Video: Project Illustrates Challenges of Doing Energy Efficiency Right

Originally published by: KATV (Little Rock, AR)February 2, 2017

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Energy efficient, tornado resistant homes built for low income Arkansans.

This is a story that starts with good intentions.

They are homes built to cut your energy bills by 60 percent and withstand winds up to 150 miles per hour.

Just 30 months ago CFS Green Homes in Monticello expected it would be building 20 to 30 of these homes a month.

It didn't happen. And it won't happen. CFS is now out of business.

The company's last hurrah may have occurred just down the road in Lake Village, where a promising city, state and federal partnership created new homes but also delays, frustration and lawsuits.

It started in August of 2013 when Zach McClendon and Union Bank agreed to back the construction of four homes in Lake Village but only if Reata Foundation, Inc. got the bid.

The Hot Springs builder would then use foam panels made by McClendon's company, CFS, to build four homes for $90,000.00 each.

"This is a four-inch foam panel," explains Reata Foundation owner Ronnie Minnick as he told a sample of the material used to build his company’s homes.

Minnick got the bid because he was the only home builder to submit a bid.

"I was told by builders do not get into this program,” says Minnick. “There's not any money in it. There is not enough money to build this house. And there's not."

Because money would be tight, most of the subcontractors Minnick listed on his bid were not used.

The man he hired to prepare and pour the foundations was a licensed remodeler, not a licensed builder.

And the homeowners...who were paying for half of these projects...noticed problems immediately.

"When I saw the foundation I was...upset,” recalls Jean Wiley. “Livid. I know I'm not a contractor but I kind of have a sense of what I think should be industry standards."

Wiley hired an independent contractor out of Greenville Mississippi to look at the foundation.

He found that “The slab has irregular high and low spots and a poor finish. The foundation is not square. The workmanship is poor and the foundation should be removed and installed to code.”

Wiley says her early concerns were brushed aside by all involved and the project continued on as all four homes were supposed to be completed in 90 days.

As a result, un-level, uneven and ill-fitting are words that describe many areas of Wiley's home.

"The work was not done up to standard...up to codes,” says Wiley. “And I think that people was thinking that we was just simply complaining."

"By me being a senior and a female, you know,” says Rosalind Williams, another participant in the ADFA-sponsored program. “I feel like they didn't think that we knew anything."

Williams also had concerns about the construction process. Her primary concern now is the presence of mold in her new home.

"I mean I have other small problems but I don't want to be nit-picky,” says Williams. “I just want to be safe."

The environmental testing firm Atoka found the presence of two allergenic molds.

Because of that, Williams has yet to live in her completed home.

And because of the volume of problems and complaints, the Reata Foundation was eventually fired by the homeowners.

Minnick later admitted in a response to a complaint filed with the Arkansas attorney general that "To build four houses within a 90-day period is impossible."

The $90,000.00 price tag per home didn't help either.

"They need to understand this is still a government program,” says Minnick. “They're not going to get a $100 square foot house finished. But that is what they are expecting."

Minnick scored 80 percent on the written test to become a licensed homebuilder. But he admits that he personally has never built when problems started occurring he was not equipped to recognize and address them.

The city of Lake Village partnered with a consulting firm (Jones Consulting) to administer this Arkansas Development Finance Authority program.

Both the city and its consultants failed to call the subs listed on Reata’s bid to make sure that they were in fact going to be doing the work.

And the city and its consultant also failed to check references provided by Mr. Minnick. If they had they would have found an unhappy homeowner just up the road in Monticello whose main complaint was...things took too long.