MOREHEAD CITY - Nearly three months after Hurricane Florence, many county residents remain displaced from their homes with little idea of when they can return. For some, that could mean losing out on critical rental assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Edenbridge Apartments, at 501 Brooks St. in Morehead City, was vacated in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence due to roof and water damage and extensive mold growth. About two weeks after the storm, on Sept. 27, tenants were given notice they had 72 hours to remove their belongings and vacate the complex.
Edenbridge is a 40-unit senior living complex. Many residents there have low or fixed incomes, and many rely on financial assistance from HUD to help them pay rent.
According to officials with Coastal Community Action, a Newport-based group that has been assisting Edenbridge residents through the HUD process, tenants received 180-day HUD housing vouchers upon being vacated from their apartments. The vouchers can help subsidize housing costs, but they only apply to HUD-approved accommodations, known as Section 8 housing.
A letter from CCA to Edenbridge tenants dated Nov. 21 states after 180 days, HUD will end their housing assistance agreement.
"As a participant (in the voucher program), you are allowed 6 months (180 days) to be absent from the home before the HUD agency would terminate your assistance," the letter reads. "Because you were required to sign your voucher upon immediate action in the month of September and/or October (depending upon the day you were seen); the HUD agency MUST follow protocol."
CCA Executive Director Catissa Head said it appears unlikely repairs to make the apartment complex livable will be complete within that 180-day window.
"Unfortunately, the place is uninhabitable, but the regulations
we have no control over," she said Thursday.
Officials have been grappling with a countywide housing shortage since the hurricane. Several other apartment complexes, along with single-family homes, some of which are rentals, have been condemned, with residents forced from their homes and few alternative accommodations available.
"It's a bad situation all over the whole county," Ms. Head said. "
Unfortunately, there (are) very limited resources right now."
Ms. Head said one option is to leave the county and find HUD-approved housing elsewhere. According to the Nov. 21 letter to tenants, if they choose that option, they will be required to reside under a new landlord for at least one full year before reapplying to Edenbridge Apartments, should they want to eventually return.
Another option is to voluntarily come off the HUD program. The letter states residents who choose to do so must give 30 days written notice about their decision in order to stay in good standing with HUD so they can re-apply for Section 8 housing later.
CCA Housing Director Nadine Sullivan said seniors get priority with HUD, so their waitlist time to be accepted back into the program would be about a year less than the wait time for most other groups.
Edenbridge resident Lou Bell said her HUD housing voucher expires March 26. She said she was on a waitlist for three years before initially being approved for HUD assistance, and doesn't know what will be next if she cannot continue with the assistance.
"It's the only way I afford rent," she said Thursday.
Ms. Bell said she is renting a single bedroom in a friend's home, and most of her belongings are being stored in another friend's garage because she couldn't find a storage unit on such short notice. She said for now, she is using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to subsidize her rent, but her current situation is not sustainable long term.
Ms. Bell said she and other residents have had little communication with the Edenbridge owners or property managers since being forced out in September. She said at first, they were told the apartments would be ready to move back in by the beginning of March, well within the HUD voucher timeframe, but that seems increasingly unlikely.
Edenbridge is owned by East Carolina Community Development Inc., a Beaufort-based company that operates several low-income housing developments in the county. ECCDI Executive Director Keith Walker said Thursday they have just wrapped up negotiations with the insurance company and can now begin finding a contractor to complete the repairs.
Mr. Walker said after they contract with a company, it will take about 90 days for repairs to be complete. However, because of the high demand for contractors in the county, it might not be until after the new year that a company can even begin.
"We're not dragging our feet on this, we want people back in there as soon as possible," he said.
Despite this, Ms. Bell said she and other Edenbridge residents are frustrated with the situation and unsure of what the future holds. She said it has been a difficult process since the beginning.
"It's like we don't exist. There's thousands of us in the county that have no place to go, still," she said. "Just because things are looking better and getting cleaned up doesn't mean they are better for everyone. There's hundreds who are basically homeless."
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.