Paralyzed Veteran Denied Home Permit

A homeowners association in Augusta, Georgia is coming under fire after denying Homes For Our Troops a permit to build a house for a paralyzed African-American veteran.

A homeowners association in Augusta, Georgia is coming under fire after denying Homes For Our Troops a permit to build a house for a paralyzed African-American veteran.

The Augusta Chronicle (“Group looks at other sites for paralyzed vet’s home“):

Homes for Our Troops formally announced at a press conference today they would not build a home for paralyzed veteran Sean Gittens at the Knob Hill subdivision in Evans.

Standing next to the Gittens family at the site where the home would have been built over the weekend, the group’s founder, John Gonsalves, said he was sad to be looking at an empty lot instead. Homes for Our Troops has built homes free of charge for over 100 severely disabled veterans nationwide. Gonsalves said it’s the first time a build has been blocked by a homeowners association. “We know that this is no way is a reflection on the community of Knob Hill and the people that live in here … We do this all over the country and we know that the American people are behind it,” Gonsalves said.

[…]

The association had blocked construction of the Gittens home after months of negotiations because it believed the house would lower neighboring property values. Homes for Our Troops said it would continue to work to get a design approved, but ultimately left the decision up to the Gittens family, which currently rents a home in the subdivision.

“I didn’t want to put any kind of pressure on the family to think that because we had already bought this lot, that this was the end game, that it had to be here,” Gonsalves said. “I couldn’t live with my own conscience if I did that … they need to feel fine with where it is that we are going to build this home.”

Sharon Gittens, Sean’s wife, told news media Monday the family decided not to stay in Knob Hill because they did not feel they would be welcome. At the press conference, she said was ready to put the situation behind her and thanked neighbors who had supported her family. She asked them to encourage the association to embrace the veterans and not worry so much about property values.

Not surprisingly, the HOA is coming under fire in the discussion board, getting called “Snob Hill” and accused of racism. VodkaPundit’s Stephen Green adds, “I don’t know what HOA is behind blocking construction, but I do know they ought to be ashamed.”

It’s hard not to be sympathetic with the plight of SFC Gittens, a 20-year Army veteran who sacrificed much in the service of his country. According to an earlier Chronicle story (“Gittens family says home won’t be in Knob Hill“) “He was deployed three times, first during Desert Storm, then after the September 11 attacks. The last time, he volunteered to go back to Iraq in 2007 and received concussive head injuries from an IED explosion. After he returned, he suffered a brain aneurysm and a stroke as a result of his injuries.” Indeed, it’s a shame that he’s got to rely on charity to get a home built; you’d think the taxpayers could pony up under the circumstances. It’s the least we can do.

The same report offers a mixed account of the HOA’s actions:

The association, which had been negotiating with the builder for several months, had wanted a larger house to better fit in with the neighborhood. It also wanted a detailed landscaping and irrigation plan. Homes for Our Troops, however, said the association at first approved the design and then reversed that decision.

[…]

Homes for Our Troops met the minimum square footage recommendation and agreed to alter the siding from vinyl to the required brick, she said. Gittens said it was not so much her neighbors as it was the board who made her feel unwelcome.

“I feel if I live in this neighborhood, I’m going to have to deal with them at some point, and I know that they don’t welcome us with open arms,” she said.

Hearing of Gittens’ decision, Knob Hill association President Rick Trump said, “It’s very disappointing because we’d love to have the family in this neighborhood.”

The association had attempted further design negotiations with Homes for Our Troops during the weekend. Trump said a board member told him the organization would not have been able to build anyway, because Columbia County had not approved an erosion control plan. The county, however, disputed that assertion. An erosion control plan isn’t needed unless a house is being built within 200 feet of state waters, said George Eastman, the manager of the county’s Development Services Division. The site did fail an erosion control inspection, but that is not uncommon and the needed corrections are minor, he said.

An earlier report (“Knob Hill Reverses Decision to Allow Adaptive Home for Veteran“) by News Channel 6 sheds additional light on the controversy.

The written approval came from Knob Hill BOD President Rick Trump on June 2nd. Late last week, a lawyer for the POA served the contractors on site with a cease and desist letter to stop the preparation of the build site. Facing strong opposition from the Property Owners Association, the Knob Hill Board of Directors and the Property Owners Association met again on June 20th, just four days before the planned kickoff of the home build.

Homes for Our Troops has now been told that it must begin anew the entire approval process and that the house needs to be at least 3,400-square-feet and multi-level to even be considered.

“Despite our working closely with the Knob Hill Property Owners Association over the past four months, we find ourselves in an untenable situation,” said Homes for Our Troops Founder John Gonsalves. “We cannot afford to add 700-square-feet to the house, particularly under our special adaptive plans. And our experience in building over 100 homes dictates that severely injured veterans need a specially adapted single level home. Frankly, this late action begun by the Knob Hill Property Owners means we must suspend working on the home. The Knob Hill Property Owners Association has now assured that SFC Gittens and his family will not be able to have the home they so desperately need. We have done everything in our power to try to resolve this situation, but it appears that the community is not willing to accept this home, and SFC Gittens and his family into the community.”

HOAs exist to protect property owners and I’ve got no real heartburn if they’re simply holding Homes for Our Troops to the charter. A community of 4000 square foot brick homes with three car garages and substantial landscaping doesn’t want someone building a 2000 square foot house with vinyl siding, no garage, and no landscaping–even if it’s going to be occupied by a disabled veteran. There are plenty of other places to build houses like that.

In this case, it’s not quite that clear cut. Homes for Our Troops was building a 2700-square-foot home, which the HOA approved before demanding that it be expanded to 3400-square-feet. More importantly, they approved a single-level home and then demanded a two-level home–doable but much more expensive for someone in a wheelchair, since it would presumably require some sort of chairlift for the stairs and other unusual accommodations.

Since the HOA initially approved the design and then recanted, something doesn’t add up. Similarly, citing an erosion inspection as the cause of the holdup when the county says it’s routine and an easy fix is fishy.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    Homeowner’s Associations are evil, and their boards dominated by the types of people for whom “community” is a dirty word. All they give a shit about is image and property values.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Alex Knapp: Hell, I care about image and property value. If I spend a million dollars on a house, I want some protection that my neighbor doesn’t turn his front yard into a trailer park.

    On the other hand, HOAs often get into chickenshit things like regulating the precise design of your mailbox and the shade of beige you’re allowed to paint your garage. It can get overboard, fast.

  3. DMan says:

    I’d hope this media coverage would do more to bring down property values of that community than anything else. Sadly, I imagine discrimination like this is more of a feature than a bug to many.

  4. DMan says:

    If I spend a million dollars on a house, I want some protection that my neighbor doesn’t turn his front yard into a trailer park.

    Maybe purchase his yard and rent it to him with stipulations? Free market solution! Everybody’s got a price…

  5. James Joyner says:

    @DMan: Er, an HOA is a free market solution. They’re private compacts among the homeowners, not governmental regulations. Granted, they ultimately depend on the state for enforcement via the courts. But all contracts do.

  6. DMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    I understand your point that free markets are allowed to discriminate, I’m just saying it’s not always best. At least we’re pointing out the discrimination, which is progress.

  7. JKB says:

    Where are the warmists protesting the requirement for such a large, energy-eating home?

    But the new stipulations do sound like a ploy to raise the cost and prevent the home from being built. The group should put a high price on the lot and let it sit for a decade or so overgrown. Or sow it with poison ivy.

  8. James Joyner says:

    @DMan: Certain classes of discrimination — on the basis of race, gender, or physical handicap — are invidious and suspect. But “discrimination” on matters of taste aren’t.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for homeowners in a subdivision to band together and decide that everyone should have to meet minimum construction and landscaping standards and exclude homes that don’t fit. Indeed, these sometimes discriminate up–precluding the building of “McMansions” that would be out of character with the neighborhood.

  9. Since the HOA initially approved the design and then recanted, something doesn’t add up. Similarly, citing an erosion inspection as the cause of the holdup when the county says it’s routine and an easy fix is fishy.

    Who’s the HOA president? Karl Lindner?

  10. sam says:

    “HOAs exist to protect property owners”

    As near to real Nazis as you are ever likely to get. I told our last real estate agent to skip any houses that come under HOAs.

    HOAs often get into chickenshit things like regulating the precise design of your mailbox and the shade of beige you’re allowed to paint your garage. It can get overboard, fast.

    And that’s putting it mildly.

  11. DMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not saying I’ve made up my mind on this one way or another, but to what extent is wealth discrimination okay? Obviously you shouldn’t have to sell something to someone who can’t afford it. But should you be allowed to prevent a poor person from buying a product because you demand they make certain extensions on that product or must purchase additional products that they cannot afford? If this is extended throughout the country, does this inhibit class mobility? I’m curious to your opinion on wealth discrimination and if there’s a reasonable extent in which it’s okay, or if it’s always okay.

  12. Ben says:

    This is a touchy subject because it involves a paralyzed veteran, but I honestly can’t totally blame the HOA here. But I don’t see how the hell they ever got a vinyl-sided ranch approved in the first place, if the rest of the development are 3k sq-ft brick colonials with a ton of landscaping. Because that really WOULD screw with property values, at least to the houses that were on the same block as the ranch

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I live deep in the woods. Hell, you can not see my house from the road.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for homeowners in a subdivision to band together **government** and to decide that everyone should have to meet minimum construction and landscaping standards and exclude homes that don’t fit.

    Fixed that for you James. I will NEVER understand why it is ok, in a libertarians mind, for a private individual or organization to discriminate on the basis of taste in color schemes but not OK for gov’t to enforce building codes related to earthquakes.

    Just sayin’….

  14. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Libertarians generally support private individuals making contracts for mutual benefit but are leery of government’s coercive power. Government is, after all, much more powerful than the state. Further, while I can buy a house somewhere other than this HOA–and, indeed, have–I can’t escape government as easily.

    In terms of building codes to enforce public safety, I tend to support them. The days of caveat emptor are over, as we’re too specialized and disaggregated to make those decisions for ourselves–not to mention negative externalities. I do frequently question the marginal utility of additional regulation, thinking the cost exceeds the benefit, but not the general notion that society can make rules.

    In terms of HOA-like regulations, I generally think government has no role in that sort of thing.Even there, though, I’m reasonably amenable to such things as “historical landmarks” and “historical districts” being designated with some regulation on the aesthetics, construction materials permissible, and so on. My only counter-arguments here have to do with “how historical?” and issues of takings (i.e., if you’re going to designate my house historical and issue commensurate demands, then I should be compensated for sacrificing for this community-imposed requirement).

  15. James Joyner says:

    @DMan: HOA subdivisions are small and typically planned according to an aesthetic concept. There are tons and tons of them that are geared toward “starter homes.” Communities with apartment buildings, condominiums, and can also have associations, although it’s less common. But I’ve lived in a vinyl-sided townhouse community where they tightly regulated such things as the location of satellite dishes. I found it annoying but, clearly, a lot of people like to live that way.

    The HOA that governs my community literally has authority over only my street and the two cul de sacs at either end; houses behind me and clearly visible from my back yard are not covered. The local government actually required us to form one, principally to fund maintenance of a vacant lot adjacent to my property that serves as a drainage area. But we do have minimal regulations on paint colors (we’re limited to the Colonial Williamsburg pallet), outdoor lighting fixtures, and fences.

  16. alanmt says:

    “HOAs exist to protect property owners”

    This just feels dirty and Unamerican. Protect them from what? Exactly what kind of erosion was the HOA really concerned about here?

  17. sirildo reyes says:

    The man was a Sargeant First Class E-7 rank. They dont give rank like that away, he was a leader of men at least 50 in a platoon. A SFC has to uphold the highest standard in himself for his men to respect and follow him. I am sure that standard does not leave a soldier once he leaves the service to his country. He gave his health, life, and well being to his country. These people should consider this.

    Sirildo Reyes former Corporal USMC