BROOKSVILLE - A month after a disabled veteran declined a home from nonprofit Helping a Hero, the two sides remain at odds about what caused the cancellation of a Brooksville-based project.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Ken Patterson, of Citrus County, was critically wounded in the war in Afghanistan three years ago, and he applied for and received approval for a customized home from Houston-based HelpingaHero .org's Home Program.
The organization's website states the program's goal is to provide handicap-accessible $250,000 homes to wounded veterans in their local communities for a $50,000 mortgage, with other materials being donated by local home organizations and builders.
Under the housing formula, Patterson had to pay a $50,000 mortgage for the house and apply a Veterans Affairs grant to adapt the home to be handicap accessible, for a total $117,000 investment in the home.
Patterson said he was willing to sign for the mortgage and apply the grant toward a home in the Pine Ridge Estates or Citrus Springs subdivisions of Beverly Hills, which he requested via email to the organization last August.
"This is where their support base is," said Patterson's mother-in-law, Debbie Plouff. "As a grandparent, that's a concern to me."
According to emails sent last August, Patterson provided Helping a Hero the names and contact information of representatives he met with from VanNess Properties and Dream Custom Homes in Citrus County, who both pledged their support, and worked in the subdivisions where he requested to live.
"From the very beginning we requested to have a home built in Citrus County, so that not only my needs but the needs of my family will be met, and my wife and I truly feel that with her family already established there we would be in a better situation," Patterson wrote in the email. "We have been over this a thousand times with 'Helping a Hero,' but for some strange reason or another it was pushed under the rug. We feel if we are putting $117,000 into a house we want to make sure we can call it home."
While waiting for his request to be approved, Patterson said since 2011 he attended three fundraisers for the organization at the request of national chairman and founder, Meredith Iler, and with the hope of receiving a home in Citrus County.
"She said, 'We'll move you there, we're working on it,'?" Patterson said. "We kept telling her where we wanted to live, but she couldn't give a definitive answer what she was working on."
When Iler announced this summer she had instead garnered sponsorship from national homebuilder Pulte Homes for a customized home near the Hernando/Pasco county line, in the Trillium neighborhood in Brooksville, Patterson said he reluctantly agreed to the home.
The Patterson family said they made that decision because they were promised two lots by the organization with plentiful yard space, but when all was said and done, that yard space was not what the outdoorsman had in mind.
Shortly after a groundbreaking ceremony held in July at the project site, attended by the likes of state Sen. Wilton Simpson and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, Patterson wrote an email withdrawing his application from the organization's second offer. Patterson previously declined a home slated in Texas.
"My experience with Pulte has been top notch with all of my questions answered in a timely manner," Patterson wrote. "(We) were promised by Helping a Hero that the house was going to be on two lots due to the size of the home. The fact as it stands right now is, there is no back yard for my dog and there is no front yard for my son to play."
It's not the first time a veteran qualifying for the home program has declined, said retired Army colonel and former Helping a Hero board member, Karen Lloyd.
"I know several who were awarded homes and were frustrated," Lloyd said.
Iler said Patterson did request to live in Beverly Hills, but the offers the organization received from builders there were not enough to lower the costs for the handicap-accessible home and continuing other home projects awarded to veterans across the country. It's a matter of building what you can, where you can, she said.
"(Pulte Homes) had to find the largest lot available to build that house on, because they still had to comply with home owners association standards," she said.
"They went through months of variances to get it approved to build a larger home," she added. "The economy is not good, and the farther you get from a metropolitan area it's harder to get things going. I think the bottom line is we deal with professional builders because they have a system in place, and we're building 35 houses in 16 states."
Veteran and owner of Patriot Sporting Goods, Jamey Clovis, has been working with Patterson more than year to help his fellow veteran with employment and housing. Clovis, who serves as the treasurer on the Pine Ridge board, the neighborhood where Patterson initially applied to live in Citrus, said he is confident the support is there for veterans.
"I know a lot of builders around here," Clovis said, adding that the offers in place a year ago in Citrus County are still in place today.
Clovis' store, which offers employment to veterans returning from duty, is prepared to purchase a lot for Patterson, Clovis said, but added he thinks one of the local builders could donate one.
"We appreciate what these organizations are doing with the fundraisers and everything," Clovis said. "But Ken's not a fundraiser for us. Ken is our brother, and his family is our family."