Updated: New Bern Housing Authority’s interim director reports water damage at New Bern Towers

Rusting near PTAC units at New Bern Towers (Photo by NewBernNow.com)
Rusting near PTAC units at New Bern Towers (Photo by NewBernNow.com)

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include response from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

An architect advises the housing authority to “promptly evaluate and address” moisture issues and water damage at New Bern Towers.

Reginal “Reggie” Barner, the interim executive director, told the New Bern Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners that “water is coming through the cavities of the wall” at New Bern Towers during the June 17, 2024 meeting.

He also reported the results of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s NSPIRE inspection of New Bern Towers.

New Bern Towers is a 106-unit senior housing building with section 8 project-based rental assistance located at 1125 Walt Bellamy Drive in New Bern, NC.

Fred Ford of Stogner Architecture said there was “an apparent issue internally with one of the units and vertical stacks of units in the building.”

He reported that rusting was “pretty evident” near the PTAC units when he drove by.

Ford said he had a number of concerns with the building envelope that should be “promptly addressed.”

A PTAC is a packaged thermal air conditioner that is a wall mounted, self-contained heating and air conditioning unit.

“The building envelope, which is walls, windows, roof, and foundation, forms the primary thermal barrier between the interior and exterior envelope is the space between the outside of the building and the inside of the wall,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy website.

“What we typically see are (drip) pans in the bottom of the PTAC units that are rusted and are potentially causing condensation to pass through the pans and directly to the outside of the building and possibly into the interior envelope,” Ford said.

He said the moisture “could be a contributing factor to some of the damage that we’re seeing on the inside units along that outside wall.”

Ford said the glass bulbs along the windows have deteriorated to the point where moisture and humidity could come in.

He said the caulking around the windows could allow for water to enter into the building envelope.

He also said moisture and humidity could be coming in through the cast panels where the sealant has deteriorated.

Ford reported the roof is “nearing the end of its useful life” and said “some of the sealants and tops of cast panels have deteriorated.”

He recommended replacing some, if not all the pans.

He said they didn’t have building plans for New Bern Towers and described a similar problem with a building of comparable construction that he had assessed.

“The building…had a condensation drainpipe that was used to drain the condensation from each of the PTAC units vertically in the exterior wall envelope.” This allowed moisture to enter.

He also said the other building had some metal studs that deteriorated by rust and “they had extensive mold conditions inside the wall envelopes.”

Ford said the extent of the damage is unknown unless they open up the wall and said they are still investigating.

“My experience said there are much bigger issues than just what I’m visually seeing on the surface,” Reggie Barner said.

“We’ll probably apply to HUD for some special funding to be able to do these kinds of repairs,” Barner said.

He also mentioned applying for a 9% tax credit to refurbish New Bern Towers and said, “You can’t do that when you got people living in those units.”

HUD NSPIRE inspection of New Bern Towers

Barner also said a Department of Housing and Urban Development’s NSPIRE inspection of New Bern Towers was conducted on April 22.

The inspection report does not mention any water damage or moisture issues with the building.

NewBernNow.com reached out to Shannon Watkins, public affairs specialist with HUD and asked if any issues were identified with the exterior of the building. She provided responses from a HUD spokesperson.

The spokesperson said, “Exterior issues would have been identified in the report. Offline units are not inspected.”

Barner referred to the repairs as minor, but the NSPIRE report identified some deficiencies as “life-threatening, severe and moderate.”

In April, he said the NBHA was given 24 hours to repair five deficiencies.

The report shows the exterior, interior and 25 units were inspected and identified the following deficiencies:

-Three life-threatening defects in units which were an exposed electrical conductor, exposed wire and a damaged outlet.

-Two severe defects in units.

-Two moderate defects inside the facility and 25 moderate defects in units.

-Seventeen low defects in units.

Some deficiencies included damaged or missing window screens, refrigerators, burner, doors, toilets, exhaust system above stove and a sink were damaged or is missing components, an exhaust system was restricted airflow and evidence of cockroaches were found.

Image of two discrepancies that were noted in the HUD NSPIRE inspection of New Bern Towers conducted on April 22, 2024. (Courtesy of New Bern Housing Authority)
Image of two discrepancies that were noted in the HUD NSPIRE inspection of New Bern Towers conducted on April 22, 2024. (Courtesy of New Bern Housing Authority)

According to the National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate and Associated Protocols, Scoring Notice, there are various factors that are considered in determining the NSPIRE score.

HUD scores deficiencies based on severity and location. Severity is categories as “life-threatening, severe, moderate and low.”

-Life-threatening: “present a high risk of death to a resident.”

-Severe: “present a high risk of permanent disability, or serious injury or illness, to a resident; or the physical security or safety of a resident or their property would be seriously compromised.”

-Moderate: “present a moderate risk of an adverse medical event requiring a healthcare visit; cause temporary harm; or if left untreated, cause or worsen a chronic condition that may have long-lasting adverse health effects; or that the physical security or safety of a resident or their property could be compromised.”

-Low: “deficiencies critical to habitability but that do not present a substantive health or safety risk to resident.”

Two fire doors did not self-close and latch, but the discrepancies were not factored into the projected score. “Since the Fire Door NSPIRE Standard is new and properties may need to replace the doors to meet the standard…items will not be scored until at least, October 1,” according to the NSPIREAP notice.

The final projected inspection score of the Towers is 85.

He said staff told him this is the “first time in a very, very, very long time that we scored that high.”

Reggie Barner said the inspection was postponed to give them more time to identify and fix problems.

NewBernNow.com asked HUD if it was standard practice to extend an inspection date to allow a housing authority to conduct a pre-inspection.

The HUD spokesperson said, “HUD is not aware of an extension. Once REAC has scheduled an inspection, the NSPIRE system will alert the PHA. Currently, REAC provides a 28-calendar day notice of the inspection. Read more in the NSPIRE Administrative Notice.”

The NBHA’s property manager’s monthly report for April showed 326 work orders were processed, 311 were completed and 12 were pending repair.

Barner said most of the work orders were self-generated to prepare for HUD’s inspection of New Bern Towers.

The new NSPIRE scoring methodology was adopted last year, according to the notice.

The New Bern Housing Authority has been designated as a substandard public housing agency and received an overall score of 66 on a Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) Score Report for Interim that was published on May 19, 2023.

The overall rating was based on indicators that included a physical score of 26 out of 40, financial score of 25 out of 25, management score of 10 out of 25, capital fund score of 5 out of 10 and late penalty points score of 0.

The NSPIRE score will be included into PHAS scores, according to the NSPIREAP notice.

NewBernNow.com asked Watkins, “Who determined which units would be included in the 25 sample units?”

A spokesperson responded, “The sample size is the number of units inspected. This number is a computer-generated random sample pre-determined by the NSPIRE inspection sampling methodology. A full table of unit sample sizes adopted under the NSPIRE inspection sampling methodology is provided in Table 9 of the NSPIRE Scoring Notice at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2023-07-07/pdf/2023-14362.pdf.”

We reached out to Stogner Architecture for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

We also reached out to the New Bern Housing Authority and Reggie Barner said, “The NSPIRE report did not indicate anything on the building envelope. This was a separate inspection completed by our architect for internal use. That has nothing to do with the NSPIRE inspection report.”

Video recordings of the May and meetings were uploaded to the New Bern Housing Authority’s YouTube channel on July 2, within hours of NewBernNow.com requesting their release.

“Technical difficulties?”

The housing authority continues to meet via Zoom.com despite reporting to have “technical difficulties” on numerous occasions since September 2023.

Commissioners Jennell Reddick, Sabrina Bengel, James Copland and Chairman Ronald Scott attended from the housing authority’s conference room at Tatum Drive and Denise Powell joined from a different location.

Barner said Fred Ford tried calling in.

Julian Lee, finance manager, said Ford said he was in the Zoom waiting room, but it didn’t appear that he was.

Barner said they were having technical difficulties, so Sabrina Bengel called him on her cellphone.

Commissioner Dana Outlaw was participating via Bengel’s phone, then hung up and join the Zoom meeting from a different location.

Watch the meeting here:

By Wendy Card, editor. Send an email with questions or comments.