'I am desperate': Homeowner waits more than a year for construction to begin on home

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C (WTVD) -- A program in North Carolina meant to help homeowners rebuild after their home was damaged by a hurricane is leaving some of those homeowners stressed and frustrated.

"I just want some help. I am desperate. I can't even sleep at night," said James Johnson.

The 83-year-old applied and was approved for funds from ReBuild NC after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 swept through Elizabethtown and caused flooding to Johnson's home. Rebuild NC is a state-run program backed by federal dollars that rebuilds low-income, storm-impacted communities throughout North Carolina. Rebuild NC inspected Johnson's home in 2019, and an inspector made an estimated of list repairs. Johnson's son, Hilfred Johnson helped his parents apply for ReBuild NC to make sure things went smoothly.

"The house was livable, we had ReBuild come in and do an inspection," Hilfred Johnson said. "They wanted to tear up everything and do it the right way."
In the summer of 2020, Hilfred Johnson said his parents moved out of their home so ReBuild NC could do the work without interruption. The program paid for his parents to stay in a hotel. ReBuild also put storage units on James Johnson's property and the couple moved all of their belongings into the units. Hilfred Johnson said he was told the repairs would take four months and his parents would be back in their home by Christmas 2020.

"They went a whole year without even doing construction," Hilfred Johnson said. He said the only work crews did was demolish some of the inside of the home. "My parents don't know what to do. They sometimes just cry, just cry, want to come home."

James Johnson said living in a hotel for more than a year and not being home is impacting his health.

"I'm 83 years old," he said. "I don't know how much longer it will take, and how much longer I'll be around here. It is so hard. It's unexplainable. I tried to accept it, make myself accept it." He does still drive back to his home several times a week, hoping to see progress. He said he sits outside just hoping a construction crew shows up.

Hilfred Johnson said his countless calls to ReBuild NC got him nowhere.

"They don't have an answer for me and it doesn't seem like they are trying to get one," he said. Hilfred got in touch with Troubleshooter Diane Wilson and Laura Hogshead, the Chief Operating Officer of the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR). which oversees ReBuild NC. She admits there have been delays.

"With COVID there have been some slowdowns and some supply chain issues that are hindering progress, a little bit, but we keep pushing forward," Hogshead said. She added there have been other problems too when it comes to James Johnson's job.

"Unfortunately with this particular project, the original contractor that we had on their project was not performing so we had to remove that contractor and we had to rebuild the projects," she said. "They are now working with a very reputable contractor, who is having to go back and redo some inspections to make sure that we're making the right intervention for the safety of the couple and of this home."

The Johnsons aren't alone in their wait. While ReBuild NC has completed 735 homes, 165 homes are still under construction.

"I just want to say that you know we are cognizant that all of our families are making a sacrifice here every time we come into someone's home. It is a sacrifice for that family to have to move out," Hogshead said. "We hope that what we're doing is we're leaving them in a much safer position when their home is done, sometimes we have to elevate. A lot of times, we have to correct issues that were not to code. We want to make sure that when we touch these homes, we leave them better and stronger than they were before the hurricane so that they don't have to worry that this is going to happen again."

The Johnsons now have some answers. After taking another look at the extent of the renovations needed to bring their home up to code, instead of ReBuild NC repairing the home, it will be torn down, and they'll be getting a brand new home from ReBuild NC.

"Let's go ahead and get them in before my parents pass away," Hilfred Johnson said. "That's my goal."

At least there is now a plan in place and the Johnsons will be getting a new home. ABC11 will keep you updated on the progress of it.
Copyright © 2022 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.