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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it": Wilmington Mayor says WHA mold crisis will be tough to navigate

The City of Wilmington is offering support to the Wilmington Housing Authority, but leaders want updates, too.

The mold crisis at the Wilmington Housing Authority continues to leave over 100 families displaced. Mayor Bill Saffo says the city is offering support – but also wants updates.

At the end of last year, the housing authority gave a grim report on the mold situation to Mayor Saffo: 111 families displaced from their homes, over $8 million dollars in costs so far, and an estimate of a year before the crisis was resolved — a timeline the authority admitted was quote “hopeful.”

Related: Wilmington Housing Authority's mold crisis has gotten worse; authority officials say they're taking proactive steps

Mayor Saffo said he was grateful for the report, so that the city can more fully understand the problem. But, he acknowledged the situation is serious. As for WHA's 'one-year' estimate, Saffo said based on labor and supply chain conditions, along with other pandemic-related issues, that it won't just be a few families still displaced this time next year. Instead, he said he expects the situation to remain difficult into 2023.

“I'm not going to sugarcoat it. This is a tough one. And we have to get these people back as quickly as possible," Saffo said. "I wish we could get everybody back in there within six months. But I don't see that as being realistic based on what we're seeing out in the marketplace — even with the issues that we're dealing with, even with our projects here at the city, how long they're taking to get done."

Saffo said he recently reappointed two former members back onto the board to help provide support, Stuart Franck and former board chair Jeff Hovis, who oversaw the Rankin Terrace redevelopment.

Still, Saffo reiterated a point he's made in the past: that while he has appointment authority over the board, WHA is an independent agency.

“At the end of the day, it's their show," Saffo said, adding that the city is still eager to help however it can if WHA asks for assistance.

Areas where the city can help include logistics for repairing apartments — WHA is still in need of more contractors — and helping to find housing options for families — many who have been bounced from hotel to hotel for months and months. Saffo also said the city could use its sway with state or federal legislative delegations to "put some power" behind efforts to mitigate the mold crisis.

Saffo said while the initial report was helpful, he wants routine updates from the housing authority — and to make sure the rest of Wilmington City Council gets a chance to get involved.

"I want an update as quickly as possible … So we would like for them to come in here and talk to us, at least on a monthly basis to let us know where they are and give us some correspondence not only electronically, but also come before council so council members can also ask specific questions of where they are in the process," he said.

There's no concrete schedule for a presentation from WHA to council, but Saffo said he expects one soon — either at one of council's Monday morning agenda briefings or during a regular Tuesday evening council meeting.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature.