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Q & A: Holly Plaza tenants are evacuating due to a potential mold crisis. Here's what you need to know.

The Holly Plaza housing complex in Holly Ridge in Onslow County.
Nikolai Mather
The Holly Plaza housing complex in Holly Ridge in Onslow County.

In a rapidly developing situation, dozens of residents from the Holly Plaza public housing development in Holly Ridge are now being relocated to a Jacksonville hotel after bringing concerns about chronic mold and other maintenance issues to town council. WHQR's Nikolai Mather has been following the story — and has some answers to the questions from residents and other community members.

On Friday, Oct. 27, the Holly Ridge Town Council called an emergency meeting addressing the ongoing mold crisis at the public housing complex Holly Plaza. The town council approved a plan to relocate all 98 tenants to a hotel in Jacksonville. Tenants have until Monday at 6 p.m. to leave. Tenants will stay there for the next thirty days while the town conducts extensive mold testing.

Related: "Literal mushrooms growing out of walls": Holly Plaza tenants demand emergency rehousing

What will this mean for residents? Here are the answers WHQR has been able to get so far.

Do tenants have to leave?

Yes. Holly Ridge owns all Holly Plaza apartment buildings.

The Holly Ridge town council said on on Friday, Oct. 27 that all tenants had to vacate by Monday, Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. But during an unofficial meeting on Saturday, town officials told residents that they were 14 hotel rooms short. They asked for volunteers to wait in their apartments until Friday, Nov. 3 for hotel rooms to open up.

With the exception of those volunteers, all Holly Plaza tenants must vacate the premises by 6 p.m. on Monday.

Can residents come back?

Residents are not permitted to re-enter their houses during mold testing. During Friday’s meeting, the town stated that whether residents could re-enter their homes would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Residents may come pick up their mail.

Where are they going?

The town council approved a motion to put up all residents for thirty days at Home2 Suites in Jacksonville. If residents prefer to stay in other accommodations (i.e., with a relative in town), they are welcome to do so.

According to a notice passed out by the town of Holly Ridge, the hotel will have laundry facilities. Each room will also have a kitchenette with a dishwasher, garbage disposal, sink, coffee maker, refrigerator, microwave, silverware and dishes. The hotel has about 25 portable hotplates that residents can request from the front desk. There will be no per diem stipend for food, but according to the town council, the hotel will be providing breakfast daily at no charge.

The hotel has an elevator. According to its website, most entrances and facilities are ADA compliant.

When do the thirty days begin?

Town manager Heather Reynolds said during Friday's meeting that the hotel period began that night, meaning residents would stay in the hotel until Nov. 26. But some tenants won't be moving in until Nov. 4. It's unclear whether tenants occupying those rooms would be able to stay the full thirty days or if they'd have to move out on Nov. 26.

What can people bring to the hotel?

The hotel is pet-friendly, so residents can bring pets. Residents may bring necessities like children’s school items and medication. Residents may also bring clothing, but it must be washed before transport to the hotel. Residents may also bring valuables like electronics, provided they are non-porous (making them less likely to carry mold).

Holly Ridge Laundromat will be providing laundry service and laundry supplies at no cost prior to the move. Business hours are from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but the town council noted that business hours may be extended. Holly Ridge Town Council discourages residents from doing their own laundry in their washing machines, as it could present a health hazard.

Porous or difficult-to-transport items must be left behind. That includes furniture, houseplants, most linens, books, and other items.

Holly Ridge Town Council.
Nikolai Mather
Holly Ridge Town Council.

What about work? What about school?

Holly Ridge is 27 miles from Jacksonville. The Holly Ridge town council has not stated whether they’d cover the cost of extra gas for each resident. Town manager Heather Reynolds did say that the town will provide transportation to and from the hotel for residents who cannot drive. This includes trips to the grocery store or to work.

Holly Ridge is working with Onslow County to provide transportation to and from school and daycare for children living in the hotel.

“While there's chaos and madness going on everywhere else, [Onslow County] want[s] the schools to remain consistent,” said Reynolds.

What about voting in the upcoming election?

Town council has not made plans to provide transportation on Election Day, but has encouraged residents to visit the early voting site in Jacksonville and cast a ballot there. Early voting ends Saturday, Nov. 4.

What will happen to the apartments?

The town is planning to hire mold inspectors to go through every room of every unit and test for mold. The testing will begin next week, and take thirty days. Typically, test results are available a week after sampling. The town has asked for expedited test results, but given the magnitude of this situation, it’s possible that the results will take longer.

It’s possible that some buildings will be free of mold. The town has indicated that residents would be able to return to those buildings once cleared.

Some buildings may have mold, but can be remediated. Town manager Heather Reynolds said the plan for these tenants is not yet set in stone, but the hope is that these buildings will be remediated.

Some buildings will have to be condemned. In a notice distributed to Holly Plaza tenants on Friday morning, the town stated, “Once moved to Home2 Suites, there will be no going back to the condemned apartment.” During Friday’s emergency meeting, the town followed up, saying that if furniture and other porous items could be remediated, then it was possible for residents to take these from their condemned homes.

What about utilities?

Town manager Heather Reynolds said during Friday’s meeting that the town has been in contact with local utility companies about the situation. She said she has not yet heard back from them about whether residents can have their utilities turned off for the duration of the hotel stay. Mayor Jeff Wenzel said that if residents keep their utilities on, they should continue paying them.

Who is paying for this?

The town of Holly Ridge will be using ARP (a.k.a. federal Covid relief) funding to cover the costs of resident relocation, laundry, mold testing, and other miscellaneous costs. The hotel accommodations will cost about $200,000. Mold testing will cost $28,000. Miscellaneous costs, including laundry, will be $50,000.

Holly Ridge stated that they have asked multiple state and federal agencies to help foot the bill. According to the council, the HUD is reaching the end of its fiscal year, and is unable to help them cover these expenses at this time. Mayor Jeff Wenzel said during Friday’s meeting that he has asked for help from state representatives like Sen. Thom Tillis and Congressman Greg Murphy.

Residents who have turned in a rent check for the month of November will receive a refund.

What happens once thirty days are up?

It's unclear. Mayor Wenzel said during Friday's meeting that the hotel stay would not only give residents a clean environment for the next month, but would give the town government a chance to come up with a more comprehensive plan. He said the town will keep residents updated as the situation progresses.

What other resources are there for residents?

Many residents of Holly Ridge are independently organizing childcare, packing supplies, laundry services and other things to lighten the burden on Holly Plaza. Talk to local officials and your neighbors and see what is available to you.

How can residents get updates on what's going on?

The town of Holly Ridge asked residents to fill out a form with their address, email, and special needs on Friday. Residents must fill out this form in order to get a room with Home2 Suites, and can obtain a copy from Holly Ridge Town Hall. On Saturday, the town of Holly Ridge posted a notice to Facebook asking all residents to visit Town Hall before Monday's move out. Forms and pens are available in the blue miniature library to the right of the front entrance. Tenants can turn them in to the blue ONWASA box in the parking lot.

Once that form is turned in, residents will be notified about changes to plans directly via text and email.

This is a developing story. WHQR will be updating this article as information becomes available.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.