A 12-member legislative subcommittee will investigate the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency’s handling of a Hurricane Matthew disaster relief program that has left thousands of people displaced, living in motels, with relatives, or in dilapidated houses for years. NCORR is familiarly known as ReBuild NC.
This week House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger established the Subcommittee on Hurricane Response and Recovery. Its co-chairs are Rep. John Bell, a Republican representing Wayne, Johnston and Greene counties; and fellow Republican Sen. Brent Jackson, whose district includes Duplin, Johnston and Sampson counties.
ReBuild NC received $236 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Hurricane Matthew homeowner recovery. Initially, the Division of Emergency Management ran the program under then-director Mike Sprayberry. However, HUD criticized the division for the slow rollout of funding.
In response, in late 2018 the legislature created the NC Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which is under the Department of Public Safety. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Laura Hogshead as chief operating officer to get the program on track. She hired Ivan Duncan as chief program delivery officer, who held a similar position in New York State after Hurricane Sandy.
However, under Hogshead’s and Duncan’s leadership, ReBuild NC has continued to founder. Since May, Policy Watch has published a series of investigative stories and homeowner interviews uncovering the extent of ReBuild NC’s mismanagement: arbitrary and preferential treatment to some construction companies, an atmosphere of secrecy, high turnover of case managers, lack of communication with displaced homeowners, as well as exorbitant expenditures on motel rooms and mobile storage units for those households.
As a result of Policy Watch’s reporting, Gov. Roy Cooper in late June ordered ReBuild NC and the Department of Public Safety “to undergo a thorough review of all areas where the process can be streamlined and customer service improved. They have identified a robust plan of action to get people back into their homes faster. The governor expects that NCORR will focus on delivering results faster while staying in close touch with those being assisted.”
Nonetheless, in the past month, Policy Watch has continued to hear from displaced homeowners who are desperate for help. All of them have told Policy Watch they get no answers from ReBuild NC about the progress on their homes. Several contractors have also left the program, further delaying construction.
The homeowners also said their case managers instruct them to communicate only by phone, not via email. Not only does this practice leave no paper trail for accountability purposes, it also prevents case managers from having a comprehensive history of a homeowner’s issues. In many instances, homeowners said they had to rehash their entire history with the program — even providing redundant documentation — to new case managers.
Hurricane Matthew disaster relief is not the only program under ReBuild NC and the Department of Public Safety to be scrutinized. In April, State Auditor Beth Wood blasted the agency’s handling of Hurricane Florence recovery money.
In response to the announcement of the subcommittee, NCORR issued a statement:
“Since beginning its work in early 2019, NCORR’s top priority has been to get hurricane survivors back into their homes as quickly as possible, while supporting the overall recovery of storm-impacted communities. NCORR has been working closely with General Assembly members and staff to increase understanding of its progress and operations. We look forward to sharing additional information about program changes underway that are improving and expediting the recovery process for the people we serve.”
In addition to the co-chairs, many of the subcommittee’s members represent constituents in eastern North Carolina, which was devastated by the historic hurricane in October 2016. The first meeting has not yet been announced.
Danny Britt (R-Columbus, Robeson) Brenden Jones (R-Columbus, Robeson)
Jim Perry (R-Lenoir, Wayne) Mark Pless (R-Haywood, Madison, Yancey)
Steve Jarvis (R-Davidson, Montgomery) Sarah Stevens (R-Alleghany, Surry, Wilkes)
Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) Charles Graham (D-Robeson)
Joyce Waddell (D-Mecklenburg) Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe, Martin)