Sumter flood victim has mixed emotions about new home she qualified for


In November and December, Sumter resident Barbara Harris was upset. Earlier this week, she was beyond upset.

A flood-damage victim from the historic 1,000-year flood in October 2015, Harris had finally signed a contract with a nonprofit agency for a new home to be built for her 20 months later on June 7 of last year.

Officials with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit disaster relief organization that repairs and builds homes for qualified residents, had determined Harris' original home couldn't be repaired to proper standards. As a senior with limited income, Harris qualified for a free newly constructed home, according to Mark Smith, the agency's program manager for South Carolina.

The agency told Harris at the time she signed her contract that her newly built 890-square-foot, two-bedroom home would be completed in an estimated 90 days.

Fast-forward seven months to today, and after numerous delays Harris is still living with her two dogs - Blaze and Buttons - at the Travelers Inn & Suites, at the intersection of Broad Street and U.S. 521. However, her weekly hotel room costs have been covered by various agencies since her stay began.

After meeting with The Sumter Item on Nov. 1 to express her frustrations, she was told by Smith her home would be completed by Nov. 22.

However, Harris and her two dogs were still in their hotel room for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

Earlier this week, Harris, 74, contacted the newspaper again saying she was fed up with the process and hadn't been out to see the new home's construction, at 7 Charles St., since early December. At that time, the house was still just a framed structure, she said.

After taking the 3-mile drive from the hotel to Charles Street on Wednesday, Harris said she was somewhat pleasantly surprised that her new home is just about finished. The white exterior siding is up, walls are up, flooring is in place, and even three ceiling fans were installed just this week. Two construction workers were on site at the time, working on the new kitchen's cabinets. She said Smith told her this week the home should be ready by the end of the month.

Harris said she's still upset the house hasn't been completed yet, and her new home will be a downsize of about 150 square feet.

"But, my mother always told me, 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all,'" Harris said. "I really will be glad to get into the house though, where I can be comfortable."

The new home is valued at $87,665.

When contacted Thursday, Smith said new home construction isn't an easy process and construction crews ran into numerous hitches along the way with Harris' home. Those delays included damaged water lines, where the home extends to Charles Street, which the City of Sumter had to repair.

He said he understands Harris' frustration but feels good about the quality of home she's getting.

"We understand being out of your home for an extended period of time is difficult," Smith said. "However, we feel really good about the house. It's been built with additional strapping to make it more resilient in case of a future disaster. The foundation is a concrete slab. We feel good that while this home may have taken a little longer to build, it's something that will last a long time for Ms. Barbara."

A former travel nurse by trade, Harris said she'll be thankful to cook in her own home and for other things.

"Hey, it's a new house; so I will work up some enthusiasm," Harris said. "I'm happy the dogs get to go home."