ADA — Brittany Melton sits in her wheelchair in her pink and purple bedroom, watching “Blue’s Clues” as her stepbrother and sister sit nearby doing their homework.
She’s enjoying time spent in an empty bedroom she might never sleep in, only there because her parents are in the dining room for an interview.
Brittany’s mother, Amy Melton, wanted to build a dream home for her family, in hopes that the house would be fully accessible for 15-year-old Brittany, who has developmental disabilities.
Melton applied for a rural housing loan through a program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture administers for low-income residents.
However, she has since filed a lawsuit against four men who worked on the home’s construction, alleging that Steve Sutton, Mario Hernandez, Ron Ridley and Alfonzo Guzman were negligent and made “numerous false and misleading statements of fact,” according to the court petition.
And until a court date is set, the family will continue living in a rental house less than a mile from their new home, awaiting either a settlement or a decision in court about whether Melton will be reimbursed for the home. They have no plans to move into the home, regardless of the outcome, Melton said.
Melton said she filed the lawsuit because of “major structural deficiencies,” including missing ceiling joists and rafters that have gaps where they attach to each other, along with cracks in some of the boards in the ceiling.
Sutton did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment, and Ridley could not be reached for this story. Hernandez declined to comment, but shared Guzman’s contact information with The Oklahoman.
Guzman said he has worked in the Ada area for several years as a framer and hasn’t had problems with customers until issues arose with Melton.
“She called me many times, and I came by three or four times and I fixed little, little details,” Guzman said. “...I’ve got to make the customers happy, so I do everything she tells me. The last time, I (did) little things out there, and (no one)... called me again.”
Melton and her partner, Susan Reed, hoped to live in the home with Brittany and Reed’s two children once the house was finished. Melton and Reed were married in 2008 in Eureka Springs, Ark. However, Melton said she doesn’t know whether moving into the house will be possible, given the issues she said the home has.
“I wanted this to be a nice home, and I was trying to make it the best that I could,” Melton said.
Melton, who is a carpenter, said she brought up several issues during the building process, and those issues were either not fixed or fixed through an option that required the least amount of effort.
For example, Melton said she noticed gaps where the rafters meet other boards, and before the roof was put on, sunshine could be seen through those gaps.
Melton “immediately notified defendants each time of the problems, and they wholly failed to remedy the problems on the subject property,” according to a petition filed in Pontotoc County District Court.
Melton received her home loan through a USDA self-help building program, in which the loan’s recipient helps build the home. The construction of the home is managed through a nonprofit organization, which receives grants from the USDA to manage the program.
Carolyn Hill, housing director at Tri-County Self Help Housing program, said she would not comment on Melton’s specific case, but she would speak to the integrity of the program.
“It’s a very good program for people that wouldn’t normally build a custom-built home, and during that process, they help keep it clean and picked up, they insulate the walls, they paint all inside and out, they caulk the outside of the windows, they either do the trim or help do the trim,” Hill said. “If they don’t know how to do it, we have a building supervisor that will help, and they just keep it picked up and cleaned mostly after they do those things.”
Hill said Tri-County has built more than 80 homes over the past nine years in Pontotoc, Coal, Johnston, Murray and Garvin counties. She said the program provides nice homes and the owners usually love their homes.
“It is a process, and they have to go by rules, and some of them don’t really like the rules,” Hill said. “...It is explained to them what they can and cannot do, and some of them try to do otherwise.”
Brittany has been diagnosed with microcephaly, which means the circumference of her head is smaller because her brain has not developed properly or has stopped growing, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. She also has cerebral palsy, which limits her muscle coordination.
After Brittany graduates from high school, Melton will serve as her full-time caregiver.
“If she graduated in a couple of years, I will be at home caring for us because she’s in a wheelchair and in diapers and requires complete total care,” Melton said.
Over the past year, Melton has raised money to help care for Brittany by selling braided necklaces at sport tournaments and other events across Oklahoma. She used money that she raised to buy land for $20,500 where the house sits nearly completed.
Melton continues to sell the necklaces and save the money to ensure she will have enough set aside to provide for her daughter once Brittany graduates and Melton can no longer work, she said.
Melton said she is not alone in the issues she has faced with the home-building program. Other families have come forward and alleged similar complaints, she said.
One of those families includes Ada resident Jennifer LeFlore’s sister, Shawna Stettler. After Stettler’s home was built through Tri-County, she noticed issues with her attic ladder and a lack of insulation in parts of the attic.
They also found that weep holes, which are placed in a home’s foundation to help drain water, were not properly installed, which she worried could lead to mold if water couldn’t properly drain, LeFlore said.
“I just want her to get the things fixed on her house,” LeFlore said. “I think my sister’s main concern is this needs to stop. It’s a great program if it was ran correctly. It’s amazing to not have a down payment and have your payments adjusted over the past 33 years. It’s a good thing to have a self-help program because she did get to put some perspective in it and have some pride it.”
Even though Melton’s home is outside Ada city limits, it still falls under the jurisdiction of the state of Oklahoma’s minimum building code.
Jeff Click, immediate past president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association, said the Oklahoma Legislature passed a law a few years ago that requires builders, regardless of their location, to meet the minimum state building code.
“While the state of Oklahoma does not currently require licensing for home builders, it does require that homes be built to a recently-implemented state code, currently based on the 2009 International Residential Code,” Click said. “This code must be the minimum standard adhered to by builders and contractors regardless of any governing municipal or county governing body’s jurisdiction. This helps set a minimum standard that even rural homes must be built to, and it is advisable that all consumers in these areas confirm that the builder of their choice builds to this standard.”