Months After Hurricane Michael, Florida Families Remain Homeless
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Hurricane Michael destroyed thousands of homes and apartments on Florida's Panhandle, and rebuilding there will take years. In Panama City and surrounding communities, officials are struggling to find housing for families who, more than three months after this storm, are still homeless. NPR's Greg Allen has the story.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In Panama City, the Macedonia Garden Apartments are now mostly vacant.
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ALLEN: Debris litters the grounds. One building lost its walls and much of its second floor. Most other buildings have severe roof damage. There were about 100 families living here when the storm hit. Lorraine DePriest was staying in her brother's apartment. After the storm, she says everyone was told they had to leave.
LORRAINE DEPRIEST: People didn't leave right away because some people been here 30, 40 years - all their life. They really didn't want to leave, but they had to leave, you know.
ALLEN: Because there's no power, no water?
ALLEN: DePriest was lucky. She found another place to live nearby. Her brother and his wife relocated to California, and she doesn't know when they'll be able to return. Their apartment and the entire complex, she says, is a mess.
DEPREIEST: When they had the power on, there was bugs coming out of the J building. And then they had to turn off the gas. And then there was a water leak. So, see, we're stuck.
ALLEN: Several other similar apartment communities were also devastated in the storm, including two public housing complexes. Greg Brudnicki is Panama City's mayor.
GREG BRUDNICKI: In our community here, 66 percent of our housing within the footprint of the city of Panama City is subsidized, OK. It's a huge percentage - 2 out of 3. And we had a lot of those places that were destroyed.
ALLEN: Many of those without a place to live have had to leave the area. Robert Carroll, a Bay County commissioner, says even before the storm there was a shortage of affordable housing in Panama City and surrounding communities. Some 70 percent of those who live in this small city are renters. To help them, Carroll says, FEMA has found several sites where it's bringing in hundreds of mobile homes.
ROBERT CARROLL: We're going to do whatever means we need to to keep the people here. We need to keep them going to the same schools, keep them in the same communities - anything that can keep them to have a sense of being at home because once they've displaced and they're moved - they've found new jobs, they won't come back.
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ALLEN: On this site in Panama City, crews are leveling the lot and bringing in trailers from FEMA. There's about a dozen trailers here now. A few dozen more are expected. They're going to be used mostly, they say, to house people who had been renting.
RON DESANTIS: I think they're going to be here - what? - 18 months, yeah.
ALLEN: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently toured one of the FEMA mobile home sites. It's close to the Macedonia Garden Apartments and other damaged subsidized housing complexes. DeSantis says the trailers are temporary - a place to live while permanent housing is repaired and rebuilt.
DESANTIS: The good news is is that there will be some people who won't be here 18. They'll be here for a couple of months and move on. There'll be some who will need assistance after 18 months.
ALLEN: Officials believe that about a 1,000 trailers placed on several sites will provide a temporary solution to the housing shortage. What's uncertain is how long it will take to repair and rebuild public housing and private apartment complexes. A housing official says that's a process that typically takes one-and-a-half to two years. Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki acknowledges it's a tight timeline.
BRUDNICKI: So we've got to get started yesterday on getting all this public housing and subsidized housing started and built and ready because I can't throw somebody out of a place if they don't have someplace to go.
ALLEN: Florida has already released $30 million to help build subsidized housing in communities affected by the hurricane. Brudnicki is now lobbying to have the area designated as a federal opportunity zone, which would spur rebuilding by giving developers generous tax breaks. Greg Allen, NPR News, Panama City, Fla.
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