NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County is hiring a small team of case managers to support and advocate for families displaced by Wilmington Housing Authority’s unresolved mold crisis.
Commissioners approved a $772,662, two-year allocation Monday for the Department of Social Services to fill one supervisor and four family support case manager roles. Their duties would include connecting more than 400 residents with resources while their units are remediated from mold.
The supervisor will cost $75,655, including benefits, and each case manager is a budget line of $69,532.
New Hanover County, as well as the City of Wilmington, operate independently from the public housing authority. However, both government agencies have stepped in to help address the mold situation, particularly while WHA was lacking stable leadership for about eight months. The county elicited the collaboration of the New Hanover Disaster Coalition to work on the problems as well.
According to county emails, the coalition’s volunteers were working with at least 50 families — helping them obtain McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and SNAP benefits — but quickly became “overwhelmed” by the number of families in need and they are not funded for case management. FEMA recommends one disaster case manager per 35 households, according to a proposal the coalition submitted to the county.
The case workers will serve the authority for two years, the amount of time expected to amend the problem.
At the beginning of May, 145 families living in WHA neighborhoods were still displaced due to mold. The crisis has plagued the communities for years, at least since Hurricane Florence in 2018. Most of the families are living in hotels, not equipped with kitchens, and are at risk of being relocated as tourism season peaks.
“This is a miserable problem that has affected our community over the last almost two years or even more,” commissioner Rob Zapple said during Monday’s commissioners’ meeting, “and I’m delighted that as a county we’re stepping in to provide some help and to hopefully bring this situation to a close as rapidly as possible.”
WHA has made some progress toward correcting the catastrophe since news reports shined a spotlight on the issue. It is seeking a $13-million emergency grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to expedite remediation and rebuilding efforts. In the meantime, HUD also increased the subsidies of the authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program to 120% of market value.
The organization recently announced a new executive director in Tyrone Garrett to replace outgoing CEO Katrina Redmon, who downplayed the extent of the mold infestation prior to her departure. Coming from the District of Columbia Housing Authority, Garrett started Monday.