After mold displaced more than 450 people from public housing in Wilmington in recent months, local authorities and residents are scrambling to find a solution.
Many families stay in hotels while their homes are cleared of mold. The remediation and relocation caused stress for the 151 displaced families and created financial pressure for the Wilmington Housing Authority.
Housing units in Hillcrest, Houston Moore Terrace, Vesta Village, Creekwood, Rankin Terrace, Eastbrook and Woodbridge have “major mold” issues, which have displaced 161 adults and 315 children, according to a presentation by Wilmington Housing Authority officials .
The housing authority is seeking more than $13 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Al Sharp, who chairs the housing authority’s board.
This money will help pay residents’ hotel bills and food per diems as well as mold remediation and rehabilitation of the unit. The Housing Authority currently spends about $450,000 on temporary housing, food allowances and remediation efforts.
“We know it’s incredibly difficult for families to live in hotels,” Vernice Hamilton, the organization’s acting CEO, told city council members recently. “Hotels and motels are not made for long-term living.”
The group tries to place families in apartments and other housing options with longer leases, but apartment managers are often hesitant to rent to them, Hamilton said, and with the tourist season approaching, hotels are hesitant. also for renting rooms long term. .
While some units experienced mold issues after Hurricane Florence, mold became a bigger problem last year, Hamilton said.
“The mold problem really started to escalate in 2021,” she said. “We had mold issues in 2020 and 2019, but not at the level we have now, far from what we are facing now.”
Although Hamilton told city council members she couldn’t pinpoint the exact cause of the mold, she believes it stems from damage and dampness from Hurricane Florence and poor circulation of air in some units.
The authority has also had to deal with turnover in its leadership position. In August, Katrina Redmond stepped down as CEO, putting the organization in “great need” for senior executives, Sharp said.
The housing authority is also constrained by its financial means, Sharp said.
“There is no sustainable way to keep residents in motels or sufficient funds to rebuild contaminated units,” he said.
The housing authority continues to seek flat managers to help house displaced families and contractors to help with sanitation, Sharp said.
Still, families are returning to their homes as their units are sanitized. According to Linda Thompson, New Hanover County’s diversity and inclusion manager, about 20 families have been able to start moving in again.
Thompson helped organize a fundraiser to collect household items to furnish social housing once residents are allowed to move back in.
So far, two drives hosted by New Hanover County have collected everything from dining tables and dressers to paper plates and napkins. But there’s still a need for more items, Thompson said, especially mattresses and bedding.
“We really need beds because, as you can imagine, the mattresses once they get moldy, we never want to try to use them again,” she said.
Many household items and even some clothing were destroyed by mold and had to be thrown out by residents, Thompson said.
Donation drives for gently used household items will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 12 and 26 at 1002 Princess St.
The New Hanover County Disaster Relief Coalition is also working to set up a link for financial donations to help provide families with the furniture they need.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and other council members told housing authority officials they would continue to press for the money the group needs to fix the mold and rehouse their residents.
“We can’t do anything without the money,” Saffo said. “It is essential.”
Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected].