Local News

Six weeks after evacuation, families start moving back to McDougald Terrace

Posted February 14, 2020 5:27 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2020 7:04 p.m. EST

— Eight families were allowed to move back into McDougald Terrace on Friday, the first to return to the Durham public housing complex since mass evacuations began more than a month ago amid concern over potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

More than a dozen McDougald Terrace residents were sent to area hospitals between late November and early January with elevated levels of carbon monoxide. About 280 of the 300-plus families who live in the complex were then moved to area hotels to allow work crews to thoroughly check the gas-powered furnaces, water heaters and ovens in the units.

Sixty-one percent of the 346 McDougald Terrace units checked had at least one faulty appliance – 211 stoves, 38 furnaces and 35 water heaters – and contractors have been working for the past two weeks to repair or replace them. The contractors are also rewiring units, upgrading gas venting systems and addressing problems with mold and insects in the apartments.

"We have the utmost confidence that this will certainly resolve any issues of [carbon monoxide] leakage that we’ve seen in the past," Durham Housing Authority Chief Executive Anthony Scott said during a tour of an updated apartment on Friday.

Scott noted that, while the critical work has been done, some remains, such as updating electrical systems in the complex. That will take months to complete, he said, and as it is done, residents will have to be relocated again, but only for a few days.

Some residents said they don't know if they can trust that their apartments will be safe, but Scott said all of the work has been approved by Neighborhood Improvement Services and Durham's Building Inspections Department.

"It was important to have those two entities involved in this work when we did it so residents will be assured that it’s not just something that we’re saying," he said. "We literally have the sign-off with the two authorities in the city that make sure the buildings are safe."

For some McDougald Terrace families, returning home seems like a distant dream.

Shaquana Williams packed her car once again Friday, but it was only to move from one hotel to another – with no end in sight.

"I just feel stressed. It’s too much to keep moving and moving," Williams said.

"We want to get our residents out of those hotels and back home," Scott said.

"Hopefully, it will be all right when we go back," Williams said. "That’s all we can do is pray."

DHA has spent about $4 million on the repairs and another $1.9 million on relocation costs for the uprooted residents, including hotels, food, transportation and the extra security for the mostly vacant complex. Scott said the agency expects the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reimburse some of that cost.

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