Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch
Editor’s note: As of noon Friday, the woman and her son were relocated by ReBuildNC to a hotel in Lumberton. Policy Watch will continue to update this story as additional details become available.
2:33 p.m. The homeowner called Policy Watch and said the motel in Lumberton had no rooms until tomorrow at 3 p.m. Meanwhile, the homeowner is sleeping in her dilapidated home that she said is full of mold.
The homeowners’ names have been withheld by their request for privacy reasons.
On Thursday around 11:30 in the morning, several Hurricane Matthew survivors living at an Extended Stay America motel in Fayetteville, in Cumberland County received a knock on their door. They had until 4 p.m. to pack up and leave.
They had been living at the Extended Stay for months, some even longer than a year, as their damaged homes were repaired or rebuilt under ReBuild NC’s homeowner disaster recovery relief program. The state was paying for them to live in the motel. Now they were essentially homeless.
“They didn’t give me a reason,” one of the survivors who was being evicted, told Policy Watch by phone. The woman, who is in her late 50s, has been living in the motel with her son for 20 months. “I don’t have anywhere to go.”
At 9:22 a.m. Friday morning, the woman called Policy Watch to say the police were there to evict her.
A motel clerk told Policy Watch by phone Thursday that the residents were being “relocated” by ReBuild NC.
That’s not true, a ReBuild spokesperson told Policy Watch via email. “ReBuild NC is not requiring the relocation of program participants. We are aware of a few individuals being evicted from hotels at the direction of the hotel and ReBuild is working to find new lodging in those instances. We are also in the process of communicating with other program participants to address any confusion.”
Extended Stay management was actually evicting the three families over alleged “violations of motel policy,” according to several sources, including Leigh Lawrence, the legislative aide for State Rep. Billy Richardson, whose district includes Cumberland County. Lawrence coordinated with the motel and county officials to get the woman and her son a temporary reprieve; the other two families had already left the motel by 4 o’clock. It is unclear where they went.
It’s also unclear what the policies had been violated. An Extended Stay clerk who answered the phone Friday morning said the motel had no comment, but that the information that Policy Watch had been given “was false.” The clerk would not elaborate.
The woman and her son had been complaining about bedbugs in her suite as early as April of this year, when Policy Watch previously spoke with her. The woman told Policy Watch Friday morning that after she reported the bedbugs, motel management sprayed the room and relocated her and her son. “They’re trying to blame us for the bedbugs, but the bugs were already here,” she said. The motel has a two-star rating out of five, based on public reviews.
ReBuild NC has spent more than $13 million as part of its Temporary Relocation Assistance program to house survivors of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence, primarily in motels. Some survivors have lived in motels without kitchens or laundry facilities for nearly three years.
After state lawmakers grilled top ReBuild NC officials at a government oversight hearing, the program began offering more apartment options for motel residents.
Many hurricane survivors have also told Policy Watch over the past six months about unsafe conditions in some of the motels, including drug dealing. One man told Policy Watch that hotel management abruptly changed his agreement from a monthly basis to a weekly one, then temporarily locked him out of his room.
Lawrence of Rep. Richardson’s office told Policy Watch that the Cumberland County officials didn’t know hurricane survivors were living in motels there, but that the county manager was communicating with top ReBuild officials about relocating the evictees.