Progress is being made by a state-run program that is meant to help hurricane victims get back into their once storm-damaged homes, but is it enough? "I'm really frustrated because I think I should be home now," Danisa Raye said to ABC11 Troubleshooter Diane Wilson. Raye contacted Wilson in August after seeing several of Wilson's investigations into the NC-run program called Rebuild NC, which is a program run by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR). Its goal is to help low incomes homeowners fix and rebuild thousands of storm-ravaged homes after Hurricane Florence and Matthew
Wilson's investigations into ReBuild over the last year exposed the many problems with the program that has left homeowners out of their homes for months, some even more than a year.
Raye is one of those homeowners, "I've never been on the inside of my house, all I can do is look in, and that's all." When Wilson met Raye in September at her home all they could do was look through an outside window into the home to see what progress a contractor for Rebuild has done on her home since she and her son were told to move out in April of 2021. She adds, "I've got everything and I just can't move in and I'm so ready to move in."
She says when they moved out of their Fayetteville hurricane-damaged home in April of 2021, ReBuild moved them into a hotel, and she thought construction would start soon. Records with the City of Fayetteville a permit was not issued until July 28th of 2021, and construction did move forward all the way when the home pass the final electrical inspection in January of this 2022.
Raye says after that when she visited the home to see any progress very little work was done. She said to Wilson, "Clearly my house is done, I should be in my house." While no more inspections happened on Raye's home, a porch was constructed, and when she met with ReBuild she says she did ask about a handicapped accessible ramp and other improvements to her home that would help her get around since she does use a roller after having multiple back and other surgeries that impacts her mobility.
Her former home ReBuild torn down was not elevated like the newly constructed home is to prevent future flooding. Now that her new home is elevated, she does need a handicap-accessible ramp to get into it. The process to get these additions was not simple, as months went by and Raye said no work was being done on it. Meanwhile, she and her son continued to stay in the hotel ReBuild was funding. "I feel that we are wasting taxpayers' money, because the money they are using to house my son and me, that money could be going to someone else having a home built when mine is clearly up." By October 2022, Rebuild had already spent more than $95,000 toward Raye and her son's hotel stay.
Wilson reached out to Rebuild and a representative said the only items left for completion are the Reasonable Accommodation requested by Raye. A representative said Raye disagreed with the placement of the ADA ramp, but ReBuild said that her desired location will not meet site setbacks. A representative added that the general contractor had to obtain estimates for the requested items, pass municipality inspections, and work the project back into their schedule after being on hold for two months for the accommodation request to be reviewed. It still took some time, but eventually, Raye's home passed the final inspection and she was able to move in right before Thanksgiving. Inside her home, for the 1st time in twenty months, she told Wilson, "I thought this day would never come." When it comes to Raye's favorite part of her new home, Raye said, "When you've been in a hotel for twenty months, everything, I love it, everything is exciting and new, I love it." When it comes to what ReBuild spent to house Raye and her son in a Fayetteville hotel until their home was complete came to $104,946.76. Even though she is loving her new home, Raye says that was wasteful spending as she feels it shouldn't have taken that long to finish construction on her home.
While Raye is in her new home, there are thousands of ReBuild participants who are still waiting like LaVonne Merritt and Bernadette Freeman. Both homeowners we told you about their frustrations in September who have to wait for ReBuild to just start construction on their hurricane-damaged homes, years after being told they're approved. Once we reached out to ReBuild, a representative with ReBuild tells us both homeowners now have a contractor assigned to their jobs and work should start soon.
In September, lawmakers also questioned the lack of progress of ReBuild. During that hearing, Laura Hogshead, who is in charge of ReBuild took responsibility for the failures and committed to getting more families back in their renovated or new homes by Christmas. It's now three months since that hearing, Hogshead says progress has been made. She adds, "It is picking up the pace. General contractors are responding, we're able to pay them faster, and they're able to get supplies easier than they were a year or so ago. So it is picking up significantly and we're able to get a lot of families out of those hotels." According to Hogshead, they have gotten 95 families into their newly constructed or renovated homes in the last eighty-three days. "It shows an output of about thirty homes a month and that is an output that we can sustain and grow from there. So the legislative committee was pointing out that our output had declined during the COVID period. Of course, it had it has picked back up and we are now outpacing where we were before COVID and continuing to improve," Hogshead adds.
For the people like Merritt and Freeman whose hurricane-damaged homes are not fixed, Hogshead said since the legislative hearing they both along with 275 other homeowners now have a general contractor assigned to their jobs, and work will get started soon. Hogshead said to Wilson, "The folks that you've brought forward to us have moved forward. They've either gotten a new general contractor or they've gotten the variance that they needed to get their house built, or they've moved forward in the bidding process. They will get a home of greater value than the home that they had."
Rebuild is set to go in front of the legislative committee Wednesday to see if the progress made over the last three months is enough, as while yes they've gotten about 100 families in their homes, there are still more than 3,000 applicants waiting for finished projects, so a lot of work still to be done.
When it comes to where ReBuild stands on serving its applicants, here are the latest numbers provided by Rebuild NC
Active applications for both the pre-2020 Matthew Single Family Program and the Homeowner Recovery Program, which launched June 2020, are as follows:
1. Steps 1-5, in progress (Intake through Award Letter): 2,012
2. Step 6: Contract and Bid Work: 1,168
3. Step 7 (In active construction): 234
4. Step 8 (Complete): 882