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A millionaire, a hotel maid and an arrest after the inauguration for sex abuse

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He was a millionaire, in Washington to toast President Trump’s inauguration.

She was a maid, tasked with cleaning rooms that cost more in a few days than her monthly rent.

On Jan. 19, as the nation’s capital swelled with tourists and protesters, the millionaire and the maid met on the 10th floor of the Mayflower Hotel downtown, in Room 1065.

As she made his bed, he approached from behind and began rubbing her buttocks, according to a police report.

“This is very nice stuff,” he said, according to the report. “I like that!”

Such incidents are all too common in an industry where about half of employees say they have been sexually assaulted or harassed by a guest, union surveys have shown. Many go unreported because the housekeepers, often immigrants or women of color, fear losing their jobs.

In 2011, the plight of hotel housekeepers became international news when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, was accused of sexually assaulting a maid at a luxury hotel in New York. Criminal charges were dropped, but the incident spurred New York hotels to provide maids with panic buttons.

Six years later, the devices only now are reaching many other parts of the country, including the District, a city with 32,000 hotel rooms and about 3,000 maids.

More than 30 hotels in the Washington area have introduced panic buttons in the past year under an agreement with Unite Here Local 25, said John Boardman, the union’s executive secretary-treasurer. The Mayflower introduced the devices on April 1, he said.

The agreement was reached in 2012, but it has taken five years to put in place reliable technology, Boardman said. When pressed, the panic buttons send a maid’s location to hotel security. Hotels pay for the devices and monitoring systems, which generally cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

In November, voters in Seattle approved a measure providing hotel workers with panic buttons and other protections. And in Chicago, the city council is considering a measure that would require panic buttons.

“These women deal with a constant fear when they work by themselves,” said Alderman Michelle Harris, the ordinance’s sponsor. “Will they be next?”

Vanessa Sinders, a senior vice president for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, which represents most of the country’s biggest chains, said the industry is committed to using technology to keep its employees safe.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to sexual harassment,” she said, “no industry is immune.”

[Bill Dean throws wild Georgetown parties. Now a rape is alleged at one.]

Perhaps the only thing unusual about what happened in Room 1065 was that the man was arrested.

John Joseph Boswell pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor sexual abuse in D.C. Superior Court. He was sentenced to 10 days incarceration and six months probation, although the jail time was suspended.

The maid declined to comment. The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault.

In an interview with The Post, Boswell maintained his innocence.

“I patted her on the lower back,” said Boswell, 70, who is married and has three young children. “It was just a friendly gesture.”

The prosecutor in the case saw things differently.

“He took advantage of [her] while she was working, vulnerable, and alone,” Vivian Kim, an assistant U.S. attorney, wrote in an email to Boswell’s attorney.

Two different Americas collided at the Mayflower that afternoon.

The woman is an African immigrant who cleans strangers’ rooms for $20 an hour.

Boswell is the chief executive of Independent Stave Company, the world’s largest wine-and-whiskey barrel manufacturer. He lives in a 14,000-square-foot, $7 million mansion in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., 20 miles from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Boswell — who has contributed more than $120,000 to Republican candidates and conservative groups over the past 25 years — wasn’t always a Trump backer. In the 2016 presidential election, he supported Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). But by the time of Trump’s inauguration, Boswell had embraced the new president and booked a room at the Mayflower.

On the morning of Jan. 19 — the day before the inauguration — the maid commuted from her modest apartment in Riverdale, Md., to the historic hotel, with its gilded ballrooms and crystal chandeliers.

It was about 2 p.m. when she entered Boswell’s room, and he began touching her.

She froze and, in shock, apologized to him, according to the police report. “Sorry sir,” she said. “Sorry sir!”

When another maid emerged from the bathroom, Boswell “immediately moved,” the report said. The first maid rushed out of the room, shaking, and told her co-worker that she would have to clean it by herself.

As the second maid attempted to make the bed, Boswell approached her, too, and “placed his hand on the top of her shoulder” until she ordered him to sit down, according to the police report.

Neither woman reported the incident. But the next day, when a co-worker told a manager what had happened, police were called.

At 6:20 p.m. — as the parade for the newly sworn-in president was winding down and supporters and protesters were still clashing in the District’s streets — police knocked on Boswell’s hotel room door. When he stepped out, the maid identified him to officers, and he was arrested.

He was jailed alongside more than 200 protesters, including black-clad anarchists accused of smashing Starbucks windows and torching a limousine.

When he was released the following afternoon, Boswell emerged from the D.C. Superior courthouse — less than a mile from where Trump had been sworn in — wearing a green flannel shirt, jeans and glasses.

At first, the crowd cheered, mistaking him for a protester. Then someone who had been in court when Boswell was charged shouted that he was a “sex offender.” Protesters began throwing things at him. An orange slice struck Boswell in the head.

“Well, that wasn’t very nice,” he told a Post reporter, wiping the fruit from his forehead before walking back toward his hotel.

Boswell’s attorney, Bernard Grimm, pushed prosecutors to grant his client a deferred sentencing agreement, or DSA, under which Boswell would have admitted guilt but then, after a short period of good behavior, could have withdrawn his guilty plea.

Kim refused, pointing out that Boswell “could have potentially faced an additional charge based on similar conduct with another hotel employee the same day.”

On April 11, Boswell pleaded guilty. Court documents show that Boswell earns $600,000 a month, but Judge Michael Ryan ordered him to pay $50 into the crime victims compensation fund — one-fifth of the maximum penalty for the offense.

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The judge and the prosecutor also agreed that Boswell could travel overseas while on probation. Last month, he was allowed to fly to the Bahamas. At the end of this month, he is scheduled to spend two weeks in the Dominican Republic for a family reunion.

Meanwhile his victim was so frightened by a visit from Boswell’s defense team to her apartment that she moved, said a co-worker, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity.

Although the two women still work together at the Mayflower, they don’t talk about what happened in Room 1065.

“Whenever she would talk about it,” her co-worker said, “she would cry.”

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Their Public Housing at the End of Its Life, Residents Ask: What Now?

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“Are we all supposed to just scatter to other cities — to big cities?” she asked. “Our kids grew up in Cairo. Our memories are in Cairo. And if you take this place out, it’s knocking everything else down in Cairo with it.”

This is the problem of decaying public housing complexes in a small, fading and remote city.

In an age when mixed-income and scattered, voucher-based housing has long overtaken the old model of large public complexes, Cairo (pronounced CARE-oh) has a shrinking population now down to fewer than 3,000, no functioning grocery store or gas station, and a main thoroughfare with an ornate, arching entry that reads “Historic Downtown Cairo” but one that features shuttered storefronts, vacant lots and, on a recent day, not a person in sight.

When Chicago tore down some of its high-rise public housing, like Cabrini-Green, many residents moved to apartments around the city and its suburbs, but places like Cairo have no excess supply of safe, available low-income housing.

“It’s the just not knowing what’s next that’s hard,” said Barbara Alston, 61, as she sat in the sun outside the unit where she has lived for nine years. “I’d like to try to relocate here in Cairo, my home, but I don’t really know whether I can. Does anyone know?”

Some residents say they suspect officials of plotting to push poor people, mostly black, out of town. That’s a notion the mayor of Cairo, who is black, firmly rejects — but says he also understands.

“Given our history, I can see someone entertaining that thought,” Mayor Tyrone Coleman said.

Cairo is in the triangle where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet. Lewis and Clark once camped near here, and the city was cited in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a wished-for destination that would offer access to the Ohio River and a route north, away from slave states. But in the past half-century, Cairo was better known for racial strife — riots in the 1960s and a tense transformation that followed, from a majority-white city to a mostly black one.

Yet this city, once five times its current population, can scarcely afford to lose more residents. About 400 people are being asked to move out of McBride and Elmwood, including about 200 children. If all of them move from Cairo for some of the cities residents now find themselves contemplating — Marion, Ill.; Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Paducah, Ky. — Cairo’s already-shrinking school enrollment will drop by nearly half, and job cuts in the schools, which education officials say is the city’s biggest employer, will probably follow.

“We’re talking about a big ripple effect,” said Andrea Evers, Cairo’s schools superintendent.

At a heated meeting in a local church, officials from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development delivered the news in April. Special “tenant protection” vouchers for use anywhere in the United States would be issued to lower the cost of rent based on need, the officials said. “Relocation specialists” would assist each family. Moving costs would be covered, and people would start leaving as early as this month.

The announcement came during the tenure of the Trump administration, but HUD officials had been scrutinizing McBride and Elmwood since before February 2016, when they placed the fiscally drained county housing authority in receivership and took control of operations.

A local newspaper, The Southern Illinoisan, had reported extensively on dismal conditions in the buildings, as well as questionable spending and management by the Alexander County Housing Authority, which a HUD spokesman said was under investigation by the agency’s inspector general. Leaders of the housing authority could not be reached for comment.

“You knew the problems and you did nothing, but now we have to pay?” Coretta Cornelius, 29, said the other day as she watched her 3-year-old daughter. “How is that fair? We all know there’s nowhere to use a voucher in Cairo. And what if people won’t take us in neighboring cities either? I hate to say it, but Cairo has such a bad name, nobody wants people from Cairo.”

Built in the early 1940s — and little changed since — McBride and Elmwood are squat, two-story complexes where the authorities say conditions are simply too grim and unsafe. Electrical and plumbing systems are out of date; insulation is insufficient.

Asked why federal authorities could not pay the repair bill of almost $7.6 million, Jerry Brown, a HUD spokesman, said: “The model for building public housing has changed over the years. If you look at rebuilding now, it’s with a private partner, and we haven’t been able to find any willing to commit for this.”

HUD officials say some residents have welcomed the chance to move out of miserable conditions with government help. For them, the officials said, this is a chance to start over in places with more jobs than Cairo can offer.

But others say they would rather stay put — even with bedbugs and unreliable heating systems — not least of all because equally affordable options seem nonexistent in their hometown. Rent in McBride and Elmwood was based on income, and some people without incomes paid as little as $50 a month, utilities included, residents said.

“That is the quandary that we face,” said Maren Kasper, a White House senior adviser for HUD. “You may hear from residents that they would rather stay here. But that is not safe and sanitary. We just cannot stand by that.”

City leaders in Cairo say they are pressing for alternatives so people can stay in town. Could the owners of some of Cairo’s numerous vacant homes fix them up and rent them out using vouchers?

Mayor Coleman said he was hopeful that “if everything falls into line,” more people will be able to stay somewhere in Cairo than initially expected. Meetings are being held with owners of vacant properties. Beyond McBride and Elmwood, there is talk here of a proposed river port terminal and a new grocery store, just the sort of lift that’s needed in a city that has been written off as a ghost town by plenty of people.

In response to pleading letters from students in Cairo’s sixth-grade classes and school officials, Ben Carson, the secretary of HUD, said he understood the devotion that residents have to their hometown, but the circumstances, including a “nearly bankrupt” local housing authority, made moving families the best immediate option.

“Despite our best efforts, we know that some families, your students included, may have to move outside of Cairo,” Mr. Carson wrote to the superintendent. “My hope would be that they never forget their Cairo roots and the inspiration you’ve provided.”

Mikayllah Oliver, 11, said that a green and black mold grows in the apartment where her family stays, and that nighttime worries her because of people hanging around, sometimes firing weapons. Still, she added, she would rather stay in Cairo because of her friends here.

She said she spends a lot of time wondering where her family will be by the time seventh grade starts in a few months.

“What will it be?” she said. “I almost can’t even think about it.”

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Arlington banned rowhouses in 1938. We’re suffering the consequences now

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The Washington region's dramatic undersupply of missing middle housing is a serious and well-documented problem. One reason it's so severe: Arlington banned rowhouses in 1938. 

Arlington's rowhouse history

At the time, Arlington was a fast-growing streetcar suburb. Its population boomed from 16,000 in 1920 to 57,000 in 1940, and then to 135,000 in 1950.

And although much of Arlington's early growth took the form of bungalows, by the late 1930s more and more of it was happening as rowhouses. Numerous applications were coming in every year to build rowhouse blocks like the one on North Monroe Street

That didn't sit well with community leaders at the time, who hoped to preserve Arlington's then-suburban character. Rowhouses, they believed, would "mar the suburban landscape." And so, in 1938, the county changed its zoning to prohibit rowhouses.

A rush of at least 11 developers tried to get in before the prohibition, but were denied by county officials. The ban was on, and Arlington rowhouse construction ground to a complete halt, just as it had been heating up.

The ban persisted through Arlington's crucial boom years, until the 1960s when the sprawl leap-frogged west to Fairfax County, growth in Arlington slowed to a trickle, and the county began worrying more about infill. After 1965 rowhouses were once again allowed, but only as suburban-style townhouses, with mandatory off-street parking, large setbacks, and cul-de-sac-like streets.

That would eventually change too (today Arlington allows urban-style rowhouses), but the damage was done. Despite demand for higher densities, the vast majority of county land was built out as lower density detached houses.

A lasting and damaging legacy

Today, Arlington is the Washington area's second most urban jurisdiction, behind the District. According to its place in our metropolitan hierarchy, Arlington should have a lot of rowhouses. But it doesn't, because 79 years ago preserving a community character that was unpreservable anyway was a higher priority than building enough housing during an ongoing boom.

Now, amidst another boom, these problems are exaggerated. More and more people want to live in urban rowhouses, but the supply is limited, and in many cases land use and zoning laws make it difficult to build them. To find affordable rowhouses, middle-class buyers have gone to the urban core's lower-income neighborhoods, increasing demand and prices. 

Meanwhile, contemporary Arlingtonians are left pondering why their community in particular faces such a stark missing middle problem. 

Had Arlington allowed rowhouses during its boom years, it wouldn't have solved every problem our region has today, but the problems would be lesser, and easier to tackle. A supply of rowhouse neighborhoods in Arlington could have accommodated scores of thousands of people, dramatically easing affordability and price pressure all over the region, including within Arlington. 

And, ironically, Arlington today would be less reliant on the high-rise housing that now makes up the majority of its growth, and in which all the community's eggs have been necessarily placed.

As we respond to the region's housing shortage in 2017, we have the choice of doubling down on past mistakes, or learning from them. We can fight a losing battle to resist change, with massive and lasting consequences, or we can find a way to grow responsibly, fairly, and affordably. 

Top image: Some of the last pre-war rowhouses built in Arlington.  Image by Google.

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Award-winning principal reassigned in wake of testing opt-out irregularities

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Sleeping on floors and in boarded up hotels. 7 months after Matthew, renters still mired in misery

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For months, Patrice Johnson has felt like she was working two full-time jobs: one at a chicken-processing plant, where she earns $13.50 an hour, and another chasing around Lumberton trying to snag an affordable place for her and her young son and nephew to live.

They had a house not far from downtown, but Hurricane Matthew dropped a tree on the roof in October. They stayed for a couple of weeks hoping the landlord would close up the hole, then moved into a motel for a month, which was as long as FEMA would pay the bill. After that, they went to whichever motel would give Johnson the best price. Even the cheapest took most of what she makes each week.

Patrice Johnson talks Thursday with her 8-year-old son Mekhai Jones in the bedroom of the rental home they moved into on Wednesday in Lumberton. They have little furniture yet, so they must sleep on the floor. They were displaced from their Lumberton home in October by Hurricane Matthew. They have lived in hotels since then.

Robert Willett <a href="mailto:rwillett@newsobserver.com">rwillett@newsobserver.com</a>

Recently, Johnson and the children had moved in with a friend who had one room at a boarding house, where they slept on the floor.

Tuesday, she got a lead on a rental house and Wednesday, before somebody else could grab it, she signed a $500-a-month lease. That night, she lay on a pallet on the floor and tried not to think about the air conditioning that didn’t work, the dead electrical outlets, the lack of a refrigerator and stove, one exterior door that had been repaired after a break-in and another that lets in a wide slice of daylight where it should be snug against the frame.

“It shouldn’t be this hard just to find a decent place,” Johnson said, fanning herself with a copy of her lease in her unfurnished living room. “There is just not enough affordable housing here.”

Social service organizations say that in much of Eastern North Carolina, there was a shortage of affordable rental housing – by definition, costing a third or less of a family’s earnings – long before Hurricane Matthew hit. The storm, which did $1.5 billion worth of damage in the state, was especially hard on low-cost housing, which often is in flood plains. In many communities, renters still are scrambling for places to live.

House after house after house, just sitting here, molding. Nobody can live in them, and nobody is doing anything to fix them.

Veronica McNeill, pastor of a Lumberton church

The state is working out the details of a program that would provide low-interest loans, with part of the principal forgivable, for eligible landlords who serve low-income tenants. But the program was relying on $63.7 million from the federal government, which was part of a $900 million disaster funding request. Last week, the Trump administration replied, offering $6.1 million, less than 1 percent of Gov. Roy Cooper’s request.

After the storm, 81,499 North Carolina households registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 30,595 of which were renters, according to FEMA records.

Little help from FEMA for renters

FEMA, the nation’s lead disaster-response agency, provides relatively small grants to renters for emergency items and has spent millions of dollars housing rental families in motel rooms while they searched for more permanent places to live. But FEMA, which offers more extensive help to homeowners, has no authority or funding to repair or rebuild rental housing damaged in a disaster. Housing advocates and families say landlords have been slow to begin repairs themselves. Very few had flood insurance on their rental properties, and some say they don’t have the money to rip out drywall and flooring, rewire a house and replace appliances and heating and cooling systems that sat in filthy floodwaters for days.

The Econo Lodge Inn & Suites on Kahn Drive in Lumberton sustained flood damage to the first floor during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Owner Harry Jhala is finding it difficult to find any financial assistance to help with the renovation. Some people were using the second floor for temporary housing, but after someone set a fire in one of the units, Jhala secured the building. This is the interior of one of the second floor rooms that were used as temporary housing after the hurricane.

Robert Willett <a href="mailto:rwillett@newsobserver.com">rwillett@newsobserver.com</a>

Faith-based disaster-relief groups, which will donate countless hours of labor and materials to the recovery effort, generally do not work on rental properties. The federal Small Business Administration has a low-interest loan program to which landlords can apply, but many landlords say their rental income is not enough to meet the terms of the loans. Others don’t want to take on debt for what amounts to a supplemental retirement income.

Burlester Campbell, a member of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, is one of those who refuses to ask for a loan. Campbell retired from a graphic packaging company in 2009 and now owns 10 rental properties around Lumberton. Three of his properties were hit by the flooding, including a three-bedroom 1950s-era house on Nevada Avenue, on the south side of town where the Lumber River rolled through an opening in an earthen berm.

Campbell, who is 70, says he is not interested in borrowing money to repair the houses.

“And leave that for my family to have to pay off after I’m gone?” he said. “No.”

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Robeson Commissioner becomes landlord to help those in need

Video: Robeson County commissioner Burlester Campbell, a landlord with 10 rental properties talks about the challenges of recovery from Hurricane Matthew and the shortage of affordable housing for those displaced by the storm.

Martha Quillin<a href="mailto:mquillin@newsobserver.com">mquillin@newsobserver.com</a>

Lumberton is the largest city in Robeson County, which has ranked as one of the poorest counties in North Carolina for decades and where the unemployment rate is consistently higher than the state average. Before the storm, Campbell said all 10 of his houses were occupied, but not one tenant had a job. All were on Social Security disability, which local social service workers say ranges from $700 to $750 per month. According to census data, more than 34 percent of the county’s population was in poverty from 2011 to 2015.

And this is where Hurricane Matthew did its worst. In Robeson County, 18,546 households registered with FEMA, the most of any of the 49 counties that were declared disasters after the storm. Of those, 6,744 were renters, some of them paying $50 or $100 per month to live in public housing. At least 300 units in five developments owned by the Lumberton Housing Authority were hit by the storm. Those with minor damage have been reoccupied. It’s unclear when the rest will be repaired.

A gallon of milk spoils on the kitchen counter in Patrice Johnson’s new rental home on Thursday in Lumberton. Johnson acquired the rental home this week, and was surprised to discover there was no refrigerator or stove in the home when she moved in.

Robert Willett <a href="mailto:rwillett@newsobserver.com">rwillett@newsobserver.com</a>

The governor had included a request for $15.2 million to repair flood-damaged public housing in the package that was essentially denied last week.

Campbell said he believes the government should have a grant program for landlords. Although renting houses is a business, in a low-income community such as Lumberton, providing low-income housing is a service, Campbell said. He has begun work on two of his properties that were damaged, doing the work a little at a time as he can afford it. He planned to put a “For Rent” sign in the yard of the Nevada Avenue house by the weekend.

Check for mold

Veronica McNeill pastors a church in Lumberton and does outreach work beyond her congregation. Since the flood, she said, she has tried to help find housing for several families displaced by the water and is frustrated by the pace at which rental housing is coming back on the market.

“Look at this: house after house after house, just sitting here, molding,” she said during a tour of south and west Lumberton, the areas of the city hit the hardest. “Nobody can live in them, and nobody is doing anything to fix them.”

We all need our own place that we call home, that when we walk into it in the evening, that’s our safe place.

Dawn Gavasci, a program manager for Robeson County Department of Social Services

McNeill says her work with tenants tells her that many landlords whose properties were flooded are waiting to see if they can get buyouts through FEMA’s hazard mitigation program, which works with local governments and willing property owners to permanently remove homes from flood-prone areas and prevent future losses. Other landlords, she said, have done cosmetic repairs and put flooded houses back on the market, putting renters at risk for respiratory problems later.

“You walk in and you can smell the mold,” she said.

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The Robeson County Department of Social Services tells the people it helps to relocate to check for mold and other obvious problems in any rental property they consider, but Dawn Gavasci, a program manager, said the department doesn’t inspect housing and local inspectors are tied up with houses that are being repaired and rebuilt since the storm.

Sauconia Gerald untangles a wet vacuum after cleaning one of the homes in Weaver Court on Thursday, May 11, 2017 in Lumberton. Most of the units in the public housing neighborhood were damaged by flood waters from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Robert Willett <a href="mailto:rwillett@newsobserver.com">rwillett@newsobserver.com</a>

After the flood, the county began providing money for deposits and one or two months’ rent for residents who could show that they could cover their own costs once they got situated. When county money ran out in March, the state provided funds from last year’s disaster recovery bill to keep the assistance going. The $200 million that the legislature appropriated was to provide assistance to communities affected by the hurricane as well as tropical storms and the wildfires in the mountains.

That’s how Patrice Johnson and her boys got off her friend’s floor and into a rambling house. She’s grateful for the help, but worries whether the neighborhood is safe for her son, who is 8, and nephew, who is 11.

“I know my story is not the worst,” said Johnson. She said she knows people who move like vagabonds between the homes of their relatives and friends, some who have slept in their cars or camped out in abandoned, flooded-out buildings.

For a while, said Harry Jhala, owner of the EconoLodge in town, people were breaking into his flooded-out motel and staying in second-floor rooms with no electricity or running water. When someone started a fire in the building a couple of weeks ago, he said, he stopped people from sneaking in.

Gavasci, at the county social services office, knows it’s hard for some of her neighbors.

“It’s not a secret that we are one of the poorer counties in the state and we had a homeless population before the storm. We don’t want to see that increase,” she said. “We all need our own place that we call home, that when we walk into it in the evening, that’s our safe place, where we have the things that make us comfortable and where we can have our family around.

“Every family deserves that.”

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Dr. Lori Gordon, a veterinarian with FEMA Massachusetts Task Force 1, tends to animals that were found in flood waters after Hurricane Matthew caused downed trees, power outages and massive flooding along the Lumber River Monday, October 10, 2016 in Lumberton, NC.

Travis Long<a href="mailto:tlong@newsobserver.com">tlong@newsobserver.com</a>

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Lack of affordable housing slows recovery from Hurricane Matthew in Robeson County

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Mark Bergstresser becomes hero to his neighbors in hurricane aftermath

Mark Bergstresser is considered a hero to his neighbors in the Mayfair neighborhood off of Hwy 211 in Lumberton, N.C. as he uses his fishing boat to help ferry stranded neighbors to friends and relatives on the highway after floodwaters closed the road. The biggest problem he had was gas for the boat but neighbors found supplies to help him keep the “ferry” running.

Chuck Liddy<a href="mailto:cliddy@newsobserver.com">cliddy@newsobserver.com</a>
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birdbone
8 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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N.C. said it still needs $929 million in aid for Hurricane Matthew. It got $6.1 million.

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Footage captured by residents along the North Carolina coast shows flooded streets and houses in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

Footage captured by residents along the North Carolina coast shows flooded streets and houses in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Footage captured by residents along the North Carolina coast shows flooded streets and houses in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. (Erin Patrick O'Connor/The Washington Post)

The rain is done, and the flood is long over. The rest of the country moved on months ago, but North Carolina is still feeling the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Hundreds of families remain displaced, and critical infrastructure sits damaged. Its unmet need is enormous, the governor says, and they aren’t getting the money.

In a soon-to-be-announced disaster relief allocation from the federal government, Gov. Roy Cooper expects to get just 0.7 percent of what he and North Carolina lawmakers in Congress say the state still needs to get back on its feet.

In October, Hurricane Matthew raked up the Southeast coast and battered Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. These states aren’t unfamiliar with tropical storms or the damage they inflict, but Matthew was different. The hurricane’s wind and storm surge were strong, but that wasn’t what did North Carolina in.

Unexpectedly, the storm’s track shifted slightly west and dumped a colossal amount of rain on inland parts of the state. More than 15 inches fell on areas that were already saturated from previous storms. That water rolled off the hills and into the reservoirs and rivers, which crested at record levels.

A resident of Windsor, N.C., captured the extent of flooding from storm surge brought by Hurricane Matthew in a series of drone videos recorded on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. (YouTube/Russell Jinnette)

A resident of Windsor, N.C., captured the extent of flooding from storm surge brought by Hurricane Matthew in a series of drone videos recorded on Oct. 9 and Oct. 10. A resident of Windsor, N.C., captured the extent of flooding from storm surge brought by Hurricane Matthew in a series of drone videos. (YouTube/Russell Jinnette)

More than 2,000 people were rescued from high water in North Carolina alone. Half of the state’s 100 counties were in a state of emergency, and 52 shelters housed more than 4,300 displaced people.

North Carolina officials estimate the storm did $2.8 billion in damage, which doesn’t include $2 billion in economic losses. In the days after the storm, Congress gave North Carolina around $332 million for immediate disaster relief in addition to the assistance FEMA provided. In December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided the state with $199 million for long-term relief and rebuilding.

Cooper says it wasn’t enough to cover the full extent of the damage. In early April, he requested an additional $929 million. But in the omnibus spending bill passed earlier this month, Congress only gave HUD $400 million.

In other words, the department that allocates long-term disaster relief has a budget that’s less than half of what Cooper says North Carolina needs to recover from Hurricane Matthew alone.

Soon HUD will calculate how much should be allocated to North Carolina. There are as many as five other states on the list that also need disaster relief, including the surrounding states that were affected by Hurricane Matthew, and Louisiana, where Baton Rouge is still struggling from its 2016 flood (which the Red Cross has said was the worst disaster since Sandy).

Cooper’s office anticipates North Carolina’s share of the funds will be in the ballpark of $6 million — less than 1 percent of Cooper’s request. This is because HUD calculates unmet needs in housing alone — it does not include infrastructure needs, small business, agriculture, etc.

Congress could give the department more money in 2017 depending on what kind of disasters strike, but once it makes this allocation, North Carolina’s only route to a significant assistance package will be through Congress directly.

On Wednesday, the Hurricane Hunters visited Raleigh-Durham International Airport as a part of a storm preparedness tour. Cooper used the opportunity to express his disappointment and noted that the $929-million request was “conservative” for the destruction Matthew inflicted.

“Matthew did an estimated $4.8 billion in damages to 50 counties in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “That’s half of our entire state.”

In a Wednesday statement, Cooper called the decision “an incredible failure by the Trump administration and Congressional leaders to turn their backs” on families trying to rebuild and recover.

Cooper says homes and small businesses are still in need of repair. Structures that flooded in Matthew need to be elevated and prevent a similar disaster in the future. North Carolina agriculture was hit particularly hard, and Cooper wants to supplement farmers for losses not covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It also will repair and retrofit critical infrastructure, such as storm drains and sewer lines, and reinforce them to prevent future storm damage.

Rep. David E. Price, who worked with the governor along with Sen. Thom Tillis to measure how much money the state needs to rebuild, says he share’s Cooper’s disappointment.

“Many programs included in the Governor’s request received no funding at all,” Price said in a statement to The Washington Post, “and the housing grants provided in the bill will meet only a small fraction of North Carolina’s need due to the formula used by HUD to allocate such funding.”

In a letter sent Wednesday to the president and congressional leaders, Cooper requested more money either in an immediate supplemental spending bill or the 2018 budget process.

In the meantime, he asked the leaders in Washington to visit the state and see the lingering damage for themselves.

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birdbone
12 days ago
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Alexandria, VA
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