Three weeks before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Matthew, residents at First Baptist Homes in Lumberton, North Carolina, are settling back into “normal” life.
Located off Marion Road in Lumberton, the First Baptist Homes apartment complex provides affordable housing units for single individuals over the age of 62. All residents have incomes between $3,000 and $17,000.
The property is divided into two apartment complexes, First Baptist Homes I and First Baptist Homes II. Together they are home to 81 housing units.
Flooding from Hurricane Matthew forced residents to evacuate their homes last October. After living in a hotel for several months, 18 residents moved back to newly renovated homes in July, thanks in part to a grant from the Initiative.
Our investment completed the financing for the nonprofit developer whose insurance did not cover the full cost of repair to bring these units back online.
Hurricane Matthew forces residents to evacuate
Lumberton was one of the hardest hit areas in the state. More than 650 families in Robeson County were displaced by Hurricane Matthew as water from the Lumber River overran the levee and flooded hundreds of homes.
Lola Smith, a resident at First Baptist Homes, saw the water coming up the street and knew she had to take action.
“We were the first ones to evacuate…We didn’t think [the hurricane] was going to do anything, but that Sunday afternoon we saw the water start coming in, so we said we had to get everybody as soon as we possibly could, tell them to get medication, get some clothing, and I told them we had to leave.”
They were able to evacuate the residents from building C, but on the last trip, the van got stuck in the water and could not return to pick up the rest of the residents.
James Fields was in building D. By the time he was woken up by a knock on his door, the water in his apartment was already up to his knees. Residents and volunteers worked together to evacuate the rest of First Baptist Homes.
After Matthew: time to rebuild
Those who did not have family to take them in were placed in a hotel while the developers struggled to find a way to rebuild the apartments. Sarah McLean, the property manager at First Baptist Homes, worked tirelessly to locate all her residents and keep them updated on the status of their apartments.
Lucinda Williams, Senior Vice President at the company managing First Baptist Homes, described how most people thought the apartments would not be rebuilt because the owners did not have the resources to add any additional debt and the insurance did not cover the full cost of the repairs.
The Initiative reached out to Williams and started working with her to secure the financing. Tara Campbell, Senior VP of Lending and Investments at the Initiative, worked with Williams throughout the process.
Williams said, “Tara was really a lifesaver. She made the process really easy, and she was with me every step of the way.”
The Initiative gave a total grant of $430,049.39, averaging out to approximately $5,300 per apartment unit. This grant leveraged $2,302,455 in total project costs and allowed the owners to pay the mortgage that was eight months overdue.
As Williams stated, “If we didn’t get that grant, our mortgage would still be delinquent. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts.”
Less than a year after Matthew, First Baptist Homes apartments are renovated and residents have moved back in.
Most residents lost everything they had in the flooding. Henry Cutler, a resident at First Baptist Homes for three years, lost boxes of photographs of his parents, his children, and his childhood.
Donations from the community and the First Baptist Association helped residents furnish their apartments, providing comforter sets, dishes, glasses, even dish strainers.
Smith described the moment she realized she and the other 17 people living in their hotel were coming home:
“It hit me the day that it was time to start putting things in the rooms… Pushing mattresses up and down the hallway and putting a crockpot in people’s rooms — it gave me more joy than anything else to see, you know, we’re going home.”
More than anything, the residents are thankful that they survived and finally have a place to call home. When asked to describe the experience of moving back in, Cutler said, “The best I can think of is it was almost like getting to heaven.”