Hunter Potts

Jackson County Housing Grants Coordinator Hunter Potts talks to Jackson County Commissioners Tuesday, providing the board with some updated storm-recovery information as that effort continues a year after Hurricane Michael.

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, nearly the eve of the date that marks a year since Hurricane Michael hit Jackson County, that Oct. 10, 2018 storm was still a dominant factor in Jackson County Commission meetings.

That morning, Jackson County Community Development Director Wendy Schlesinger brought a handful of people to talk about how their organizations are faring in the recovery effort.

Her housing grants coordinator, Hunter Potts, was first up.

Of the 17,441 residences existing in Jackson County, 25 percent are manufactured homes, while 74 percent are single-family/modular units. Of the 13,032 single-family/modular homes, more than half are 40 year old or older, he said, and 80 percent of the manufactured homes are that old or older.

Those statistics point to an overall aging and storm-susceptible inventory of homes in the county, with just 66 new homes built since the storm and 239 manufactured homes coming in during the period.

Potts also offered numbers on how employment has shifted since the storm, which may be a factor as individuals left homeless by the storm seek to obtain new housing through loans that include a mortgage that must be paid.

The county has received some help in improving the housing picture since the storm hit:

The State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) has plugged in $1 million for disaster relief and housing rehabilitation. Those dollars are in process and are administered by the Emerald Coast Regional Planning Council.

The Hurricane Housing Recovery Program has contributed $7.21 million for housing replacement, with the program it funds to begin at the end of this year or in very early 2020. ECRC is also to administer that program.

And in the Travel Trailer Pilot Program, 20 trailers have been provided for survivors and the county has been approved to receive 15 more. The 20 are rotated as families using the transition into more permanent housing. The county partners with the state of Florida and the Chipola Baptist Association to run that program, with CBA in additional partnerships with the North Florida Inland Long Term Recovery and Innovative Charities of Northwest Florida as those in need are identified and the trailers are readied for their continued transition from family to family.

Of all the homes in Jackson County, 2,442 that survived it had to have roof repairs after the storm.

Potts also offered an overall fact sheet prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that shows how much money that agency had put toward the recovery effort six months in, with its impact continuing in the months that followed the report. As of April 29, 2019, according to the fact sheet, Jackson County had received more than $63.1 million in total federal funds, with 6,054 individuals and households approved for nearly $13 million in federal dollars through FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. More than $50 million in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s low-interest disaster loan program had been approved, collectively, for 1,139 homeowners and renters and for 71 businesses.

FEMA estimates that, by that April date, it had assisted at least 18,242 survivors with housing assistance, including more than $7.4 million approved for basic housing repairs for 2,035 units. The agency noted that another 2,241 had, at that point, applied but had not supplied the necessary completed insurance information needed to complete that process. The agency also said 2,316 homeowners and renters had been approved at that stage for post-storm rental assistance.

The agency said it had also assisted more than 13,000 survivors find other resources if they did not qualify for FEMA assistance.

FEMA noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had installed 839 blue tarps in Jackson County, so that members of those households could live in place as repairs were planned.

The agency estimated that, as of that time, nearly 7.3 million cubic yards of debris had been removed in the county.

On the subject of housing, commissioners questioned one of Schlesinger’s speakers about why so many travel trailers are still sitting at the Marianna airport while so many here still need help. She answered that, informing the board those trailers are only being staged there for future disasters so that they can be deployed from that central location when needed. Commissioners expressed some frustration with that circumstance, but Schlesinger provided some reassurance, saying a few more trailers for the local population are expected and that efforts to address the housing shortage here are a top priority of the county’s administration. Jackson County Administrator Wilanne Daniels reiterated that commitment later in the session.

Jackson County’s affordable housing shortage was already an identified problem before the storm, county sources have said, and is in the forefront of issues to address going forward. A county source mentioned that housing could be a linchpin in the development plans at Endeavor, the county’s big new hub of economic development as those lands have come into county ownership from the state.

See an upcoming edition of the Floridan for more information from the speakers Schlesinger presented Tuesday.

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