January 5, 2017


FEMA extends housing help deadline, but crunch still coming

By JOY CRIST


A Jan. 7 deadline for FEMA housing assistance for residents who were displaced during October’s Hurricane Matthew has been extended for a number of North Carolina counties, including Dare.
 
The FEMA Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program provides eligible applicants with lodging assistance in the form of funds and vouchers for hotels or other accommodations until viable housing options are identified and / or residents can return to their homes.

In Dare County, a total of 17 families receive FEMA housing assistance, which includes nine families in Hatteras Island – five in Hatteras village, three in Frisco, and one in Buxton.

The extension is available in increments of 14 days until Feb. 4. Residents who are eligible to stay in lodging will be contacted at the end of each 14-day period and be made aware of their continued eligibility and the new deadline date. 

Ashley Jackson, a Dare County social worker and a Hatteras village resident who was also affected by the storm, had originally been preparing for the looming Jan. 7 deadline in the days leading up to the extension. 

“What we’ve done is make contact with everybody and see if they have a plan,” she said before the extension was announced. “Whether it’s returning to their home, identifying family or friends they can stay with, or finding rental properties.”
 
Jackson also met with the United Methodist Men and the Interfaith Community Outreach – two local organizations who have been instrumental in helping with assistance after the storm -- to discuss additional options.

“Two of the [households] we were talking to sustained significant damage and won’t have the funds to rebuild, so we’re looking to see how we can help them in the rebuilding process,” said Jackson. “Two of the people on the list are more long-term issues, and the rest of [the people on the list] will be able to get things back together soon.”

Another person on the list had moved out of the county after the storm.

Jackson also noted that finding accommodations for displaced locals – regardless of whether they were receiving help from FEMA – was not as painful a process as it could have been.

“We haven’t had a ton of difficulty so far, because a lot of people found their own accommodations through the community – through where they worked, or through people they knew,” she said. “We were also lucky because after the storm, a lot of out-of-town property owners offered their homes for rent – Hatteras Realty, Midgett Realty, and Colony Realty really supported us in that process.”

The roughly month-long extension adds a little extra breathing room for residents who are still in transition three months after Hurricane Matthew brought record-high soundside flooding to areas of southern Hatteras Island.

However, Jackson noted that there’s a larger problem on the horizon, which is poised to become a pressing issue in the weeks and months to come.

“We are worried about the people who are displaced in donated rental properties or rental homes… That is definitely something that is on our radar,” said Jackson. “When the season starts again near March, and these properties are rented again, they will have to get out.”

“So while it looks OK right now, if people don’t have their homes ready, where they’ve been staying for the last four months will fall apart. Then we’ll be in a bind, because there’s not a ton of rental properties out there.”

Dennis Carroll, the director of the United Methodist Men, echoed this sentiment. 

“That’s always been the concern - the crunch that’s coming up,” said Carroll. “Things are just not getting done very quickly, and it’s a combination of waiting for insurance settlements, as well as the shortage of labor. The volunteer pool is drying up a lot, and most of the contractors were already busy before the storm hit.”

Another major factor is the extent of damage in many of the affected properties. With saltwater flooding as high as 4 feet or more in some areas, many homes had to be gutted from the ground up before they could be deemed habitable. The extensive work involved and the limited labor supply and / or the funds needed to rebuild, have caused the overall process to be slow going for a number of families.

“It will be tight,” said Carroll on the rush to rebuild, and the corresponding need of some families to move out of a temporary residence. “Before some of the houses are ready to be occupied, people will have to be out of their rental houses, and donated homes, and so forth. So we’re just anticipating the problem and doing what we can.”

Carroll reports that across the community, there are fewer than 20 residents who are in motels or hotels, but that there are still “quite a few others that are in temporary housing of some type.”

A call for temporary housing – especially when the rental season is back in full swing – is still in effect, and volunteer labor and monetary donations for local families are still needed.

People who want to help by donating a rental home can contact Ashley Jackson at the Social Services Division of the Department of Health & Human Services, and folks who want to volunteer or make a monetary donation can contact the United Methodist Men.

While there’s a little extra leeway available at the moment, thanks to the FEMA extension, Jackson and Carroll recognize, as they have for months, that there are still potential obstacles ahead – obstacles that have caused all parties involved concern since Matthew hit.

“No one is homeless at the moment that we know of,” says Carroll, “but things will change.”

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