ReBuild NC, lawmakers criticized for slow response to help hurricane victims in North Carolina

Diane Wilson Image
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
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North Carolina lawmakers spent Wednesday holding ReBuild NC, a state hurricane relief program, accountable for years-long delays.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina lawmakers spent Wednesday holding a state hurricane relief program accountable.

Members of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery spent hours questioning the lack of progress ReBuild NC has made years after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. This hearing comes after several ABC11 Troubleshooter investigations into ReBuild NC, which is a state-run program backed by federal dollars and whose goal is to get those hit hardest by the hurricanes back into their storm-damaged homes.

The special committee questioned leaders of ReBuild NC on why its program is failing -- as only about 25% of the more than 4,000 applicants have had their home repairs completed years after the program started.

"Like the storm themselves, recovery efforts have slogged and in many cases have stalled as the months and years have marched on. It's this slow and bungled progress that triggered this process," North Carolina Senator Brent Jackson said during the hearing.

Some of the homeowners that are in the ReBuild program attended the hearing and didn't hold back.

Geraldine and Willie Williams were told by ReBuild to leave their storm-damaged home in 2019 so a contractor from ReBuild could start the work. It's been three years and still no work has started on their home.

"We have never been told a contractor, they won't give us any information on a contractor, no phone number no nothing, we have nothing and it's like we have been kept hostage from our home," Geraldine said.

Another homeowner at the hearing LaVonne Merritt who we've highlighted in previous Troubleshooter investigations spoke at the hearing.

"You want to tell me you just realized this problem?" she challenged lawmakers at the hearing, refusing to spare them from the criticism on this topic.

In 2020, ReBuild approved $154,000 for the reconstruction of her Wendell home. In May of 2021, ReBuild brought storage pods to her property so she could move all of her belongings out of her home to allow ReBuild to start working on repairs at the home.

Now, more than a year later, a public records request with ReBuild shows the only work done on Merritt's home since approved in 2020, is the removal of asbestos costing $1,800.

"I beg and I pled to each one of you to think real (hard about) what you all allowed to go on," Merritt said to lawmakers.

Laura Hogshead, who oversees ReBuild NC admits the program is not where it should be at this point. Hogshead blames the supply chain issues during the pandemic along with the lack of contractors as the main obstacles. Hogshead said they've made several changes over the last few months.

"I can say we will have a much greater focus on case management, on constituent services, we are going to be providing much more information and we're going to get them home," she said. Hogshead also said they've gone from just five contractors in the program to 14 and are still looking for more.

During the hearing Hogshead committed to trying to get families who've been displaced from their homes, living in temporary housing for more than a year, back in their renovated or new homes by Christmas.

Lawmakers said they will have another hearing in 90 days to see what progress has been made with ReBuild NC.