Discrimination complaint against NCORR settled

Black applicants claimed they were rejected from the ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program

Dianne Hines stands in front of the mound of furniture and other belongings pulled from her home after Hurricane Matthew, in Princeville in 2016. (Martha Waggoner, / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — Legal Aid of North Carolina has settled a housing discrimination complaint against the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which oversees the program helping hurricane victims return to their homes.

“Legal Aid of North Carolina is proud to announce this resolution, which reduces unnecessary barriers for owners in heirs’ properties to access crucial disaster relief funding, while also preserving the existing homeownership structure and keeping these properties in the family,” A.D. Skaff, supervising attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project, said in a release.

“We hope that these revised policies can serve as a model for other disaster relief programs in North Carolina and CDBG-DR funded programs across the country.”

Legal Aid of North Carolina is a “statewide, nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people to ensure equal access to justice and to remove legal barriers to economic opportunity.”

Per Legal Aid’s complaint, which was filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a proof of ownership requirement was disproportionately affecting black homeowners and it accused the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) of violations of various sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

At issue was the NCORR rejection of a homeowner’s application to the ReBuild NC Homeowner Recovery Program due to proof of ownership requirements affecting heirs properties.

“Heirs’ property,” as defined in the complaint, is a family-owned property transfer that sometimes occurs between family members without a valid will or formal estate documentation.

Around 74 applicants were previously rejected from the program over the heirs requirement, and the settlement will allow them to submit an appeal for reentry into the program.

A conciliation and voluntary compliance agreement entered into by the two parties includes changes to the process, such as adopting a new proof of ownership policy, notifying previously rejected applicants, allowing appeals for reentry and staff training.

Legal Aid of North Carolina hopes these changes will set a model for similar programs nationwide.

Individuals with concerns related to housing discrimination can contact Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Fair Housing Project at 1-855-797-3247.

NCORR’s hurricane recovery efforts have been the subject of several legislative hearings over the past two years.

In September 2022, NCORR Director Laura Hogshead told lawmakers that 4,100 applications had been received but only 789 projects had been completed.

Established by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2018, NCORR oversees and manages $778 million in HUD federal disaster relief received by the state for hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018).

As of the hearing on Sept. 9, 2022, only around 60% of the funds had been encumbered with just $231 million spent. The funds must be spent or encumbered by 2025 for Matthew and 2026 for Florence.

In an update in December 2022, Hogshead said 277 projects were successfully bid in the past 90 days and 95 families were successfully housed in the 83 days spanning the period from the last meeting on Sept. 9.

About A.P. Dillon 1293 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_