A Year After Charlie, Still In 'Temporary' Housing
NOAH ADAMS, host:
And finding permanent homes remains a problem for many of those who had their houses destroyed by Hurricane Charley; that was more than a year ago. NPR's Phillip Davis visited Punta Gorda, Florida, where hundreds of families are still living in temporary housing.
PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:
Everyone calls it the FEMA village, and it's surprisingly huge; row after row of white, 70-foot-long single-wide mobile homes stretching out into the distance, sprawling over a hundred acres. It's a challenge just to make your way through the village's dusty streets.
Ms. KIM GOBUL(ph): Go out all the way straight till you get out to 8th Street and make a left, and then take that all the way over to--make a right on Gamma(ph), and you just follow that straight on around and you'll finally come up to the front where the guard shack is.
DAVIS: That's Kim Gobul. She, her husband, three boys and a dog have lived in one of the village's mobile homes since December.
Ms. GOBUL: My house is messy. I got three kids.
(Soundbite of footsteps; door opening and closing)
DAVIS: She invites me in. It's surprisingly roomy and air conditioned inside.
Ms. GOBUL: This is the bedroom that my boys share. They're five and seven, and they share this room. My five-year-old never sleeps in here. He sleeps with me. Well, he's got, like, this insecurity thing ever since the hurricane.
DAVIS: The family had moved to the area just weeks before Charley hit on August 13th, 2004. They didn't think to evacuate until it was too late, and so they huddled in the home's bathroom as Charley destroyed the rest of their house.
Ms. GOBUL: The roof blew off the house in three sections. Part of it was in the front yard, part of it was in the pool and part of it was over by the swing set in the backyard.
DAVIS: Life since then has been a constant search for housing and stability. After the storm, they spent two weeks in a shelter, then three months in a cramped, 30-foot-long RV provided by FEMA. Meanwhile, the county and FEMA were busy building what is, in effect, Punta Gorda's newest neighborhood on county land out by the airport. Now more than 500 families live there rent free. Gobul says the unit is nice inside, but it's a long way from home.
Ms. GOBUL: It's nice here, and inside the house is nice; the neighborhood we don't like. There's so many people from all different walks of life in here and we're just kind of all thrown in on top of each other, you know. And some people you're lucky enough to become friends with and other people you know to stay away from. And that's pretty much in any neighborhood, but I mean, on top of all that, everybody in here has anger because they lost so much. And now, you know, FEMA's telling us that we only have until February, and it may be even sooner. We're kind of unsure about what's gonna happen to us, and they're pressuring us to get more permanent housing.
DAVIS: FEMA wants everyone out and to have found permanent housing by February 2006, but many are finding that difficult. Lorraine Helber is Charlotte County's housing director. She says the county lost 10,000 housing units after the storm, including a couple of big apartment buildings.
Ms. LORRAINE HELBER (Housing Director, Charlotte County, Florida): Building large complexes back does not happen in 12 months. As you can understand, the financial package and some of the predevelopment involved in, say, a 200-unit apartment complex, that can take almost 18 months just for predevelopment.
DAVIS: And then at least a year to build, if you can find a construction company. Even homeowners with cash have had to wait five to seven months to book a contractor. And that means today, housing prices are zooming out of reach for working-class families like the Gobuls, whose husband works at Wal-Mart.
Ms. GOBUL: Our house that we had before the hurricane, it was perfect. You know, we had the four bedrooms, two bathrooms, in-ground pool, fenced-in yard, our water and our electric was included in our rent and we paid $900 a month. Now for something like that would be close to $2,000 a month for rent.
DAVIS: It's unlikely FEMA will throw the Gobuls and hundreds of families out on the street, but the village is getting smaller. Every time a family does move out, the trailer is promptly put on a truck and hauled away. They're needed elsewhere, like in Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana. Phillip Davis, NPR News, Miami.
ADAMS: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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