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Audit: Replacement Homes For Flood Victims Incomplete

Downtown Richwood, WV, at dawn after hours of heavy rain flooded the little town.
Kara Lofton
West Virginia Public Broadcasting file photo

A review of a troubled housing assistance program for victims of the June 2016 flood cast doubt on whether any replacement homes had actually been completed.

The legislative audit comes almost exactly two years since the flooding that killed 23 people and destroyed an estimated 1,500 homes. The auditor's office presented the report to lawmakers on Sunday during a committee meeting.

The audit contained an analysis of invoices and payment data to vendors related to home reconstruction.

"It does not appear any individual homeowner has received full assistance from the RISE WV Housing Restoration Program," said Adam Fridley, Interim Director of the state Legislative Auditor’s Office.

Later Sunday, Gov. Jim Justice disputed that claim in a press release, saying the legislative auditor "got it wrong."

"The Justice Administration stands by the numbers released Friday by the National Guard, which show that out of the 451 cases in the program, 324 have been reviewed, and 106 assigned. As of today, 18 families have been handed keys to new homes, and five are ready for final inspection this week."

The report also found state officials entered into agreements for home construction or rehabilitation before getting approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that awarded $150 million in disaster funds. That was a violation of federal and state laws, according the audit.

The RISE program was temporarily halted earlier this year after it came to light that a $17 million change to a contract that wasn’t properly processed through the state purchasing division.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael was among the lawmakers who criticized the program Sunday.

"This has been a horribly mismanaged program, in my opinion. We're two years post-flood, and we still have all these issues," he said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jim Justice called for a realignment of the state commerce department, the agency formerly in charge of the RISE program.

As a result, Commerce Sec. Woody Thrasher was forced out of his position earlier this month. The National Guard is now overseeing the program.

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