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Revisiting Recovery and the Pursuit of Disaster Relief

Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, Director of Housing Policy

Hurricane Florence made landfall on September 14, 2018. Four years later, only 25% of the RebuildNC program’s 4000+ applicants have had their home repairs or rebuilds completed. Thousands more are still waiting, many living in hotels for two years or more, or living in unsafe conditions, while waiting on repairs.

On the four (4) year anniversary September 14, 2022, the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery held a hearing to discuss why despite having $780 million in funds to provide disaster relief, countless families from the communities hardest hit by both Hurricane Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018), are still waiting for relief, and are being re-traumatized in the persistent absence of a place to truly call home.

Legislative hearing held on anniversary of Florence
The subcommittee invited Richard Trumper, the Director of the Office of State Budget and Management Disaster Recovery Program (OSBM-DR), Laura Hogshead, the Chief Operating Officer of the NC Office of Resilience & Recovery (NCORR), and Ivan Duncan the Chief Program Delivery Officer with NCORR were invited to testify at the hearing to what is happening. They were asked to discuss:

  • Performance metrics; Procurement and application processes.
  • A description of past and planned changes and how they will impact services.
  • Funding status and breakdowns of spending.
  • The effect of unanticipated challenges, regulations, and the COVID19 pandemic on service delivery.

Much of the hearing saw legislators demanding explanations for the current state of the program. In addition to only 25% of RebuildNC Applicants receiving repairs or rebuilds on their homes, there was significant focus on the pace of five homes served a month , compared to 14 in 2021, and 28 in 2020.

Key Differences between OSBM-DR & NCORR Program Outcomes

Despite the similar line of questioning, a large portion of the hearing was spent on hearing what was going to change to reverse the failures to date of the RebuildNC program. To which they presented some of the following as procedural changes they are implementing in hopes of improving their trends.

  • Simplifying eligibility determination process
  • Bringing Case Management in-house and broadening the general contractor pool
  • Hiring a Chief Constituent Relations Officer

Chief Operating Officer of NCORR, Laura Hogshead admitted that they should have adapted more quickly as an organization.

It would take a 600% increase in production and service delivery in order to meet federal spending deadlines for Hurricane Matthew (2025) and Hurricane Florence (2026)

Testimony from impacted families
None of these changes reassured the five families that were present. Here are two examples of lived experiences with the RebuildNC program:

  •  A married couple from Greene County, North Carolina, is still living in a hotel, 2 years and 10 months since they moved out of their home in early 2020. Their case started as a repair, but over time turned into a rebuild. And to date, they are still waiting for work on their home to start.
  • A father and daughter from Wendell, North Carolina, reported having four different start dates, several no shows with contractors as part of Rebuild NC, and limited communication on top of issues with adequate payment for temporary relocation assistance. They were hesitant at first to apply to the program, the woman who testified but they were hoping for the best. Her father passed away several months ago, unable to return to his home, and the daughter has since been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Prior recommendations
Prior to the release of the Hurricane Florence CDBG-DR Action Plan, the Housing Recovery Support Function (RSF) of the North Carolina State Disaster Recovery Taskforce provided recommendations on the state’s ongoing capacity challenges to respond in an effective and timely manner:

  • investing in increasing housing stock that is accessible and affordable;
  •  supporting sustainable funding for service provision for households across a range of incomes;
  • investing in ongoing organizational capacity to build, repair and support housing solutions.
  • addressing the shortage of contractors by enhancing workforce development opportunities in housing recovery; and
  • removing ownership barriers – such as heir properties issues.

The subcommittee intends to reconvene on December 14, 2022. To watch the hearing and to view the public comments, click here. Click here for the current legislative calendar.

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