HOA Halts Construction of Paralyzed Army Vet's Home

SFC Sean GittensPlans to build a new home for a paralyzed Army veteran at no cost to his family have been put on hold by the local homeowners association.

The reason, said the president of the nonprofit homebuilding group, is fear that the home would drag down property values in the neighborhood.

The Evans, Ga., home was to be built for Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens (left), who was struck in 2008 by an IED blast on his second tour of duty in Iraq. The trauma left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. "This is the total opposite of what usually happens," said John Gonsalves, president and founder of Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that builds homes for injured veterans. "We've met every requirement they've asked for," he told AOL Real Estate during a phone interview.

Construction was to begin on Friday, but Gonsalves said the homeowners association at the last minute filed a cease-and-desist order on the project, claiming that he had failed to file all the necessary paperwork.

"This could have been a done deal had they just gotten us the paperwork," said Rick Trump, president of the Knob Hill Homeowners Association, during a phone interview. "Who's really to blame here? Is it that we blocked them or that they're disorganized and don't have everything they need?"

While Trump maintains that the HOA's only contention is the paperwork, he said that some homeowners are concerned that the Gittens project will drag down the value of their homes, either because of the style of the home or the size.

The home will include several disabled-accessible features to accommodate Gittens, who currently is bedridden. But the neighbors' major complaint, Gonsalves said, is that the home is only 2,785 square feet, while other homes in the area are in the 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot range. The discrepancy should be a moot point, though, he said, because the minimum suggested size of homes for the area is only 2,700 square feet (see the supporting document here).

In reality, though, the HOA needn't have worried, according to New York appraiser Alice Palmisano.

The claim that smaller houses drag down neighboring property values is unfounded, she said. "It usually works the other way around, where the smaller house typically sees a boost in home value," but there's no evidence that smaller homes hurt the value of larger ones. Given the special nature of the home, it wouldn't even be used as the basis for a "comparable property," she said.

"Just because a custom home is built for a handicapped person does not mean that home can't sell to a conventional buyer," she added. "And considering the circumstances, it sounds kind of mean-spirited."

But Trump argues that the dispute is simply a matter of upholding HOA guidelines, and neither he nor the association has anything against the Gittens family.

"If they leave, that's the family's choice, but we're honored to have them in the neighborhood," he said.

For Gittens' wife, Sharon, the message conveyed has been less hospitable.

"They just don't want us here," she said during a phone interview. Gittens moved to Knob Hill with her husband and children last year and has been renting an apartment in the development. Her husband's military career began in 1988 with a tour of duty in Kuwait during Desert Storm and ended in 2010 when he was forced to take medical retirement.

She says that she doesn't accept HOA members' claims that their new home is too small for the area, as there are other properties in the development that are even smaller. She took particular umbrage to the association's request that they add a second floor to the home.

"My husband doesn't need that. He's wheelchair bound," she said.

But no matter the outcome in the Knob Hill dispute, Gonsalves said that his organization will keep their promise and build the Gittenses a new home.

"This home is about freedom and independence adapted to the Gittenses' needs," he said. "But it's also about roots. Luckily we can enjoy the [American] dream because of people like Sgt. Gittens. So who deserves it more than him?"

Gonsalves expects to make an announcement on the future of the project early this week.

UPDATE: Late on Monday, Homes for Our Troops issued a press statement in which Sharon Gittens confirmed that she will be leaving the Knob Hill development. The Gittenses are currently exploring other options in the area. John Gonsalves, president of Homes for Our Troops, has agreed to continue the project in a new location.

Also see:
Army Veteran Fights for Right to Fly the Flag
Soldier Evicted by HOA While Serving in Iraq

HOAs: What Homebuyers Need to Know

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...and I am sure this will all do wonders for your propriety values...

August 01 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My husband has been in the Army for 27 years, & my father was A Vet. I am disgusted that there are people out there that are more concerned with the value of their home than the quality of life of A AMERICAN Soldier that puts his life on the line for his country each & EVERY day.
I know from experience the financial difficiulties we have experienced from being paid so poorly for what we Military Families put on the line every day JUST to protect A bunch of UNGRATEFUL IDIOTS! My husband has sacrificed all the major milestones with our children, & has been gone half their lives. SHAME ON YOU! Why don't you get off your bottoms & get on the firing line for half the average American wage? That's what I thought.

July 28 2011 at 1:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a Veteren of 20 yr's and appearently these Snobby people does not know the sacrifices that we make to defend thier sorry buts. I wish that they walk a mile ina soldiers, sailor's,airmen's,and marine's shoes as all walks of life make up the armed service. This world has too many Ostriges and too prissy these people need to get a grip on reality and get some compassion for those who have given thier all and the ultimate thier lives so these sorry ones can live in thier little castles. Maybe 911 doesen't matter to them or WWII these people should be sent to live in Afganastan and left to fight the insurgents or Taliban.

July 27 2011 at 11:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to edgargyohe's comment
Blessed One X 20

edgar -- God bless you and thank you for your service. As the mom of a Sailor just off a deployment, I am totally disgusted at the treatment of these soldier by those so called Home Owner's Associations. They mean to tell me that they cannot adjust their lousy rules for our Veterans? None are worse than the other - neither the Marine who is injured for life, nor the other disabled Vet being told that he cannot fly our flag! We lived in a park that had a HOA in Florida for years and had a WW2 vet across the street from us. They tried to stop him from putting up a flag pole. What'd he do? He got an even BIGGER one!! That shut them up, but that was also in the late 1990s. They're more vicious now since 9-11 and that makes NO sense! Take care sir, and again, I thank you!!

July 28 2011 at 8:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You are foolish and self centered if you think mixing sizes of homes is the core of value - finish quality is important too. Besides, they were above the written minimum square footage requirement. What you do reveal is that you, and other wealthy people with very large homes just would rather not be near people with lesser money and smaller homes. Maybe because they are black, all of the well-to-do got worried too.

July 27 2011 at 8:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pathetic. Plain and simple. Dear Knob Hill HOA. You lot are truly truly pathetic.

July 27 2011 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Future Followup: The honorable veteran will be truly welcomed as both a new homeowner and paperwork-conscious (HUD lawsuit) citizen as he lives in a dream home elsewhere. The HOA's reported pretexts are just that. Why he would to actually live there now even if he gets the "paperwork" right will be a true test of his own tolerance.

Any service B.S. he may have put up with surely pales in comparison to the reported HOA position. The only thing being dragged down is any reputation the HOA may have enjoyed. Thanks for your service and sacrifice.

July 27 2011 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This just makes me sick to my stomach. The price of your home is not low because a disabled army veteran lives next door. The price of your home is low because your greedy ass bought the home for twice the value of what it was actually worth and the bubble busted leaving you holding the bag. Don't blame it on someone that was trying to protect you by denying them a home. There is a special place in hell for Knob Hill Homeowners Association.

July 27 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Karen, I think that the issues which seem to bother homeowners were not founded according to the article the house was of a size that was above the minimum for the neighborhood. Homeowners associations can be too high handed and I am personally very glad not to have to deal with one. I think it is wise to choose a development where there is more freedom to live like an american. the more one's decisions about their property are decided by a HOA the less true ownership one has of their property.

July 27 2011 at 8:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Arrogant Bigots with Crainio-Rectal DNA!!!

July 27 2011 at 7:54 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Glad I read this article. Now I know that I will never even look at a house in this development. I would bet that most of them are non-military who have never served a day defending their country. Typical type of people that believe everyone else should defend their freedom, but not them. Cowards and hypocrites.

July 27 2011 at 7:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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