CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) – By national historic landmark standards, it is supposed to be a valued little treasure of a 1930’s house. A pastel gem in the heart of Coral Gables. But month by month, day by day, clapboard by clapboard, it is disintegrating.READ MORE: Living Large: 1000 Museum Boasts Penthouse With South Florida's Only Helipad
Parts of the exterior wooden slats crumble to the touch. The heads of rusted nails dot the landscape of the remaining boards. No one is quite sure what degree of deterioration might be hidden behind what the eye can see and what a jet-black tarp is covering.
“That was the wrong type of wood and these are the wrong nails. Had they been galvanized you never would see the rust on them,” claims Leo Hopkins, who worked for years with his father, the late Leonard Hopkins, in the construction industry building homes in this very historic district.
Hopkins is a concerned cousin of Francina Berry, the 78 year old who lives in the house.
She is increasingly worried about whether or not it is safe for her to live in a home she fears is falling apart.
It is a house that for generations her family has cared for and lived in. She was born in the master bedroom and decades later her own mother passed away in that very room.
Berry’s niece, Valerie Gibson, continually checks on her aunt and lives with worry.
“It is very unsafe. Very,” Gibson tells CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen as they stand in a sun lit living room filled with many memories.
But the mood, that day was of resignation.
“I am feeling hopelessness that they are not going to fix this house,” reflects Gibson.
Gibson has been trying to rescue the Coral Gables home since her family said it began falling apart – less than two years after a government-funded, city and county-coordinated historic preservation rehab completed in 2007.
Documents indicate that several hundred thousand dollars were directed to fix up a handful of historic homes in the neighborhood. Several of them are also reportedly failing in addition to the house at 217 Florida Avenue.
For months CBS4 has been trying to help the Gibson family find answers as to what may have gone wrong in the original rehab effort.
The family has been documenting and reporting problems with the work for years and had, with futility they say, received no help or solution from city or county offices. In fact, the visibly deteriorating work was being written up for code violations and the family was headed to court to have to fight the prospect of fines.
After CBS4 interviewed Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen, who agreed something had gone terribly wrong with the rehab effort, the violations were stayed and he said he was searching for possible solutions.
One such possibility appears to have arrived, but it is not without obstacles according to the family.
This week Gibson and her aunt went to Coral Gables City Hall to investigate the process of applying for different funds secured from Miami-Dade County. These are funds, according to Leen, that can be used to address the rotting renovations families in the MacFarlane Homestead district are coping with.READ MORE: 'To Police Well, You Have To Be Well Yourself:' Program Addresses Officer Mental Health
The Miami-Dade Commission voted to approve allocation of $592,308.00 in funds for “preservation of affordable housing units and expansion of home ownership” on May 5, 2015. According to county documents, the dollars would come from a “building better communities general obligation bond program.”
Might the Gibson family home be eligible?
According to Leen, “We have already pre-identified them as a house that would almost certainly be eligible. We would not have said that they could get these funds unless we knew that. There are certain criteria that have to be met and we believe that they meet that. We have identified them as the second house that would get these funds. We are definitely going forward.”
But after just a quick review of the contracts that her family would have to sign, Gibson felt the application process and the restrictions connected to the funds was daunting and of concern.
For starters, the application must be filed by the owner and occupier of the home.
The initial rehab began when Gibson’s mother, Peggy, was living in the house and she signed all of the applications and documents. But in the thick of the turmoil over problems resulting from the rehab, her mother passed away. Since then her mother’s sister, Francine, has been the occupier of the house and has been paying the taxes.
The family said it will now have to hire a lawyer to document ownership and lineage of the family house originally purchased in 1935, according to the warranty deed said Gibson. This process could take months.
Gibson also noted that for years government correspondence regarding the house was directed to her mother, “Peggy Gibson and et als,” meaning others. But somehow, the word “et als” was dropped.
Gibson explained, “It got dropped off. I don’t know why, but I can show you documentation during this whole historic piece, it was addressed to ‘Peggy Gibson and et als,’ meaning others. So now it is only addressed to Peggy Gibson and she is deceased and it is very disturbing.”
City Attorney Leen said that while proving ownership and proving the house is occupied by the owner is a necessary part of the covenant that would have to be signed, he believes the family will be able to show that. He suggested that it may mean having the multiple siblings involved granting power of attorney to Gibson as she assists in the application. He said he would be prepared to take the issue to the county and explain the complexities.
“We are going to present all this information to the county and hopefully they will accept it. That is our next step,” said Leen.
Leaving City Hall with a handful of applications and documents, Gibson and her aunt wondered if they were any closer to finding help for their home. Reviewing the restrictions that come with the county funds in question, and which could affect any future sale of the house, left them with a lot of questions and concerns.
The document they have been presented to sign to just apply for the funds is called “The Affordable Housing Restrictive Covenant for Homeowners.”
It’s a quandary she says her family would not be in had not the first rehab gone so terribly wrong.
“It’s been five or six long years and it is very, very frustrating. I just need them to fix the house,” said Gibson.
She is not giving up in trying to find a solution and neither is CBS4.MORE NEWS: Police: Glades Middle School Teacher Arrested After Pursuing Romantic Relationship With Former Student
Gibson says,” I know I would not have made it this far without all of your help Thank you so much.”