While more people might be displaced in harder-hit areas, housing after Hurricane Florence remains a concern for residents and local officials in New Hanover County because of the number of apartment complexes that sustained serious damage as a result of the September storm, officials said Monday.
At the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday morning, Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said in the time he's lived in the county, since he was about a year old, he's never seen a storm damage so many apartment complexes to the point where they had to be shut down. It's especially troubling, officials say, in an area where affordable housing, or in some cases any available housing at all, is difficult to find.
"I'm getting a lot of calls from folks who are trying to find places for their families to live, and even if someone is living with someone else, that can only be short-term," Barfield said.
FEMA official Robert Spence told commissioners that while 14 to 15 apartment communities in New Hanover County were damaged during Hurricane Florence, about six had major damage. He said it appears, in working with local leaders on the issue, that most of the people displaced by apartment damage "have been absorbed in your community" whether they're staying with a friend, have found another location to rent or they're part of the FEMA Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, which involves FEMA covering the costs of renting hotel rooms.
He said about 150 people in New Hanover County remain in shelters, but the federal agency doesn't have a specific number of people who remain homeless (those sleeping at the homes of friends and relatives, for example) because of storm damage.
FEMA has completed disaster outreach at five apartment complexes in New Hanover with Wilmington addresses: Campus Evolution Villages, 455 Racine Drive; Glen Apartments, 4641 Fillmore Drive; Pinewood Apartments, 4901 Randall Park Way; New Providence Apartments, 4413 Cohan Circle; and The Reserve at Forest Hills, 361 Darlington Ave.
Officials said they are also aware of the damage at Market North Apartments at 111 Darlington Ave. in Wilmington, which consists of housing voucher program rental units.
The executive director of the Cape Fear Volunteer Center, Annie Anthony, was stationed at Market North Apartments on Monday coordinating moving efforts for residents who haven't been able to relocate yet. Anthony's agency also helped residents at The Glen apartments, where about 1,000 residents were displaced from the complex across from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
She said some displaced residents at apartment complexes have been putting belongings in storage while planning to live on friends' and relatives' couches. At Market North, "they have nowhere to go" and in some cases are having to wait until the last minute -- Oct. 22 -- before they leave the units, she said.
Any money displaced residents are getting from the complexes or charities is going fast, she said, but not because they've been able to find rental housing; the cost to store what belongings they do have left is one of the factors.
"To try to put a one- or two-bedroom apartment into storage right now is hundreds of dollars," said Anthony, who has also put out a call for volunteers
to help with the Market North moving efforts.
Spence told commissioners that the apartment situation is one of the reasons New Hanover County was added to the list of those eligible for FEMA DIrect Temporary Housing Assistance. Other counties include Brunswick, Pender, Onslow, Columbus, Duplin, Robeson, Jones, Craven and Carteret. The assistance consists of RVs (called travel trailers on the FEMA website) for households that have a high degree of confidence that their homes can be repaired in less than a year, ideally within six months; and manufactured housing units, which provide a longer-term solution for those with more damage.
Apartment renters are eligible for these units, too, on appropriate sites and not at their damaged apartment complexes, Spence said.
As a result of the county's approval for the temporary housing, the New Hanover County Planning Board is meeting Wednesday to consider a county zoning ordinance amendment that will allow temporary relocation housing for displaced residents as a result of natural disasters, something the city of Wilmington already had in place.