WILMINGTON — The Wilmington Housing Authority has been anxiously awaiting a response on its $13-million ask in emergency federal funding to assist 150 families still displaced. The authority applied for a grant in February but had to edit the application and resubmit this week.
The public housing neighborhoods have faced an ongoing mold crisis, exacerbated by three consecutive years of hurricanes and a global pandemic. It’s been over a year since the first family moved out of their home in April 2021.
WHA’s new executive director Tyrone Garrett officially took the helm Monday. Garrett was previously the director for the D.C. Housing Authority for four years before the agency decided not to renew his contract in May 2021.
His first order of business was to ensure the paperwork made it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development so WHA’s funding request could be processed.
“We just needed to update what we believe to be the cause of the issue,” Garrett told Port City Daily. “One of the components for the opportunity for the emergency funding was whether or not families have been impacted by Covid.”
WHA applied for an Emergency Grant to HUD’s regional Greensboro office Feb. 3 for $12,682,000 to cover six months of financials. That request was forwarded to the D.C.-based headquarters.
Garrett signed off on the updates Tuesday. A HUD spokesperson confirmed WHA rescinded the application to correct issues on it.
Grant approval is subject to available funding, as well as compliance with grant criteria, HUD spokesperson Shannon Watkins explained.
“I’m not worried about that being in jeopardy,” Garrett said. “I’m optimistic they understand the severity of the situation, optimistic they’ll fast-track it.”
While WHA waits for news on its request, its finances continue to dwindle. The ultimate need — first expressed at a March 1 city council meeting — is for $32 million to fully cover all necessary expenses, including housing and per diem costs for displaced residents, mold remediation and reconstruction of hundreds of apartments.
Within the application, WHA detailed natural disasters leading to its current emergency situation: 2018’s hurricanes Florence and Michael, 2019’s Hurricane Dorian, 2020’s Hurricane Isais, and two years of Covid-19.
Florence dumped up to 36 inches of rain over Wilmington in a matter of days, leading to one of the wettest years in history at over 100 inches. The aftermath caused disastrous flooding. The combined effects of three years of major hurricanes wreaking havoc on the area were the catalysts for “intensified moist conditions under which mold grows,” according to the application. In turn a mold infestation intensified within WHA units.
Further complicating efforts, the pandemic limited access to apartments to “identify, assess and address mold issues in a timely manner,” the application states.
As of the February submission, 129 families, most of which include children, were displaced from WHA neighborhoods including Creekwood, Woodbridge, Eastbrook, Hillcrest, Houston Moore and Vesta.
To cover costs to temporarily re-house residents, as well as provide per diem to those living in hotels without kitchens, WHA spent $1.5 million between April and October 2021.
The application points to a number of factors contributing to the process moving slower than expected: leadership gaps, lack of skilled staff to manage remediation efforts, lack of a program manager to oversee contractors, and competition and availability of vendors to perform needed work.
In a letter to county intergovernmental affairs manager Tim Buckland, WHA interim director Vernice Hamilton estimated the grand total to test, remediate and rehabilitate 201 units, as well as covering the current costs of those displaced families, at just under $32 million.
WHA estimates the per unit cost of full remediation to be $103,248.
Adding to WHA’s money issues, the HUD Greensboro office reneged on its initial approval in September 2021 for WHA to use capital funds to cover per diem costs. On Feb. 25, the same agency told WHA it must use non-federal money to cover per diem expenses and could not use capital funds.
At the time, WHA had approximately $250,000 in non-federal funds, barely enough to cover one month of its monthly per diem expenditures at $270,000. It has over $5 million in federal operating subsidy funds available; however, HUD will not allow it to be used toward per diem.
“WHA needs assistance because HUD and HUD Greensboro are not fully cooperating with the Housing Authority in providing viable suggestions and solutions to the Housing Authority’s mold remediation problem,” Hamilton wrote in her letter to the county.
Garrett said HUD did not give him an estimated timeline for when he might hear back after re-submitting his application.
“It’s no doubt we’ll follow up early next week, as to see any progress or anything else we need to submit to them,” he said.
HUD announced Tuesday the allocation of $10.3 billion in housing and community activities grants across the country. WHA will receive a little over $3 million in capital funding, presented to 2,813 public housing agencies in the U.S. for development, financing and modernization of public housing developments.
Garrett said it would likely be the end of the year before WHA received the awarded money.
In addition, HUD will distribute $1 million to Wilmington for a Community Development Block Grant — an annual grant provided to develop viable urban communities — and $778,000 from a HOME Investment Partnerships Program, used for rehabilitating affordable housing for rent or providing rental assistance.
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