WRAL Investigates

When residents can return to McDougald Terrace remains unanswered

Posted January 16, 2020 4:32 p.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2020 6:22 p.m. EST

— Even though all of the apartments at McDougald Terrace have been checked for possible carbon monoxide problems, officials said Thursday it's unclear when residents will be allowed to return to the Durham housing complex.

More than a dozen McDougald Terrace residents have been sent to area hospitals since late November with elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

About 270 of the 300-plus families who live in the complex have been living at a dozen area hotels for much of the past two weeks so work crews could 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 – that will need to be repaired or replaced to eliminate the carbon monoxide issue, according to Anthony Scott, chief executive of the Durham Housing Authority, which oversees the complex.

Scott, who was awarded a $15,000 bonus and a 1.5 percent raise by the DHA board days before the evacuations started, said hotel stays for McDougald Terrace residents have been extended until at least Jan. 24 to give officials more time to come up with a comprehensive fix.

"We've been in discussions with various contractors trying to assess what our most prudent approach will be to make sure those units are safe and what approaches we need to take – everything from looking at electrical to dealing with the gas itself and hybrids in between," he said during a news conference. "We are not yet at a point that we have definite information."

The furnaces date to the 1950s, when McDougald Terrace was built, and the system used to vent gas from them and the water heaters to the outside doesn't meet current building codes and will likely need to be included in the repairs, he said.

DHA is spending close to $500,000 a week on the hotels, food and other expenses for the uprooted residents.

Latesah Cotten has been living out of a hotel room with her six children for more than a week after contractors turned off her gas.

"It's not just about changing out the appliances, it's about making sure there's no carbon monoxide, period, in the apartment," Cotten said Thursday. "There's a lot of other issues. It's about other repairs that need to be done, too. There's mold in the ceiling, water leaks, all that."

She said she worries about safety inside and outside her apartment. Durham police repeatedly responded to violence at McDougald Terrace over the past year, and Cotton was home one afternoon when a homicide occurred down the street.

"Next thing I know, I just started hearing gunshots," she said.

While she appreciates the hotel, she said she ultimately wants a place to call home.

"I just hope they get it together," she said, "and I just hope everybody [will] be safe when they go back."

Meanwhile, DHA is still trying to get a handle on carbon monoxide problems at its other facilities.

Contractors started inspections at Oxford Manor on Thursday, the third complex they've tackled. They finished up Hoover Road Apartments on Wednesday, where they replaced 21 faulty stoves and repaired six gas leaks in the 54 units.

Twenty-three carbon monoxide issues, primarily stoves, were identified in the 58 Oxford Manor apartments inspected Thursday. About 115 apartments still need to be checked.

Three other DHA properties have similar gas appliances and will be checked in the coming days and weeks: Laurel Oaks, Club Boulevard and Edgemont Elms.

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