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Rep. David Rouzer said he would like to see CDBG-DR grants administered differently.
BURGAW — Frustration was the prevailing theme Monday night at a Hurricane Florence recovery town hall hosted by U.S. Rep. David Rouzer.
Monday’s event, which took place in front of about 150 people in Pender High School’s gym, was the second of its kind Rouzer has hosted. The congressman, whose southeastern North Carolina district took much of Hurricane Florence’s wrath last September, shared the stage with 10 nonprofits or community organizations playing a role in the ongoing recovery.
The frustration, though, found its way into nearly every comment, with residents expressing dismay that they continue to have questions going unanswered and Rouzer blasting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s management of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds.
“Every deadline they give us, every date they give us turns out to be erroneous. I’m just tired of it,” Rouzer said of HUD following Monday’s meeting.
Rouzer was specifically referencing $1.14 billion in block grants meant to be used use rebuilding homes and bolstering infrastructure in North Carolina that were part of a bill President Donald Trump signed into law last October. More than eight months later, those grants have not been published in the Federal Register and, thus, are not available to North Carolina residents coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
For his part, Rouzer would like to see Congress pass legislation bypassing HUD entirely in the administration of disaster recovery block grants, with funds directly allocated to the individual states, something the congressman believes could improve accountability.
“The state officials on the ground have a much better handle on what will work and how it needs to run,” Rouzer said, “and if they screw it up, everybody will know who’s screwing it up, so that will ensure that it’s not screwed up. Right now, nobody knows what the deal is.”
Mike Sprayberry, North Carolina’s director of emergency management, will eventually be tasked with overseeing the Florence grants. Monday, Sprayberry acknowledged the state struggled with CDBG-DR grants following 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, but also said the office is now better prepared to handle the task.
“We know that we have some folks — you folks are out there — that need that help,” Sprayberry said, “and we’re ready to implement that funding when we get it.”
There are, Sprayberry said, 182 families in Pender County still in FEMA trailers or mobile homes.
“You all bore the brunt of Hurricane Florence. We know that. And you’re still not where you need to be. We want to work with you, we know it’s going to take a while,” Sprayberry said.
When Rouzer asked the audience how many were struggling with housing, about 30 people in the audience raised their hands. When he then asked how many wanted a buyout, about five hands went up.
Part of the concern Monday, also, was the quality of life afforded to disaster victims, with one person asking a question about FEMA’s monthly inspections that are part of their recertification process.
Rouzer initially expressed surprise at the practice, but when he asked who had experienced it, about a dozen in the audience raised their hands. Afterward, Rouzer said he would likely soon raise the issue with FEMA.
“Even though we’re disaster survivors, aren’t we entitled to the right of privacy?” said Constance Rowe, a Currie resident who is temporarily residing in Wallace.
Rowe said she had a HUD voucher for Columbus County, but it expired because she could not find a landlord willing to take the voucher because, she said, they were worried about complying with a federal inspection. Further, Rowe added, landlords throughout the region have hiked rents.
Residents are growing sick of being told to wait for aid or housing alternatives, said Darlene Adams of non-profit coalition Pender United.
Following Monday’s meeting, Adams said “I heard the same old stuff, the same information that we heard in Kenansville. … People really want answers and if the answer is, ‘I don’t know,’ it’s OK, maybe you will know maybe a week from now, but just don’t keep telling us the same thing.”
Reporter Adam Wagner can be reached at 910-343-2389 or Adam.Wagner@GateHouseMedia.com.