A state hurricane relief program is under fire for its lack of progress. Wednesday State lawmakers demanded answers as to why Rebuild NC, a state-run program is not doing more to help those homeowners hit hardest by the hurricanes get back into their homes years after being in the program. During a legislative hearing on Wednesday, State Senator Jim Perry said, "This is a failed hurricane recovery program as we see it."
Over the last year Troubleshooter Diane Wilson's investigations exposed thousands of homeowners in the program waiting months, some even more than a year for progress. Wednesday's legislative hearing is the second hearing, where lawmakers demanded answers from rebuild about its lack of progress. Much of the hearing questioned Laura Hogshead's leadership. She oversees the Rebuild program. State Senator Danny Britt said during the hearing, "You failed as a director, you should resign from your position." State Senator Brent Jackson added, "There has got to be some improvement made immediately, or I'm going to redirect the funds to someone who can get the job done."
A representative for NC Legal Aid who represents several ReBuild participants says while improvements have been made working with Rebuild, it's still a struggle. "We find it at times to be a frustrating relationship and we can't get the progress we want for our clients," said Lesley Wiseman Albritton with NC Legal Aid.
Hogshead testified that since the last hearing an additional 277 homes now have contracts to start construction, and 100 families either have completed homes or accepted cash buyouts. Hogshead says permits, inspections, and other issues stand in the way of more not being done faster. "We are trending in the right direction but we are not at the output that we are satisfied with. Those 277 procurements that I have signed since the last hearing have not largely hit the ground yet because they are in permitting, they're getting architectural drawings they are doing site surveying, this takes longer to get through the construction process than any of us want to," Hogshead added.
Several homeowners in the ReBuild program attended the hearing, including LaVonne Merritt who Troubleshooter Diane Wilson has highlighted several times in her investigation.
After the hearing, she was even more frustrated with Hogshead's promises. Merritt says, "There telling everyone they are going to get us back in their homes, but what is the progress, what is a solid plan, right now it's still like an experiment." She's been out of her hurricane-damaged home since the summer of 2021, and there's still no work on it. "I'm not pleased and where she is going with the program, it's not going to put us where we need to be," Merritt added.
Lawmakers ended the hearing say they will continue to push for more progress. State Representative Brenden Jones said, "There are 3,000 still in the process and who knows how many more fell through the cracks. We will work to make sure we are in a better place and we hold the administration account for what happened."
Another hearing is scheduled for March.