CARTERET COUNTY — The Federal Emergency Management Agency is formally ending its Transitional Sheltering Assistance program Tuesday, March 12. This could impact the 18 county households still using the program as of Feb. 24.

The program, first implemented in the weeks following Hurricane Florence in September, was largely in response to limited affordable options for housing throughout the county.

At the behest of residents, as well as local and county officials, FEMA tried to help alleviate the county’s housing issue by securing travel trailers and implementing the TSA program.

TSA “pays for hotel or motel rooms as short-term, emergency sheltering for eligible Hurricane Florence survivors,” FEMA media relations specialist Angela Byrd said in a recent press release.

While the program is formally ending March 12, additional grants might be available for those who are eligible.

“Continued rental assistance grants from FEMA are available for eligible survivors beyond the March 12 end of the 180-day emergency sheltering program,” FEMA spokesperson John Mills said in an email.

Hotels that participate in the TSA program include the Econolodge in Morehead City, Quality Inn and Sherwood Motel in Havelock and a number of others throughout the state.

To date, 871 households in North Carolina have received assistance from the program. Of those, FEMA estimates 646 have found “suitable, longer-term” housing.

In Carteret County, 18 of 38 total households that used the program are still checked into hotels.  

Among those using TSA is Morehead City resident Emily Kates.

“That was there to fall back on in case I needed to stay extra time there,” Ms. Kates said of the program.

Ms. Kates is a resident of Crystal Coast Apartments. In the weeks following the storm, property managers wanted to repair the units and forced tenants to leave.

With Carteret County experiencing limited affordable housing availability, a number of Crystal Coast tenants and tenants being evicted from other storm-damaged complexes didn’t have many options for housing.

During county commissioners’ October meeting, Ms. Kates, along with a group of her fellow tenants, spoke directly to commissioners and FEMA officials at the meeting.

Ms. Kates said that while she appreciated the help she received, she felt ending the program in March is premature.

“I don’t think they should close it down, there are still people struggling with housing,” Ms. Kates said. “This is still an ongoing issue since the hurricane.”

Jimmy Cloniger is another tenant who up until recently received TSA assistance. Mr. Cloniger stayed at Morehead City’s Econolodge after Hurricane Florence left him displaced from Edenbridge Apartments.

“If everything goes perfectly, I’m going back to Edenbridge in about a month,” Mr. Cloniger said.

In the interim, FEMA has opted to move Mr. Cloniger into one of their travel trailers on Avery’s Way in Newport.

“It was on Monday,” Mr. Cloniger said of when he received the keys to his new trailer. “They gave me the keys and said I can move in.”

Mr. Cloniger said that while he appreciated FEMA’s assistance, he did get the impression their timetable for ending it was on the abrupt side.

“I was going to stay at the Econolodge until March 12, but they said I had (to move to a trailer),” he said. “If you turn down help, you’re out of the ball game. I’m willing to take anything I can get, but it happened so fast.”

Mr. Cloniger is one of several TSA participants who, according to Mr. Mills, is eligible for temporary housing.

“A number of survivors in the temporary hotel program are eligible for a temporary housing unit provided by FEMA,” Mr. Mills said.

FEMA representatives encourage participating households, particularly those that are unable to find permanent housing by the March 12 deadline, to stay in contact with their disaster case management service provider via email at dcmnc@endeavors.org or by phone at 910-378-4913.

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

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