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Long wait continues for homeowners

GATESVILLE – Three years after a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant was awarded to replace four substandard homes in Gates County, those families are still waiting for a brighter tomorrow.

That long delay has prompted the Gates County Board of Commissioners to take immediate action in an effort to hasten the process.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here last week, the board approved a motion that called for McDavid Associates to take swift action to put these county residents in the new homes they were promised three years ago.

McDavid Associates is the agency contracted by the county to administer the grant funds, which come through the NC Department of Commerce.

Prior to the motion, Mike Barnette of McDavid Associates offered an update to the commissioners as to where the project currently stands. He said activity completed to date includes ownership verification, documentation of income, boundary/home location surveys, received and awarded bids for demolition, and sent out advertisements for the home replacement packages.

“I’m hopeful to get those proposals back by March 4,” Barnette stated.

Pending, he said, is the temporary relocation of the families followed by demolition of the old structures and placement of the new, off-site built modular homes.

“That typically takes 150-to-180 days upon approval of ordering the pre-manufactured homes,” Barnette said. “We expect the program to close out in November. However, a short deadline extension may be needed depending on home production lead time. There are a lot of homes being produced in eastern North Carolina right now and there are COVID-related issues associated with that, which can add to the production lead time.”

Upon finishing his update, the floor was open for questions/remarks from the commissioners.

“Have you had any communication with those from the program as to pertaining to a date when they might be able complete that,” asked Commissioner Ray Freeman.

“There’s one, the one you mentioned in particular, where we contacted them in November and we’re waiting to get information back,” Barnette answered. “We secured additional funding for them as well; seems to be some issue in settling the process and the paperwork for that.”

“Is there something complicated about that paperwork,” Commissioner Jack Owens inquired.

“No sir, it’s a modification to a deed of trust,” Barnette responded.

“Is it unusual to take this long,” Freeman asked.

“It has been several years dealing with this, so, yes, it is unusual to take this amount of time,” said Barnette. “It’s an unusual case.”

Commissioner Jonathan Jones asked about the order in which these four housing replacement projects will occur and the rationale/reasoning if one takes precedent over the others.

“We would like to do them all at one time and as soon as possible,” Barnette noted. “There isn’t a situation where one will be done before another.”

During public comments, Anthony Saunders expressed his disappointment in Barnette’s report.

“I heard more questions/complaints than solutions,” Saunders stated. “I take it personal because three of the four homes that were talked about, I did the inspection. I signed off telling these families that their homes were in such bad shape that they needed to be replaced.

“This project has been going on for almost three years now,” Saunders continued. “As part of the [Gates County] Housing Committee. I have met with Mr. Barnette and I’ve listened to what he had to say. Some of his answers are not acceptable to me.”

To that end, Saunders offered a suggestion.

“If the money is there, can we find another contractor who can take care of these homes,” he said. “Every time I ride by these homes, and you see the conditions they’re living in, it takes a lot out of you. I looked them in the eye and told them we could help, but three years is way too long.

“These families are not getting any younger; and building material isn’t getting any cheaper,” Saunders added. “Let’s find a different route.”

Gates County Interim Manager Diane Hendrix read into the record a letter from Clifton Walton, the son of Lois Walton whose home is among the four to be replaced. He expressed sadness over the fact that three years have passed without any progress on the home replacement project.

“On behalf of my mom, I’ve called McDavid Associates multiple times throughout the years to find out what the status was,” Clifton Walton said in his letter. “I left messages and it took longer than it should to get a response, if any. When I did get a response it would be rude in some instances. The only information I received is that they could use the same septic system and run new lines.”

His letter continued, “It’s now February 2021 and my mom is still living in a home with major problems, that include health and safety issues. I would like to know when she’ll get to live in her new home. God only knows how much longer she has on this earth. It does not take three years to build a house and this process started in March 2019, before the start of COVID-19.”

Owens chimed in at that point, saying he felt the same sense of urgency as the letter writer.

“I’m in disbelief of this entire process; as a commissioner who signed off on this I’m embarrassed that it’s taken this long,” Owens remarked. “I asked earlier about the delay in the paperwork and was told it wasn’t that complicated. So, what’s the holdup? Is there a problem with the bids…an issue of only having one bidder? I asked specifically about building capacity as far as general liability. Why aren’t more people not bidding on this?

“It doesn’t make sense for this to continue to drag on,” Owens continued. “We are displeased and disappointed at this point. We need to know exactly what they [McDavid Associates] need to expedite these cases one-by-one and make sure they have what they need immediately. That will force them to take action. They need to know we’re serious about helping our citizens.”

“This issue has been going on too long; what we get are more delays, more excuses; more reasons; more whatever,” said Commission Chair Dr. Althea Riddick.

“I agree, this shouldn’t take that long,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler.

It was learned at the meeting that, at the outset of the project, the Gates County Housing Committee listed each project by priority need, but those assigned numbers (1, 2, 3, 4) were dropped at some point, but not by the Committee.

“Do we need to return to this priority listing,” Owens asked.

The Housing Committee said yes, adding that the Walton home was originally at the top of the list.

Upon hearing all the comments from her colleagues on the board, Riddick suggested the county manager to draft a letter to McDavid Associates expressing the county’s concerns and suggestions.

Owens took that a step further, placing a motion on the floor for a letter to be drafted to McDavid Associates that asked what are the two most pressing things that are preventing the Walton project from moving forward; and then follow that up with the most pressing items needed to quickly expedite each of the other three projects.

“And please include in that letter our displeasure over the length of time these projects are taking,” Owens stressed. “We want an immediate response to what immediate action will be taken.”

After a second, the motion was approved without objection.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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