Laura Hogshead, director of the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, recently testified under oath before a legislative subcommittee that only 789 of 4,100 homes destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Matthew or Florence have been rebuilt or repaired.
The actual number is significantly lower – just 588.
NCORR, also known as ReBuild NC, included in its tally 201 homes that were finished by Robeson County’s locally run program in 2018 and 2019.
Policy Watch asked ReBuild NC to explain the discrepancy. “A great deal of information and data was provided to the subcommittee in advance of the Sept. 14 hearing, so members are fully aware of what the numbers mean,” a ReBuild NC spokesperson said via email. “NCORR reported out to the subcommittee following guidelines provided by legislative officials.”
If legislators on the Joint Oversight Committee on Hurricane Response and Recovery were aware of the distinction, they did not question Hogshead at the hearing about it. Nor would the public have known the difference. ReBuild NC’s slide presentation, shown during the subcommittee hearing, didn’t reflect the two figures.
Sen. Jim Perry, a Lenoir County Republican, told Policy Watch that he knew ReBuild NC had absorbed the Robeson County program, but didn’t recall the number of homes that the county had completed before merging with the state.
“ReBuild NC’s construction results were already unacceptable at 789 homes. Now we have clarity that it is actually 25% worse than we thought?” Perry said in an email. “Director Hogshead clearly has the wrong person running the construction effort. The Construction and Temporary Relocation Assistance programs have failed these people.”
Ivan Duncan, chief program delivery officer for ReBuild NC, is in charge of the construction program and oversees contracting.
For most of 2018 the state disaster recovery program was co-administered by the Department of Commerce and the Division of Emergency Management. After HUD labeled North Carolina as a “slow spender” of disaster recovery funds, the legislature created ReBuild NC, which launched in early 2019.
A Rebuild NC spokesperson noted that “all projects included in the  total were funded by the CDBG-DR grants” – HUD disaster relief money — “for which NCORR is the grantee and responsible party.”
It is true that Robeson County received $9.3 million in HUD funding via ReBuild NC. However, ReBuild NC’s own documents, reported to HUD, list Robeson County as the “responsible organization” in 2018 and 2019.
Over those two years, several counties, including Cumberland, Nash, Wayne, Robeson and Edgecombe, ran their own programs as “subrecipients” of HUD funding. Most counties completed a few houses; only Robeson made significant headway in that regard.
ReBuild NC’s own reports to HUD further illustrate the division of responsibilities between the state- and county-run programs. For example, homeowners’ cases outside of Robeson County were processed by a contractor hired by the state Division of Emergency Management; Robeson had its own project management contractor, HORNE.
In 17 months, from Aug. 1, 2018 to Dec. 31, 2019, the Robeson County program completed 201 houses, state records show. Nine contractors participated in that local program.
In January 2020, ReBuild absorbed all county-run programs. Over the next 30 months, through July of this year, state records show that 129 homes have been completed in Robeson County. Twelve contractors worked on homes there.
Some of the delay can be attributed to COVID-19 and related supply-chain shortages. Yet the overall pace of construction is slower now than at the peak of the pandemic, Hogshead testified.
Since 2020, Rescue Construction Solutions has won bids on the bulk of ReBuild NC homes in Robeson County; of 125, it has completed 19 as of July, according to state records.
When accounting for all counties where Rescue operates, it had won bids on 724 homes. Of those, Rescue has completed just 147.
Policy Watch asked Rescue for an estimated number of homes it would finish by the end of the year.
Michelle Rash, vice president of RLF Communications, the crisis communications firm representing Rescue, did not provide figures. Instead, Rash wrote on behalf of Rescue president Sheila Brewington that the company “remains fully committed to our work with NCORR and to helping families impacted by Hurricane Matthew rebuild as quickly as possible, within the parameters and conditions under which we are required to operate.”
Policy Watch requested from ReBuild NC an estimated number of homes that would be completed by each contractor by month and by the end of the year. A spokesperson said ReBuild NC has not requested specific start or completion dates, but did not explain why, especially since the legislative subcommittee dressed down the agency for failing to hold its contractors accountable.
“We are always monitoring contractor production with a goal of speeding up processes whenever possible and getting people back in their homes faster,” the spokesperson said.
Good news in Wayne County
There has been progress in Wayne County, where more than 100 households have applied to ReBuild NC for assistance.
Theresa Hamilton, who turned 90 years old in a motel in June, is on schedule to move into her home on Oct. 22.
Policy Watch reported earlier this year about a Goldsboro man who had been rescued by boat during Hurricane Matthew. Unable to stay in his damaged home, the man, who is in his 60s, lived in his car for several months one winter.
He eventually paid $650 a month to live in a one-star motel – all he could afford on his wages as a custodian – for more than four years.
ReBuild NC recently moved the man into an extended stay motel as part of a Temporary Relocation Assistance program, funded by HUD.
Charles Wright, the man’s communication designee, told Policy Watch that the man had been “lost in the system.” Wright has submitted the man’s motel receipts totaling $32,000 to ReBuild NC and asked for him to be reimbursed.