UPDATE | Former contractor claims overages causing RISE delays
Randy Young Jr. was hired as a subcontractor to build 125 RISE homes across West Virginia. His company was fired midway through the job after he complained about alleged wrongdoing, Young said.
"They could've put several families that maybe have gotten denied, maybe needed reconstruction, maybe needed a mobile home, maybe needed rehab," Young said. "These folks that have been denied, they need to know the waste that is going in that could've helped them and their families to get in homes or refurbish their home to be livable."
The RISE program was created to help with disaster recovery following the June 2016 flooding across West Virginia. As of July of 2019, only 51 houses had been completed out of hundreds of applicants.
Young was subcontracted by CPF Construction from South Carolina to help build RISE homes. CPF did not hold a West Virginia construction license until September despite operating in the state for months, according to the Department of Labor.
CPF was a subcontractor itself, for Thompson Construction Group, also from South Carolina, which won the RISE project bid over one competing company.
"The lowest bidder wins and we have actually had contracts come in with just one bidder, so that would be a win, right?" RISE manager Michelle Penaloza said. "Those contracts, if they are above our approved action plan costs, we send them back and say no you have to re-bid."
That action plan includes $83,000 per house to improve site conditions, Penaloza said. It covers raising the home above the flood plain, replacing septic systems, repairing wells that were damaged in the flood and moving utility poles that might be leaning on a mobile home.
It's raising the house elevation that can create drastic cost overruns for even simple projects, Young said.
Thompson Construction's contract with the state gives them $15,950.01 for every row that is added to the foundation of a house, according to state documents. Those rows are made of 8-inch tall cinder blocks, and it can take more than a dozen rows to raise a house the necessary level, Young said.
"I know (Thompson) is in business and people are in business to make money," Young said. "It would've been very profitable for Thompson to just charge $2,500, $3000 per row, and in turn pay me $400 to $500 per row, instead of $15,950.01."
"They did not do due diligence to catch the fact that there was a major contractor, in the middle of a contract, making thousands," Young said. "With no license, with no foot to stand on in this state."
"We don't have the capacity that we need in our state," Penaloza said. "We need small builders to come forward and want to build houses for us. The question has been, 'why is one vendor getting all of the projects?' And my response is that every single contract that we have rewarded is on our website, we have 100 percent transparency. So the playbook is there, you know what has historically been awarded, you know how to beat it and we still don't have anybody playing."
RISE remains open for both homeowners and contractors to apply for opportunities, Penaloza said. It is committed to meet all needs before closing the program or diverting funds to other projects.
"We will move whatever we need to in order to make sure our housing program gets finished," Penaloza said. "We are currently serving 406 applicants beyond what we have already completed, and this is a HUD grant. They specialize in unmet housing needs, so we will not move to any other programs until all of our housing needs are met."
The Spence family are 2016 flood victims who say they are frustrated since it's been over three years and their home is still not demolished.
"I mean it should've been done a long time ago," said Greg Spence, the son of the homeowners. "Three years, that's a long time."
Spence says his parents' home was filled with nearly eight feet of water from the 2016 flood.
"We tore the whole floor up, redid the floor. I rewired the whole inside of it, downstairs we put a new breaker box in and new meter box outside. The whole downstairs has been remodeled."
The RISE West Virginia spokesperson says 51 cases have been completed but 87 cases are still waiting to be assigned contracting management. While 423 cases are still needing some type of work done, the Spence's are one of those cases.
"It messed up the foundation. It shifted a couple of the pillars so that's what the concern is," said Spence.
Spence says his parents still live in the house, even though it needs to be demolished and rebuilt.
"RISE is pretty adamant that they're going to tear it down at the end of this month."
West Virginia National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer provided an update to lawmakers Tuesday about progress on flood-damaged/destroyed homes.
Lawmakers and community members said the RISE program, meant to help people in the community rebuild, is moving too slow.
Gen. Hoyer took over the program in June 2018 with the hope to speed things up within the program.
On Tuesday, he said they have completed 50 houses and there are 498 cases outstanding. They plan to have 300 cases under contract, making progress, by the end of June.
"I sense your frustration, nobody's more frustrated than the folks out there and I feel the same level of frustration, and we'll continue to build capacity," Gen. Hoyer said.
While Gen. Hoyer talked about the positives, many lawmakers questioned the programs slow movement. Community members' frustrations are also continuing to rise.
"I just think the entire state has turned their backs on the people that made this state," flood victim Willy Harper said.
Gen. Hoyer said having the manpower and capacity to complete several environmental assessments is the bulk of the problem. He also said poor weather throughout the winter caused slow movement over the last few months.
He said he hopes people can focus on the progress they are working towards.
"I hope what we're looking at is the numbers we just provided that by the end of June, 60 percent of these are going to be under contract management," Gen. Hoyer said.
He said the number of cases keeps going up because they continue to find people who are eligible for help. Harper was one of those cases recently added and completed.
"For a couple years, they told me I lived in a floodway and they wouldn't help me," Harper said. Now, he has a new porch.
Hoyer said more than 100 cases were recently reopened.
Although cases are going up, time is running out. They have six years to spend the money designated for the RISE Program. Gen. Hoyer said the state can ask for an extension, but they plan to have the work completed beforehand.
West Virginia National Guard's Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer says three more homes have been completed within the RISE West Virginia's case management flood relief program.
The homes were completed in Greenbrier and Nicholas Counties.
The total number of homes completed now sits at 47.
Hoyer says while they are also continuing construction on 11 homes, they have faced some weather related problems that have delayed construction to one home in Kanawha County.
He says 11 other homes are actively being reconstructed while they are conducting 10 sight visits in hopes of building more.
Hundreds of cases still remain -- a total sitting at 402. Hoyer says 169 cases require total reconstruction, 153 cases require some form of rehabilitation, and 80 cases require new mobile home unit replacement.
Two and a half years after devastating flooding hit parts of West Virginia, efforts continue to get people back into homes.
On Tuesday, lawmakers heard an update from Maj. Gen. James Hoyer with the West Virginia National Guard, who oversees the RISE program
Hoyer says 39 mobile homes have been completed and turned over to families and the first home reconstruction project is underway in Greenbrier County.
He also says that as a part of the recovery process, they are also looking at the state’s overall emergency response plan, including experts at Marshall University and West Virginia University to help when it comes to legal and environmental issues.
“Those are assets, internal to the state of West Virginia, that if we develop processes to use during emergency response and recovery, then we don't have to go out and get outside assistance," Hoyer said. "We ought to be ... building that internal professionalism and capacity within the assets we have in the state of West Virginia so that if somebody from another state comes looking to us for help, we can be that center of excellence.”
As a result of the slow start to the response to the flooding, West Virginia was put on a federal slow spender list which can create legal problems and force reimbursement to the federal government. But lawmakers learned Tuesday that designation has been removed.
Yet another home has been completed in the RISE West Virginia program, according to state National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. James Hoyer.
In a news release Friday, Hoyer said the final inspection of that home brings the total number of completed homes to 27.
The RISE program is helping people impacted by the deadly and devastating June 2016 flooding that left many people homeless in southern and central West Virginia. It has been a little more than three months since the West Virginia National Guard took over the RISE Flood Recovery Program.
Hoyer said the most recent completion brings the number of outstanding cases from 422 to 421. Here’s a breakdown about those cases: 166 of them require total reconstruction, 160 require some form of rehabilitation, and 95 require new mobile home unit replacement.
There are a total of 39 homes that are still in the construction process under the original contracts and each of those are in some form of construction.
It's been three months since the West Virginia National Guard took over the RISE Flood Recovery Program.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer gave a briefing to the members of the Joint Legislative Committee on flooding.
The embattled program was established to help victims of the June 2016 flooding that killed 23 people. However, earlier this year it was revealed little work had been done to help victims.
Hoyer told lawmakers that 25 mobile homes are now complete -- nearly 90 days into the Guard's takeover.
In all 423 case are still open -- 166 of those cases include homes that need rebuilt.
Hoyer also testified that the state is exceeding a U.S. Housing and Urban Development requirement Act that 70 percent of funds must benefit families with low-to-moderate income levels. The program is currently at 100 percent.
"We are clearly serving the population of the state of West Virginia that needs this program the most," he said in a news release. It went on to say, "The committee was also notified that the program has made progress rebidding contracts to private companies that will complete construction on the projects. The program has gone from four contracts to nine, including one awarded last week, which will allow construction on 64 new mobile home replacements to begin soon.
There are also now nine contracts for construction as opposed to four which means that construction on 64 more mobile homes will begin soon."
"I hate to say anything less than that because if you run into an environmental issue on a piece of property, it extends something out," Hoyer said. "So I think the best thing I can tell you is, we are working as expeditiously as possible to get as many pieces moving and we now have the appropriate framework in place. We've got the right people working it every day, but I still think we have a long way to go to take care of families."
People who were impacted by the 2016 flooding in West Virginia and are a part of the RISE flood recovery program will be paired with a single case manager to help them navigate the flood recovery process.
According to a news release from the West Virginia National Guard, the work to make the matches is underway as they continue to hire more staff.
Seven new case managers and three additional new staff members are coming on board this week.
According to a news release, "These RISE case managers plan to be in the field next week – meeting applicants, viewing homes and obtaining any missing case documentation to help these families through the process."
This week, four new mobile home unit replacement contracts were awarded which means construction will begin soon on 64 new mobile homes. Also this week one more home passed a final inspection by the quality assistance/quality control team -- bringing the total number of homes completed to 24.
The number of outstanding cases has decreased from 425 to 424.
Here is a breakdown:
166 cases require total reconstruction
160 cases require some form of rehabilitation
98 cases require new MHU replacement
Demolition can now begin on 315 structures that are a part of the RISE West Virginia's "Slum and Blight" program.
Several contracts were awarded Friday that will allow damaged properties that have been determined an imminent threat to the health and safety of the public to be torn down and removed from June 2016 flooding that killed 23 West Virginian's and destroyed communities.
According to a news release, "The demolition work will provide a chance for these dilapidated structures to be replaced with new properties and the potential for future economic growth."
Also as a part of the weekly update from the RISE program, 64 new mobile home units
are in the final stages of the approval process and are expected to be awarded next week.
The total number of completed homes now stands at 23. Currently, 43 homes are still in the construction process under the original contracts.
According to a press release from the National Guard, which is now handling the RISE Program:
"The number of outstanding cases has decreased from 427 to 425. A breakdown of the nature of those cases is as follows: 166 cases require total reconstruction, 160 cases require some form of rehabilitation, and 99 cases require new MHU replacement."
The number of completed homes in the RISE West Virginia program has risen to 21, according to information from West Virginia National Guard Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer.
He reports that an additional home cleared final inspection hurdles. The RISE program is helping rebuild homes destroyed in the June 2016 flooding in central and southern West Virginia.
In a news release, Hoyer says the number of outstanding cases is now 427 after three additional homes were added to the active projects list. A breakdown of the those cases is as follows: 166 cases require total reconstruction, 159 cases require some form of rehabilitation, and 102 cases require new Mobile Home Unit (MHU) replacement.
There are currently 45 homes remaining in the construction process under the original contracts. New contracts are expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.
According to Hoyer, work also continues in the form of 16 construction site visits, face-to-face visits with three County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Directors on the slum and blight demolition program, and continuing the environmental review process.
For more information about the program, call 304-220-2570.
Friday, the leader of the RISE program said teams are still going through and re-examining cases within the system to ensure all needs are met for families.
In a statement released by the West Virginia National Guard, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the WVNG adjutant general, said the focus of the program is still the housing issue.
Hoyer said there are still two cases pending damage assessment, and those cases were to be completed by Friday.
The program has found numerous areas of recovery and amendments to the action plan they had laid out. Those findings led to sub-grant work from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; those grants will help with home rehabilitation.
The statement points out 12 contracts have been put out to bid and are will establish the private bridge and slum and blight programs and will form a State Resiliency Office.
The number of outstanding cases now stands at 432 -- three less than the last update on the RISE program.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding met with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance on Thursday to discuss issues with the RISE program. The program is in place to help victims of the June 2016 flood in West Virginia.
Lawmakers searched for answers regarding RISE's slow movement and asked questions about program funds, pointing out there has been money spent for work that has not been completed. They asked questions to various former and current RISE and state employees for six hours.
A subpoena was issued for former RISE senior official Mary Jo Thompson. She took questions for more than two hours from frustrated lawmakers.
"I'm losing my patience because earlier you said you had to balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough, but I truly don't think you can push hard enough for people who don't have homes," said Delegate Kayla Kessinger.
"There's too many variables for me in my mind, your resignation, all these other resignations from commerce, different things that are taking place. It's making no sense," said Sen. Craig Blair.
Thompson said she will never stop thinking she could've fought harder. "I agree with your frustration. This is disaster recovery for our citizens who have been suffering for a very long time," Thompson said.
Lawmakers are generally left with more questions than answers. "I'm still not satisfied with where we're at," Blair said.
The committees plan to evaluate the information they heard Thursday and will determine if they want to ask further questions or bring in other organizations working with RISE. They will eventually write a report, compiling what they have learned in hopes of helping the state improve this program in the future.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding is meeting with the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance Thursday morning.
The meeting is to determine whether or not the funds that were allocated for flood victims were properly dispersed and if there was a sense of urgency among state employees to help those families.
Mary Jo Thompson, a former Development Office employee, was issued a subpoena to appear before the Committee.
Marty Wright and James Messick will be presenting research from the State Auditor’s office regarding the use of government funds.
Others appearing before the committee include: Andrew Mihallik, program specialist with RISE West Virginia; Brian Abraham, general counsel for the Governor’s office; and Josh Jarrell, former Department of Commerce counsel and state Development Office employee.
We have a crew at that meeting and will keep you updated on this story.
Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.
More changes could be coming to the flood recovery program in West Virginia that has faced a lot of scrutiny
The West Virginia National Guard announced a second amendment to the RISE WV program Tuesday. The program is in place to help victims of the devastating June 2016 flooding in central and southern West Virginia.
This amendment, which WVNG calls substantial, will allow the State to streamline the funding process. This allows federal funds to move even faster and without additional delays.
There will be a 14-day public comment period, starting Tuesday, to discuss the proposed change.
You can submit a public comment by email: email@example.com. All comments will be included in the published amendment that will be sent to HUD.
Earlier this year, RISE, along with the progress to help those impacted by the floods, was put on hold after concerns over how $17 million from federal grant was being used.
for more information about the amendments and program resources.
After some shaky moments earlier this year, a flood recovery program in West Virginia is moving ahead again, state leaders say.
The RISE program is in place to help victims of the devastating June 2016 flooding in central and southern West Virginia.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, the adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, says 448 cases have been filed.
Of those, 131 have been handed over to a contractor to start the construction phase. One hundred twenty-six cases are waiting on final studies, such as environmental issues, before being handed over to a contractor.
Eight guardsmen are in the field taking care of the 153 cases that haven't been assigned.
"Every once in a while we'll still get somebody that will call in and say, ‘I haven't heard anything,’ ” said Hoyer, who oversees the RISE program. "But, at least now when somebody calls and says that, somebody returns their call and gets to them."
Hoyer says he expects to have all of the unassigned cases taken care of within the next 30 days and everyone under contract by September.
A flood recovery program that has faced a lot of scrutiny in recent weeks is now recovering itself.
"We're going to go fast, but we're going to be deliberate," said WV National Guard Major General James Hoyer. Gov. Jim Justice appointed Hoyer to oversee the RISE program earlier this month to make sure every single family that still needs flood assistance from the June 2016 flood gets served.
Earlier this year, RISE, along with the progress to help those impacted by the floods, was put on hold after concerns over how $17 million from federal grant was being used. Justice said had they not taken the time to look over the spending, and there was an error, the state would have been responsible for paying back every dime of that grant regardless of how much was spent.
In a news conference Friday, Justice and Hoyer discussed where things stood now. Hoyer says in the last week 74 flood cases had been reviewed and 40 were assigned to contractors to begin the rebuild process. Right now another 400 still hang in the balance, but Hoyer said they are on track to have every case addressed and assigned to a construction company by August.
"The people of this state don't deserve us taking advantage of them," said Justice on the decision to pause and make sure protocol was being followed. "The people of this state do not deserve us to take their money. They deserve somebody that's going to stand up and say that's not right."
"Because then two or three years down the road HUD will be coming asking us to pay money back," said Hoyer.
Hoyer adds they have learned several lessons while facing such criticism which includes better communication among those who are impacted most.
"First and foremost we are going to communicate with the people who have been impacted and give them up to date information and get them back on track," said Hoyer.
A fraud hotline has also been set up so anyone with concerns about how money is being spent. That number is 1-866-989-2824. If you still need help you can call 304-220-2570.
Major General James Hoyer is now in charge of the RISE flood recovery program.
The governor announced the appointment during a news conference Monday.
Governor Jim Justice says this move was necessary to make sure every single family that still needs flood assistance from the June 2016 flood gets served.
“The direction of the Governor is pretty clear. The bottom line is to make sure we use the assets of the National Guard and the State to get the process moving faster and address the needs of these families,” said Major General James Hoyer.
After the news conference, the governor posted on his social media accounts the following statement.
"As your Governor, it’s my job to find the problems and fix them. I asked General Hoyer to take over all flood relief duties within the RISE program, effective today. We know we’re going to save millions and millions of dollars. You’re going to see good stuff happen very soon."
The RISE program was halted earlier this year after the state's general counsel said it discovered a contract involving federal money was not properly completed.
That's when a high-ranking official within the Department of Commerce also lost their job. After the press conference Monday, Governor Justice announced that a realignment of the Department of Commerce is now underway. He said there will be terminations.
The program stoppage has yielded complaints from residents who say two years after the flooding they still have not received the help they were promised.
As a result, lawmakers have called for a legislative review of the program and for public hearings.
The embattled state program aimed at getting West Virginia's 2016 flood victims has helped six families in the last week receive keys to new homes.
Gov. Jim Justice's office says that the new homes were given to families in Clay, Fayette, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties.
This news comes roughly a week after the governor ordered the RISE program to start again.
The program was halted earlier this year after the state's general counsel said it discovered a contract involving federal money was not properly completed.
The program stoppage has yielded complaints from residents who say two years after the flooding they still have not received the help they were promised.
As a result, lawmakers have called for a legislative review of the program and for public hearings.
The state of West VirginIa's top lawmakers are requesting and authorizing a hearing with the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding to examine the management of the RISE Program created to help flooding victims following the events of June 2016.
The letter from House Speaker Tim Armstead, R- Kanahwa, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, to the leaders of the Joint Committee on Flooding requests one or more public hearings to examine the management of RISE at the earliest opportunity.
RISE was created to handle the needs of flooding victims, some of whom, nearly two years after the flooding are still waiting for help.
On Tuesday, the Justice Administration told WSAZ that at the end of January, early February they put the program on pause after it was discovered a $17 million contract that involved Federal HUD Money had procedural errors.
According to the Justice Administration, a high-ranking official within the West Virginia Department of Commerce lost their job as a result of the error.
According to the state's general counsel, in an effort to avoid litigation and/or be forced to pay those millions of dollars back they alerted state and federal leaders of the issues.
Work is expected to resume with the program this week.
Also calling for a hearing on the RISE issue Wednesday is Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper is asking for a review of RISE WV after a $17M procedural error put a temporary stop to West Virginia's program designed to help flood victims.
Carper says at least 288 residents of Kanawha County were affected by the floods and have requested assistance from RISE WV, but have not been approved for assistance.
"I am completely dissatisfied with the performance of Horne, LLP aka RISE WV and the efforts they have made to help the citizens of Kanawha County that were affected by the flooding that occurred two years ago. These citizens deserve to be helped so they can have their homes back," Carper released in a statement Wednesday.
A spokesperson with Governor Jim Justice's administration says proper procedures were not followed for a contract that involved federal money so they halted the program to alert state and federal leaders. They wanted to ensure there would be no repercussions including paying back the millions of dollars in flooding aid.
The spokesperson says now that the problem has been discovered and fixed work to help flood victims could get back on track as soon as this week. That work includes delivery of promised modular homes and other work to homes that were damaged.
Administration leaders say a high ranking Department of Commerce employee lost his job due to the mistake.
However, Carper is urging the Legislature and the Legislative Auditor's Office to review the program.
"I want answers," Carper said. "I believe the Legislature and the Legislative Auditor's Office should consider this matter and determine if RISE WV has been paid for services they have actually performed."
A program that was put together in 2016 to aid families impacted by the devastating flooding that swept through West Virginia is now ready to be back in operation.
That is according to members of the Justice Administration who tell WSAZ that a procedural mistake involving $17 million of HUD money from the Federal Government was the reason senior leaders hit pause on the RISE program in late January to early February 2018. That was so they could figure out what happened and how the issue could be fixed.
The error resulted in one high-ranking department of commerce official losing their job with the state of West Virginia.
In a statement, Gov. Jim Justice, R, W.Va. said:
"There's a new sheriff in town and people need to realize that Jim Justice will see to it that West Virginia is not going to be on the short end of the stick," Justice said. "We found things that could save West Virginia millions in federal funding. Our flood victims are going to continue to be served. Those people that weren't doing their jobs have been held accountable."
Following the June 2016 flooding that killed 23 West Virginians, the RISE program was assigned to the department of commerce.
According to members of the administration a "red flag" went up about the $17m in question that was going to be paid to Horne, LLP, a consulting firm based out of Mississippi. According to its website, works in several sectors including disaster management by providing "compliance, grant management and disaster recovery solutions needed to help government agencies affect positive change."
Horne had previously won the bid to help with phases I,II of the West Virginia RISE program in the Fall of 2016 for a total of $900,000.
In March 2017 Horne was selected by the Department of Commerce to work on phases three through eight of the project. However the contract was rejected. Abraham said it was denied because it was never approved by the purchasing department or by the attorney general prior to being put out for bid- both of which are requirements. The denial of the contract was put in writing but it was never was sent to the entities that needed to know about its rejection. As a result, the commerce department moved forward with the spending of the $17m without the proper protocols being followed.
According to Abraham, federal money has strict guidelines, checks and balances as to what needs to be done before it can be used, which is why Governor Justice said he wanted the program halted so that the mistake could be fixed to prevent any issues down the road.
According to Abraham, the state of West Virginia already has pending litigation that questions the way federal dollars were spent by the state. He says the cases stem from previous administrations. Abraham said that a mistake in the contract or the way the federal money is spent could mean a repayment of the money that was given to West Virginia to help with the flooding disaster along with other legal issues.
Abraham said that the Governor asked for, "total transparency" as they examined the contract and any subsequent issues.
Abraham said that the administration went on to hire former U.S. Attorney Mike Carey to work as a special attorney on the case under him. He said once they determined what happened they talked with different state departments including the legislative auditor, the attorney general, speaker of the house Tim Armstead and senate president Mitch Carmichael. In addition the lawyers went to the U.S. Attorney and they traveled to Washington D.C. to speak with the assistant secretary of HUD to advise and receive advice about to ensure there were no more issues, Abraham said.
He says it is not clear how many people have been impacted during the time of the RISE program stoppage. Over the phone Tuesday afternoon he said that this could have impacted the delivery of some modular homes that were promised to flood victims, also impacting the contractors who are doing the work. He also says they are aware of 400-500 homes that are still in need of service as soon as possible.
Abraham said now that they've made all entities aware of the issues, and they feel the can move forward with the contract without any subsequent issues, they plan to reinstate the recovery efforts as soon as this week.