Philip Williams is a 69-year-old Navy veteran from Hempstead, New York, a city on Long Island.
He’s also homeless, because while he was in Florida for six months recovering from a knee replacement and resulting health complications, his town demolished his house.
The town said Williams’ home was in poor condition, and he believes they may have thought it was subject to foreclosure while he was out of town—even though his mortgage and property taxes were up to date.
City officials labeled the house a “dilapidated dwelling” and tore it down with all his possessions inside—which Williams discovered only when he returned from Florida and tried to go back to his home (emphasis added):
When Williams pulled up to what should have been a two-story cream-colored cottage with a red door in West Hempstead, there was just an empty lot.
“My first thought was there was a fire or something,” Williams said. …
Williams had lived in the house since he was 6 months old. He said many of the items in the home had been in his family since he was a newborn or had sentimental value, like his late wife’s engagement ring, photos of his six children growing up and a model train set he had since he was a child. He lost all of his clothing, a bicycle he’d just purchased, dishes, silverware and other housewares.
Town officials say they tried to contact Williams and provided The Associated Press copies of letters they said they mailed to the home and to banks. They also held a public hearing before going forward with the demolition. But Williams contends he never received any of the notices and said he couldn’t figure out why the letters were mailed to four separate banks where he never had accounts.
“I have no idea who those banks are,” Williams said. “But they never contacted me in any way, shape or form.”
The lack of meaningful notice is why Williams’ lawyer thinks he has a case against the city. But the suit has already run into difficulties: Williams says town officials won’t tell him when his house was demolished or what company was hired to do the job.
“The town basically took everything from me,” Williams said. “The town does not have a right to take all of my property, all of my possessions.”
Williams is now living out of two suitcases, as everything else he owned was destroyed with his home.