Sandy Ippolito is one of the families who lost their apartments to the Holly Plaza mold crisis. Since November, she and her two children have lived in an extended-stay hotel while she searched for a new place.
She just signed a lease on a new house. She’s hoping to move in by the end of the month. But it looks like she has to jump one more hurdle.
“This process has been so brutal,” she told WHQR, “just to get to this point.”
This week, her family could lose their current home: their hotel room. The town of Holly Ridge has been covering displaced residents’ hotel stays since the end of October. But even though there are still 13 families waiting to secure permanent housing, Mayor Jeff Wenzel cut the funding on Monday.
“It was a clear deadline,” he said. “It’s not being extended.”
Wenzel told WHQR that the town government has done more than its fair share to support residents. In November, they announced a lump sum settlement program, where residents would receive a payout from the town in exchange for an agreement to not hold the town legally liable for the mold. About half of the affected families have signed onto that program. But many tenants — some of whom joined a class action lawsuit against the town — balked at the idea of giving the town legal immunity.
“I pray that if the residents did not take the lump sum settlement payment, that they have something else in place,” Wenzel said.
Most don’t. Residents can’t go stay at their old apartments because the town condemned them. And most cannot afford the nightly price of the hotels. Ippolito says they have nowhere to go.
“We’re going to be homeless!” she said. “It’s urgent.”
The town issued an extension earlier this month — originally, the deadline to move out was the first of the year. Wenzel said they’re choosing not to extend it due to expenses. The town has been single-handedly funding the hotel stays. HUD, the federal agency that helped fund Holly Plaza, has not provided any funding to support tenants. Wenzel said the town also asked Pendergraph Management, the property management company that ran Holly Plaza, to make a good-faith effort to financially support the tenants. Neither group stepped up.
“We’re the ones that do care for the residents. Pendergraph for all practical purposes got a free pass,” he said. “Why aren’t there groups of people on their corporate steps?”
But ultimately, it’s the residents who feel the worst impacts.
“The thing is, it’s not our fault, either,” Ippolito said. “We shouldn’t have to pay because we can’t afford to pay.”
The remaining residents have all been approved for rent vouchers from the USDA. Those vouchers can be used at most apartments in Onslow County, and will cover the majority of their rent for the next year.
Like Ippolito, many of the families already have new places lined up. But they’re facing a couple of roadblocks. Some have had last-minute rejections from landlords who’ve decided they don’t want to take a voucher. Others have had difficulties with inspections, which the USDA must conduct before anyone can move in.
In the absence of the town’s support, other organizations have stepped up. Lifewalk Church and Gathering Surf City each funded another night of hotel stays for all thirteen households. The Master’s Touch, a collaborative ministry between several Sneads Ferry churches, also agreed to fund another night of stays. They’re also inviting tenants to apply for longer stays at the hotel.
The tenants are hoping other organizations will follow suit. In the meantime, all they can do is wait.