City of Dallas employee Carl Wagner, left, is a longtime friend and business associate of home builder Kenneth Williams, right. (Facebook)
Under a program to rebuild houses for people with low-income, the city of Dallas awarded $825,000 in federal funds to Kenneth Williams, a Fort Worth pastor and home-builder, in 2015. But the homeowners, which included mostly older and disabled residents, now say they have been victimized with houses that have leaks, lack rain gutters, and a host of other problems. The program, originally created to provide a better quality of life with housing for these residents, has been shelved.
According to The Dallas Morning News, a simple background check would have revealed that Williams misstated his financial history on his application and had been barred from doing similar work in Fort Worth.
The story of how Williams, the senior pastor at New Spirit of Prayer church in Fort Worth, came to work for the city is emblematic of problems that have dogged the Dallas housing department. Officials there have a history of being sloppy with federal money and failing to vet whom they do business with, even though providing housing that’s affordable for poor and working-class families is one of Dallas’ most pressing needs.
Connections May Have Played a Role
According to the Morning News, Williams may have been awarded the funds through the help of his childhood friend, Carl Wagner, a city of Dallas employee.
Public records show that in the late 1980s, the men were involved in a Fort Worth real estate deal and opened a Christian ministry, according to the Morning News. The paper also states that the pair later worked together at Williams’ construction company, according to Wagner’s resumé.
According to the paper, the two are reported to be best friends with Williams ex-wife, Denice Williams, stating, “Carl knows everything about Kenneth and Kenneth knows everything about Carl. They’re best friends.”
A Troubled Housing History
By the 1990s, Williams was struggling financially, but after Wagner landed a job in the city of Fort Worth’s housing department in 2000, Williams suddenly found steady work and funds for his housing program. Williams said he got the jobs on his own, with no help from Wagner.
By 2015, Williams had founded a new construction company. Coincidentally, Wagner started working for the city of Dallas, helping to manage a program to demolish and rebuild rundown homes. Williams submitted an application to the city on which he listed work on an in-law’s house as a reference. The application also omitted his seven previous bankruptcies. The Dallas Morning News also reports that Williams had paid Wagner for training on how to safely work with lead paint. Despite these issues, the city of Dallas listed Williams’ company the city offered Williams as one of a handful to families that qualified for the house-rebuilding program. Eight families chose him to rebuild their homes, some reporting they did so because Williams was a pastor.
Victims Are Living In A Nightmare
For those families, the decision to choose Williams’ company has proven to be a mistake. Take Jimmy Isbell, 75, and his wife Deborah Isbell, 58. Jimmy says, “The house is brand new, but water leaks through a wall, soaking the bedroom carpet. Rain gutters are missing along the edges of the roof. A blank spot in the bathroom marks where a walk-in shower was supposed to be.”
At age 75, he is afraid he’ll hurt himself stepping in and out of the bathtub. He and his wife have had to sleep on a mattress in the living room. “I’ve actually called this a demon house,” he said.
Other clients report lights that flicker when the vacuum is turned on, non-flushing toilets and gaps in the foundation. In order to get new houses, the families had to agree to live in them for 20 years. Some fear the houses won’t last that long.
Explanations and Excuses
The Dallas Morning News reports that Wagner has not yet responded to their requests for comment.Williams, however, responded by acknowledging what he says was an error in judgment, telling the paper that he fell deep into debt trying to finish the houses and help people in need. “I let my heart overrule better judgment,” he said, adding “I was trying to help these old people and it was going sour for me.”