508 years: The cumulative amount of time hurricane survivors have been displaced from their homes

By: - September 1, 2022 12:20 pm
Sam Cockrell’s damaged house in Wilson County. The home is scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt by Rescue Construction. He has been living in a motel for more than a year. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

ReBuild NC also revises — upward — expenditures on motels, other temporary housing for hurricane survivors

508 years or 185,522 days: That’s the total amount of time spent displaced for the 1,774 households receiving temporary relocation assistance from ReBuild NC’s homeowner disaster relief program

ReBuild NC, whose formal name is the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, sent the information to Policy Watch, which requested the figures under public records law. 

For context, if that number of days were consecutive instead of cumulative, the first relocations would have occurred in August 1514.

The figures include displacements from both Hurricane Matthew, the historic 2016 storm, and Hurricane Florence, which hit North Carolina four years ago this month. It includes 495 households who have returned home.

However, these numbers don’t capture the full extent of displacement. Sheri Zerby and her husband, who Policy Watch interviewed in May, didn’t qualify for the program to receive temporary relocation assistance, also known as “TRA,” because their income was over the limit. They have lived in a camper in a church parking lot for more than 17 months. 

Rescue Construction was scheduled to finish their modular home in April. After the home failed several inspections, they finally received their certificate of occupancy this week, Sheri Zerby said. “We are beyond excited,” she said. “Thanksgiving and Christmas will be at our house this year.”

There are likely thousands of households that are still displaced but whose family members are living in damaged homes. Policy Watch visited one family, who asked not to be named because of fear their complaints would delay their getting assistance. 

This home was damaged in Hurricane Florence. Rain has separating the wall from the ceiling. Mold is also growing.

Their home was damaged by Hurricane Florence. The roof leaks. Water streams inside when it rains. Mold is flowering on the walls. Water has damaged the electrical system; sparks spontaneously erupt from the outlets. Other outlets don’t work. Only one burner on the stove is functioning. The electrical system can’t handle the power load for air conditioning or heat. Last winter, the family used space heaters to stay warm, incurring a $600 monthly electric bill.

The family has covered holes in the floor with plywood, but rats and snakes still get in.

The family said they tried to get permission from ReBuild NC to do emergency repair work on their house – at their own expense – but have not received a response. Their contractor is Rescue Construction, but they’ve not heard from anyone at ReBuild NC since May, the family said.

Nor do the recent numbers include households who have yet to move far along enough in the program to receive TRA. A household is not eligible for TRA until a contractor wins a bid or is assigned the home for renovation or reconstruction — and then receives a Notice to Proceed. 

Here are additional numbers, broken down by storm and temporary housing type:

  • 875 households are in the process of receiving, or have received TRA as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
  • 469 Hurricane Matthew TRA recipients are shown as having returned home.
  • The average time displaced is 250 days for Matthew survivors.
  • Another 900 households are in TRA because of Hurricane Florence.
  • 26 Hurricane Florence TRA recipients are designated as “returned home.”
  • The average time displaced for Florence survivors is 205 days.

Of displaced households receiving TRA assistance:

  • 338 are staying with friends or family.
  • 383 households are in motels. The longest stay is 1,097 days – more than three years.
  • 13 are in apartments.
  • 40 are listed as “other.”

ReBuild also sent revised figures for TRA that included “all the program’s earliest expenditures are included. As a result, the total is higher than the number previously provided,” according to a spokesperson.

The total: $12.9 million through June 30.

ReBuild had previously reported the amount to be $10.6 million.

As a result of Policy Watch’s previous investigations, State House and Senate leadership have appointed a subcommittee to investigate ReBuild NC’s mismanagement of hurricane relief programs. The subcommittee will meet Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 9 a.m. in the auditorium of the Legislative Building, 16 W. Jones St., Raleigh.

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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.