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The Newsroom: The Wilmington Housing Authority's slow-motion mold disaster

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This week WHQR launched an investigative series into the Wilmington Housing Authority, looking at systemic mismanagement and miscommunication that's led to mold infestation getting out of control. On this episode of The Newsroom, co-hosted by WHQR's Ben Schachtman and Kelly Kenoyer, we'll put the pieces together, and dig even deeper into the story.

Many WHA residents say the mold issue started in 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Documents, including environmental tests and maintenance reports, show that WHA was aware of the issue in the summer of 2019.

In spite of that, WHA says its staff wasn't aware there was a serious problem until this January — it's hard to verify that claim, because WHA doesn't have a system for recording or organizing complaints. And the authority's board says it was in the dark even longer, not realizing the issue had become a crisis, with hundreds displaced, until this summer.

By then, WHA was too far behind to catch up. On top of that, internal disputes, restructuring, and resignations have gutted WHA's upper management — leaving behind a chaotic power vacuum with little experienced leadership left to manage the disastrous situation.

In the wake of mismanagement and administrative failures, it's Wilmington families — mothers, fathers, and children — who are paying the price. Their lives have been turned upside down, their possessions destroyed, their homes still unlivable.

And there are still few good answers from WHA on how they're going to right the ship, or prevent this from happening again. However, we've got a few of our own suggestions.

On this episode, we work through what we know so far, check in with our colleague Kevin Maurer, who helped report this story, and look ahead to what's next.

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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.
Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.
Kevin Maurer is a freelance journalist and writer based in Wilmington, North Carolina.