Owner of old hospital wants to use it to house hurricane victims in Dunn

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There are a lot of questions about where hurricane victims can live when they have no home to return to.

Esha Fannins purchased the old Betsy Johnson Hospital on Ellis Avenue in Dunn just before Hurricane Matthew. She said she wants to turn it in to affordable housing for flood victims.

“By all means, whatever funding comes, however we can set it up just so people can have a place to stay,” Fannins said. “That’s just my ultimate goal.”

The hospital is three floors and has about 55 rooms. In total, it is almost 33,000 square feet.

Right now, the state is moving forward with plans to get flood victims back into their homes by providing some very basic services.

“They get the electrical in your house working, they get the plumbing and the toilets and sinks working. You can live in the house, but it is certainly not fancy,” state Division of Emergency Management spokesman Keith Acree said via phone.

State and local leaders agree that there aren’t many long-term affordable housing solutions for storm victims.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say the state is taking the lead on finding permanent housing solutions, but right now, FEMA is taking care of residents whose homes are uninhabitable and who don’t have insurance.

“FEMA has been providing rental assistance so people can rent a place to live temporarily,” said John Mills, a FEMA spokesperson. “People are also being notified if they’re eligible to stay in a hotel at FEMA’s expense.”

Fannins thinks the idea of turning idle buildings, like hers, into affordable housing is a good one. The state agrees and says all options are on the table.

“I think that it’s certainly a conversation worth having with our partners, with FEMA, and with HUD, and all the federal agencies that run these programs,” Acree said. “If that’s a building that can be used for more affordable house in the future, we got to find a way to make it work.”

But, as of now, there are no plans to transform the building.