LUMBERTON — It’s slow sailing, but progress is being made to get people displaced from public housing by Hurricane Matthew’s floodwaters back into new homes, the interim director of the Lumberton Housing Authority said.
There were 267 rental units and three community buildings that were flooded out by the storm that devastated Lumberton in early October, said Lemark Harris, the housing authority’s interim director. Currently, with just 462 of the authority’s total 729 units that can be leased, the Lumberton Housing Authority is still the largest housing authority in Robeson County, Harris said.
According to Harris, to get the 267 rental units back in shape to be rented out will require about $5.2 million. Approximately 70 units have to “potentially” be replaced because they are in areas that are below minimum flood stage elevations, he said.
Harris said that $800,000 has been identified in the authority’s budget to pay for remediation work, the work needed to get the units ready to be renovated or rebuilt. Insurance has already approved $1.9 million for this work, said Harris.
According to Harris, 145 of the authority’s units were insured and the insurance is covering all but a total of $379,000 in deductibles for these units.
Harris said its remaining flooded units that were not insured that is a problem.
“What’s challenging for us is rebuilding the uninsured 135units,” said Harris. “That’s what we are working with FEMA to do.”
The housing authority budget does not include enough money to for a big-bang approach
“We can’t do it all at one time. We need to spend any available money and then have to wait for FEMA to reimburse us before we can do more,” said Harris. “That (FEMA reimbursement) usually takes from 60 to 90 days. It will take at least four to six contracts to do all of the work to get the 270 units back on line.”
Harris is not yet ready to predict when all the renovations and new construction work will be complete.
Multiple problems have slowed down the effort to get the rental units habitable again.
“When we got in there, we found asbestos, mold and mildew continuing to grow,” he said. “Insurance claims have been held up.”
When completed, the new housing units will be better than what existed before the storm, Harris said. Code issues will be addressed, and problems with such things as asbestos will no longer exist.
Units in Hilton Heights and Myers Park are being completely reconstructed, said Barbie Hunt, interim deputy director. The only other choice the authority has would be to raise the elevation of the damaged buildings, and that’s an expense that makes that option unfeasible, Hunt said.
Harris said his staff is working hard to get units ready to be leased. People who were living in public housing and displaced by the storm are at the top of the list to be placed in a house as soon as one is available.
There are about 25 people still on the waiting list to get into housing units, according to Martha Moore, the authority’s occupancy outreach specialist.
Housing authority staff also are issuing vouchers to eligible Section 8 families who were flooded out of their homes.
Fifty Section 8 housing vouchers have been issued recently, said Sheila Oxendine, the authority’s interim director of housing services. Before the hurricane, there were “less than five” families using Section 8 vouchers, she said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.