The homes were built by Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County (formerly of Jersey City), a nonprofit group that erects affordable housing for low-income families.
When the Ocean Avenue project was getting underway in 2007, Habitat contracted with Clear Flow Inc., a Jersey City-based plumbing and heating contractor. For a total of $21,000, Clear Flow was tasked with connecting the new homes to the city’s sewer system.
“Clear Flow never performed any work,” said Jean Quinn, Habitat’s president.
Habitat gave a $3,000 deposit to Clear Flow’s owner, Rolando Velazquez, and Velazquez gave a receipt that said, “In the case that the work is not to be done Clear Flow will return the deposit of $3,000.00 to Habitat for Humanity of Jersey City.”
Quinn and the group’s executive director, Santos Murillo, said there were construction delays and the sewer connection work was not scheduled until April 30, 2008.
Clear Flow required some payment in advance and was given a check for $4,500, Quinn said.
There were questions at the job site about what would be found under the street, and whether or not additional work — at a higher cost — would be needed.
Habitat officials and Clear Flow have varying accounts of what happened next.
Habitat said Clear Flow needed $5,000 more, but the group didn’t feel that was fair, given it had a signed contract for a set amount. Clear Flow said Habitat stopped the work and broke the contract.
The relationship ended, and Habitat wanted its money back. Quinn said Velazquez promised to reimburse Habitat “at some future date,” but the date would come and go with no reimbursement. Another date would be set, but that, too, yielded nothing.
“He no longer accepts our phone calls,” Quinn said.
Quinn said she also mailed letters to several Clear Flow addresses, but the letters were returned.
“It is especially hurtful to be cheated in this way when our donations … represent a generosity of spirit that deserves our greatest efforts and gratitude,” Quinn said. “I’ll be frank. We need the money to continue our work.”
She asked Bamboozled for help.
CLEAR FLOW’S SIDE
We called Velazquez, and he said he remembered the project well.
He said his company had out-of-pocket costs related to the job, and that’s why he didn’t return the $7,500 he was paid before any work began.
“We had to go through the process for the permits, which we did. There were fees paid to the city, there were fees paid to the excavation company, and when the time came to do the work, they (Habitat) backed out,” Velazquez said.
He said Habitat stopped the job because it was more complicated than originally expected, and the group said they didn’t have the extra money to pay for it. The group broke the contract, he said.
“I have a breakdown of time, labor and material that was purchased. The material was left with the second contractor,” Velazquez said.
We asked Velazquez if he’d refund the difference between his costs and the total paid by Habitat. Velazquez said that in 2008 he offered a $3,000 refund to Habitat, but the group refused. He again offered, through Bamboozled, to return that $3,000.
We asked Velazquez to show us his expenses for the job. He presented a list, dated Jan. 4, 2011, showing total costs of $4,402, including $1,632 in permit fees, $320 for police to monitor traffic during construction and a $2,450 fee for the excavator. The document also said Clear Flow’s fees were waived.
Bamboozled reviewed copies of permit receipts sent to us by Velazquez totaling only $1,188, and Velazquez was unable to produce a bill from the excavation company. We also wanted to know why, if the job was never done, Clear Flow would have to pay the police.
We took the $3,000 refund offer to Habitat’s Murillo, who disagreed with Velazquez’s memory of events. Murillo said there were never any materials left on the job site, that Velazquez broke the contract by adding $5,000 to the cost and that neither Murillo nor Quinn had ever heard the $3,000 offer before.
“Over the last three years of talking, cajoling, making multiple phone calls with no response, to have you be able to call and have him respond — not only respond but offer to pay — is fabulous,” Murillo said.
A few days later when Murillo and Velazquez talked, Velazquez promised to send the check, and he also offered to do the plumbing work for Habitat’s next project at no charge, Murillo said.
“I told him I would have to speak with my board,” Murillo said. “I doubt that we would want to use him again given our nonproductive relationship with him over the last two years.”
Murillo will let us know when the group receives the check, which he said will help to fund Habitat’s next project.
THE NEXT PROJECT
The group is heading to Kearny to build a three-unit home.
Habitat said the first floor will be an ADA-compliant condominium for a family that requires wheelchair access. The second floor will house two side-by-side condominiums.
In lieu of down payments, the families will volunteer 400 hours in sweat equity building their homes, which they will buy below cost with a no-fee, no-interest mortgage, Habitat said.
The group is always looking for volunteers.
“We will be needing electricians, plumbers familiar with PEX (cross-linked polyethylene pipe) installation and sprinkler systems, carpenters familiar with stair installation and finish carpentry, and HVAC professionals,” Murillo said “The plumber, HVAC and electrician have to be licensed.”’
If you’re not handy but you’d still like to help, donations can be mailed to Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County, P.O. Box 6483, Jersey City, NJ 07306.