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Water damage gives rise to $1.65 million lawsuit against builders

Three companies are named in a lawsuit to recoup $1.65 million in replacement costs for flawed construction at an affordable housing complex in Gresham.

Home Forward, previously known as the Housing Authority of Portland, alleges breach of contract and negligence/breach of professional standard of care in the suit against Tom Walsh & Co., Iselin Architects and Vickers/Nelson & Associates, Construction Program Management, Inc.

The three parties helped build the Willow Tree Apartments, an 18-unit affordable housing development complete with community center, at 311 N.E. Division St., in late 2005.

The $2.3 million project boasted new apartment buildings to replace the old structure that started as a nursing home that was converted into a homeless shelter. Some of Willow Tree’s first tenants were evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, which slammed the Gulf Coast that summer.

Earlier this year, the public housing agency discovered problems in the siding, windows, sliding glass doors, balconies and part of the roof, said attorney Pete Viteznik.

Water had gotten trapped between the siding and the framing, Viteznik said. Although there was neither mold, nor damage to tenant property, officials with the agency knew that such water problems only get worse and must immediately be repaired, said Shelley Marchesi, Home Forward spokeswoman.

The fix required replacing the damaged materials, at a cost of $1.65 million, she said. Money from a reserve fund paid for the repairs.

Affordable housing is sometimes plagued with a reputation as being somehow substandard, and Home Forward did not want to further fuel that misconception, Marchesi added.

Having such major problems with buildings that were little more than six years old was totally unacceptable, she added.

But it’s not unusual, Viteznik said.

Water leakage is a huge problem for construction projects in the Northwest.

“To keep water out is actually more complex than people realize,” especially with increased emphasis on energy efficient structures, he said. “Water can get trapped. It has nothing to do with the type of housing or who lives there.”

Although one of the claims is for negligence, in fairness, Viteznik said the three defendants are not accused of any intentional wrongdoing or ignored any problems.

“I think they were trying to do the best job they could but they made some mistakes,” he said.

Home Forward is working with the defendants’ insurance companies in hope of settling the case out of court.

Tom Walsh & Co. did not return a call seeking comment on the suit. The phone number for Vickers/Nelson & Associates has been disconnected or is no longer in service. Iselin Architects was not able to comment on the pending litigation at this time, according to a company representative.




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