and Brazil, the funds in question were used to purchase handrails and lattice. Regarding the handrails, Brazil says he was told by NLHC that they were expecting Parsons to install one continuous handrail.
“Well nobody told him that,” said Brazil. “So, he went out and bought the only thing that was available on Bell Island, which after looking at it, and from his perspective, meets his needs.”
“I think communication is a big one,” said Brazil. “No doubt it’s all left to interpretation. If you’re a contractor, or you’re a project engineer, your understanding when you say something might be different than a layperson’s understanding.”
Lattice installed as a safety feature
As for the lattice used along the sides of the ramp, Parsons says he used that to keep children from playing under the ramp. Brazil adds that the lattice could help prevent slipping off the ramp. However, according to Brazil and Parsons, NLHC told them the lattice serves an aesthetic function and therefore would not fall under the scope of work.
In talks with NLHC, Brazil says he understands its point about the lattice and Parsons will accept paying for that portion of the bill, but the handrails are there for safety and should be covered.
Even more, Parsons claims an inspector told him he needed to install handrails, but after they were installed, another NLHC employee told him that they would not be covered under the grant.
Brazil brought these concerns to staff at NLHC and asked them to reimburse the costs of the handrails.
“I’ve gone to one level, and at one level of Housing, they were supportive. They took it to the next level, who turned it down. I’ve since gone to another level, and stated our case and explained why, and they’re going to take it, and review it again, and see.
“These handrails are there, and they’re there for safety reasons. They’re not there for any aesthetic reasons, so why would they not adopt that? And that’s all we’re asking for,” said Brazil.
Brazil expects to hear back from NLHC sometime this week, and if the issue is not resolved at that level, he will take it up with Minister Lisa Dempster, who is responsible for NLHC.
“There has to be a little bit more education…as to exactly what the parameters are, so people don’t misinterpret what they can do,” said Brazil. “These clients and these citizens get on the hook for monies that they can’t afford to pay as a result, and/or then their credit with the suppliers gets diminished.
“I think it’s an easy fix – better understanding, better communications up front, (and) more things in writing that’s clearly spelled out as to what can be done.”
Brazil also suggests having more inspectors on-site more often when people are doing work on their homes, in an effort to ensure better and more timely communication, and also prevent people from misunderstanding how exactly they are supposed to spend the grant money.
Meanwhile, Parsons says he’s having nightmares about what will happen if he has to pay this bill, which he says he can’t afford.
“I got enough worry with my wife, then they’re doing this to me… I’m going to go cracked yet if they don’t straighten this up. I’m there thinking about it all day. If they don’t … give me my money that they owe me for Clarke & Clarke’s, what’s going to happen to me? I’m thinking about it that much, I’ll drive myself mad.”