I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: No hope for New Hope

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Thursday, April 25, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Broken furnaces, complaints of gas leaks, broken windows, and doors. Our I-TEAM began investigating an Aiken County housing project last fall.

The housing authority has a solution but it's not making future repairs. Like other government housing across the nation, it's aging. Do you make repairs or start all over? It's a tough decision impacting our most impoverished families.

Just west of Aiken. on the east side of Horse Creek, sits the old mill town of Graniteville, South Carolina. Folks remember the day everything changed. Tragedy struck in 2005. A train derailment killed their neighbors and friends and some say it killed their town too.

"People don't understand that we are here we are lost we are forgotten," said Carol Carson, a New Hope resident.

Once a town of tragedy is now a place plagued by poverty. Nearly 40% of the population here live in it.

"A lady had a heater for $25 and I didn't have $25," said Carson.

Carol Carson lives in the projects with her grandchildren.

"The little baby sleeps in here so I got to make sure he has heat," said Carson.

Records show she first called Aiken Housing Authority about her heat in January 2018. She called again in February, October and again in November. That's when News 12 met her.

"Usually I try to fix things myself it’s to a point like the furnace I can't fix," said Carson.

She tried to fix a broken window. She tried to fix it when her autistic grandson fell out of it.

Records show Carson first reported the broken window in May but it's still broken and now there's another problem, the window leaks.

Carson isn't the only resident at New Hope waiting for repairs.

"One guy came out to fix it but it broke again and he wouldn't come out he said he brings it the next week but never did," said Carson.

She gave up on getting her furnace fixed months ago. She has to use another method to heat her home.

"I have to use my stove," said Carson.

News 12 went through the 2018 maintenance orders for New Hope 1 and 2, totaling 360 requests. In January, another resident complained about no heat. Records show it was repaired. The resident called the following month about not having heat again and again records show it was repaired. In April, during an inspection, an inspector noted there was no heat. Another tenant also complained about not having heat. Six work orders and a month later, maintenance wrote it was repaired.

"I’m not going to say its absolutely perfect," said Chanosha Lawton.

Chanosha Lawton is the director of Aiken Public Housing. She oversees all of the public housing throughout the county.

"For the most part we try to do everything, it’s not a hazard I will put it that way," said Lawton.

But she says it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep New Hope safe and sanitary with aging infrastructure.

"Plumbing is a big issue over there at New Hope," said Lawton.

Last year, Aiken Housing Authority announced it was moving forward with demolishing Hahn Village, one of the six other government housing complexes in the county. Now it appears there is not much hope for New Hope either.

"We look at rehab it would cost millions to just rehab and make repairs to New Hope," said Lawton.

Lawton says she's moving forward with plans to demolish the projects in Graniteville too. Eventually, hundreds of low-income families living here will need a new place to live too.

"Our goal is to provide decent safe and sanitary housing and based on all of the maintenance issues that they're having you would want to be in a better a safer environment," said Lawton.

"It's not a picnic you don't know by looking at someone the struggles they've had," said Carson.

Life has never been a picnic for Carol Carson but she's always held onto hope. One day things will get better.

Carson says the housing authority did make repairs after we interviewed her. As for New Hope, HUD still has to approve demolishing it. Aiken housing authority says families will get a voucher to find other housing but there are many unknowns. Will there be enough section 8 housing to accommodate everyone, what will happen to the property, and where does the money go?