Herald/STEVE TRAYNOR - John Cast Jr. is in the fight of his life with the city of Belton. Building inspectors have condemned his home on West Avenue J in the city and ordered him to make significant improvements or it could be demolished. Cast hopes his neighbors and friends can help him find the financial means to improve the structure which he refuses to leave.

By Victor O'Brien

Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON – The days when John Cast Jr. worked as a plumber, electrician and superintendent constructing buildings such as the Bell County Jail and the Plaza Hotel are gone.

The strength and skills Cast once had are what he hopes the community can give him to save his home from being demolished because of disrepair.

Cast, 70, uses a wheelchair for mobility, and is physically afflicted by tremors, weak joints and diabetes.

The city of Belton has recommended his home for demolition. His home, located near the historic Belton concrete water tower, has been in disrepair since two heart attacks, and gall bladder and colon surgeries over the past eight years left him a shell of the man who, in his 20s, wasn't afraid to stand toe-to-toe with others in the boxing ring. Cast remembers when he could lift 150 pounds with relative ease.

"I was always afraid I was going to hurt somebody," Cast said.

Now he can't lift a trash bag, and even walking from his front yard where he sits playing with his four dogs to his bedroom less than 15 feet away is a "chore."

Cast moves around his home in a motorized scooter.

Hoping for a grant

Only a few months ago, Cast thought his dilapidated home might get the help it needs. He was confident that a grant he applied for would come through. His hope rested on a state-funded grant coordinated through the city of Belton.

The program, aimed at low-income people living in blighted homes, provides forgivable loans that become grants when the person remains in the repaired home for five years. The program repairs a home if the cost is less than $25,000 or builds a new one if the cost exceeds that amount.

For reasons Cast said he still does not understand, he was turned down.

"I thought I had everything straight," he said. "I couldn't understand why. ... Everybody kept saying you're going to get a house."

Sam Listi, Belton city manager, said Cast was denied the grant because he could not prove he owned the home that has been in his family for more than 45 years.

Cast, who has lived in Belton since 1951, moved into the home in 1963 to care for his aging parents. His father died in the past 20 years and his mother in November.

Cast said he reached a verbal agreement with his siblings to give him ownership of the house after his parents died. In writing, however, his siblings still own a portion of the home, and that detail prevented him from being able to show he had full ownership.

A volunteer lawyer has begun helping Cast sort out details of his father's probated will, but a possible demolition has made that situation seem less significant.

A city of Belton housing inspector posted a letter on March 18 citing code violations such as the lack of heating and cooling, no electricity, no connection to the city's sewage system and the lack of stable walls as some of the reasons why his home should be demolished.

"This is absurd," Cast said pointing to official letters posted near his front door that describe his home as an "uninhabitable and dangerous structure" in need of "major repairs."

"This right here is an insult to me," he said.

Listi said the demolition issue is different from his being denied the loan, but Cast said with both issues he feels as if he is running into a "blank wall."

Listi said neighbors and property owners complained about the state of the house.

If Cast cannot bring the home up to code, the case will be brought before Belton's housing board to decide on demolition.

"Our total objective is to bring the house to code if that can be done," Listi said.

Cast was required to arrange for repair within 30 days of March 18.

Cast said his home began to fall apart after his health deteriorated.

"When I was able, this house was in good shape," Cast said.

Cast has not seen the back room of his home in three years. An elm tree fell on the roof of that room, damaged the foundation and put a hole in the floor. Cast lacked the strength to fix the damage.

Helping hands

Now, Cast is starting to see some of the strength he has lacked and the support he needs to save his home.

Joe Trevino of the Belton Concerned Community Alliance has recruited construction businesses and about 20 volunteers to offer their services.

Trevino recruited Mary Kirksey, who cleaned out Cast's home and removed about 75 to 100 bags of trash and debris.

Kirksey made onceonce-cluttered floors into paths able to fit Cast's scooter.

As an able-bodied 74-year-old, Kirksey takes great pride in helping those close to her age who cannot help themselves.

"I'm dedicated to this," Kirksey said. "This is where my heart is."

With the help of Kirksey, Trevino and others, Cast can see into the damaged back room once too cluttered and unsanitary to occupy.

Cast was reluctant to accept the help, but realizes he needs it to get his home up to code.

"I got too much pride, but it took awhile to soak in," Cast said. "It's kind of humbled me because I'm used to doing things by myself my whole life."

In the past few weeks, Cast has received offers for free labor from various construction businesses to remodel and repair the home. But those offers hinge on Cast securing the money for materials, Trevino said.

"It's fixable," Kirksey said. "We've put in a lot of hours here, and I enjoyed every bit of it."

Also, Trevino has helped Cast apply for an Agriculture Department program that offers grants of up to $7,500 and zero-interest loans up to $20,000, which would allow him to fix the damaged foundation, cut overgrown trees, repair roofing, install new cabinets and remove the back room damaged by the elm tree.

Trevino is optimistic despite the city's recommendation that the home is beyond repair.

"It's doable, regardless of what the city said," Trevino said.

Cast said he is not thinking too far ahead or getting too optimistic. He just hopes the support comes.

"One day at a time," he said.

Cast has people like Trevino to be optimistic for him.

"There's no way they are going to come here and bulldoze this house when all we need is community," Trevino said.

Contact Victor O'Brien at vobrien@kdhnews.com or call (254) 501-7468

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