A city inspector decided that Clark's house needed too much work to be saved and would have to be scrapped.

Clark says he did not agree with that opinion. But by that point he had been sparring with the city for years, and believed his house would simply be taken if he did not agree to a substantial rehabilitation."

I felt like my choice consisted of ending up out on the riverbed with my kids or taking the house," he says. We were willing to do anything just to get them to leave us alone."

Warren says that, from the city's point of view, Clark was being offered a great deal. He would get a bigger, better house courtesy of federal grant money, and it wouldn't cost him a penny as long as he lived in it.

Only when Clark sold the house, Warren says, would he have to pay for the construction, presumably from the proceeds of the sale. Any money left over after paying off the city's lien was Clark's to keep.

He applied for the program," Warren says. We don't go in and say to people you have to participate in the program."

In his contract with the city, Clark agreed not to rent the house, to keep it in good shape, to insure it for the full value of the city's lien and to let inspectors come by to make sure he was keeping up the property.

The need for those provisions, he says, is clear-the house is not really his, it's the city's.

Not so, says Warren. It's Clark's house, the city official says, but the city has a lien on the property and must recover the cost of the house" if Clark sells.

But selling has proved impossible, says Clark, who put the house on the market for about eight months. Foremost, the neighborhood is still a hodgepodge of improved homes and run-down ones. Property values, he says, have not increased the way he had been told they would as the neighborhood was spruced up.

Then there is the house itself, he says. The contractor picked by the city did a shoddy job, in Clark's opinion, and a tour of the house confirms some of Clark's complaints.

The duct system is inadequate, and the bottom floor won't cool much in the summer or heat in the winter. When the upstairs toilet is flushed, it sounds as if a waterfall is running behind the wall of the master bedroom downstairs.

If you look at that vinyl they used on the floors, you'll dent it," Clark says.
City inspectors thought his old home unfit to be fixed up, Clark says, but the fact that [the new home builder] forgot to put 90 percent of the screws in the floorboards to hold them to the beams didn't seem to bother them."

Warren again sees it differently: The house was very well-done. In fact, he got one of the more expensive ones."

Hendrick points out that Clark's inability to sell the house is purely a function of economics, because the market has dropped, the value of property has dropped, all over town."

Clark knows that. But he also knows that, where once he had more than $25,000 in equity in his own home, he now has a hefty lien on a house he didn't want. His dreams of passing something on to his children have vanished.

The city, he believes, still holds a club over him. They can wait me out until something happens to me, until I die, then they get a free house that I bought the land for and the federal government built," he says.

Instead of a stake for himself and his children, Clark says, he and his wife, Betty, ended up with little to show after seven years of fear and uncertainty.

The pressure has destroyed my wife physically and emotionally," he says. There's so much pressure and tension in this household, and 90 percent of that has been because of the house."



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