CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On the third anniversary of West Virginia’s catastrophic flood of 2016, the RISE disaster relief program has completed 51 homes.
There are 432 housing cases in RISE now. That number has fluctuated as cases are reviewed.
For several weeks this spring, the number of completed homes under RISE stood at 50. That was the case from May 4 until now.
Of those completed, 48 are mobile homes and three were “stick-built” homes constructed on site.
Gov. Jim Justice, during brief remarks about flood relief at a press conference this month, said he would like to get more under construction.
“I’m going crazy to make sure we get every single one of these homes where these people were ravaged by the flood, that we get every single last one of them under construction before the end of the year,” Justice said. “I am going crazy about that.”
The most recent report provided by the West Virginia National Guard shows that’s not yet the case.
That shows 292 cases have been assigned for construction. Plus there are 16 mobile home replacement projects awaiting bid selection and 36 mobile home replacements out for bid. There are 88 homes awaiting assignment to construction management.
“We are now on a glide path that we believe by the end of June we will have 300 cases in contract management, meaning anywhere from a permit being issued to nails and hammers,” West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer said during an April update to the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.
That’s just the pipeline, though.
There are 24 homes in active construction.
Of those, 16 are mobile home replacements and eight are reconstruction projects.
Of the 432 current cases: 51 homes are complete, 266 cases require total reconstruction, 52 cases require some form of rehabilitation actions, 104 cases require new mobile home replacement, and 10 cases are awaiting initial project type and undergoing the damage assessment process.
The June 23, 2016, flood devastated much of the state.
Twenty-three people were killed. There were 1,200 homes destroyed, and thousands were without power. The flood damaged businesses, roads and water and sewer systems.
West Virginia drew down $149 million in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
West Virginia made its request to start using the money on Jan. 29, 2018. HUD gave its OK on Feb. 20, 2018.
Hoyer took over leadership of the disaster relief program last June 4 amid widespread criticism that not enough had been done to get flood victims back into houses.
Hoyer has described “deliberate speed” in making progress — attempting to get people into homes while also being careful with the money.
HUD has labeled West Virginia a “slow spender,” an official designation that reflects the state’s pace toward closing out its grant.
Of the $149 million available, West Virginia still has $134,975,882.
West Virginia’s three-month average of spending is $541,805.
During interim legislative meetings this spring, Delegate Kayla Kessinger asked about the slow-spender status. “It’s a little disappointing that we’re back on that list,” she said.
Hoyer mentioned the federal government shutdown that took place last December plus the difficulties of construction during winter.
“It will ebb and flow a little bit,” he said, “but I would ask that we would look at more than that as a broader metric of where we are from a program standpoint.”
Hoyer said work toward progress continues.
“I understand your frustration about the three years,” he said. “We’re trying to make up ground over time.”
Senators Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, and Glenn Jeffries, D-Kanawha, wrote a commentary this weekend for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, reflecting on the flood.
“For clients of federal government-funded housing programs, such as RISE and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program,” the senators wrote, “progress has been slow and frustration runs high. They tell us they feel forgotten, ignored and heartbroken.”