Victoria woman asks for relief from lien

Brian Cuaron

Oct. 16, 2011 at 5:16 a.m.

A Victoria woman is fighting back against a program meant to assist low-income residents that she says harmed her credit rating.

Seven years after work was done on her home, Viola Hinojosa will ask the city council for help Tuesday.

Thomas H. Dotson, a subcontractor, put a lien against Hinojosa's house, in the 3000 block of Callis Street. Dotson claimed Lonnie Watson, the contractor, never paid him for his plumbing services.

Watson said he has paid Dotson, and he has the checks to prove it.

The city has sided with Watson, calling the lien a fraud, said John Kaminski, director of development services.

However, Hinojosa has suffered the consequences.

When she tried to take out a loan in 2007 to pay for her daughter's college education, the single mother was denied and told about the lien.

Hinojosa, 57, eventually got a loan, but has continued to put up with the lien. Last month, she said a used-car loan was denied her because of the still-existing lien.

The city's Owner Occupied Home Rehabilitation Program fixed-up residents' homes to make them safe and livable, Kaminski said. The Community Action Committee of Victoria administered the program.

After about 12 years, the city ended the program in 2010 to divert funds to area nonprofits, Kaminski said.

Hinojosa's application for the program was approved for 2004 when Watson Consolidated worked on her home. Dotson said he worked on 10 to 15 houses for Watson during that time in Victoria and Cuero.

Watson never paid him and tried to have unlicensed plumbers use permits issued to him, Dotson said. So he put liens on about four houses in Victoria, while liens against houses in Cuero were denied by a secretary, Dotson said.

Dotson said he had no paperwork to back his claims.

Watson denied all of Dotson's claims. It was impossible to use unlicensed plumbers on a permit because since the permitted plumber needed to be at the house during final inspections, he said.

He said the plumber worked on only about six houses and he had checks showing he paid Dotson. If Dotson was serious about getting paid, he would have confronted Hinojosa or the Community Action Committee, Watson said.

"I don't understand this man," Watson said. He is "trying to get paid twice."

Meanwhile, without legal assistance, Hinojosa has been frustrated in getting the lien taken off her house.

"I feel like a dodo," Hinojosa said.

Of everyone he filed a lien against, Dotson said Hinojosa was the only one complaining. He figured the lien hurt her credit, but said it wasn't in effect because it was filed in 2004.

Not so, said Betty Tovar, chief deputy county clerk. The lien was still on record against Hinojosa's house and would continue to haunt the homeowner's credit until Dotson filed to release the lien.

As a result, Hinojosa contacted city Councilman Gabriel Soliz for assistance. She had spoken to Justice of the Peace Robert Whitaker two years ago about suing the city and committee.

Soliz met with Hinojosa and put her complaints in bullet-point form, he said. That way, she could present her predicament to the council under the five-minute limit.

Hinojosa has spoken with Vicki Smith, executive director of the Community Action Committee.

Kaminski said the only person who could legally protest the lien was the property owner.

"I have a family that's going to help me, but that's not the point. That's not their responsibility," Hinojosa said.



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