Hurricane Michael damage

After Hurricane Michael, damage to dwellings like this was common all over Jackson County. Nearly 10 months later, help is on the way to many homeowners in the way of a forgivable mortgage they can apply for through the county.

The state has now formally approved the agreement signed by Jackson County last week that will kick off the local government’s access to more than $7.2 million to help rebuild local homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael.

Jackson County Community Development Director Wendy Schlesinger, also still temporarily serving in the capacity of housing director, said Thursday that the state’s okay of the agreement on Wednesday was welcome news.

“Many residents suffered the loss of their homes after Hurricane Michael and are still homeless or displaced today,” she said. “Help is on the way through the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program. The County is happy for the opportunity to assist numerous survivors replace houses that were destroyed or severely damaged. Many families may now be able to rebuild their homes which will help them also rebuild their lives.”

She said the program should be up and running in November or December of this year, and that the county hopes to build 30-50 homes with the money.

Those accessing the funds will have to sign a mortgage agreement with the county to pay back the money used to rebuilt their homes, but if they live in those new homes for at least 15 years, and abide by all the other terms they sign on for, the entire county mortgage they’ll have to sign will be forgiven. If they move or sell before that term, they’ll have to repay a portion, based on how many years early they vacate and/or sell the home.

Information about how to apply for the funds will be forthcoming once the county signs a deal with a program manager. A candidate organization for that task is expected to be proposed to commissioners in the coming weeks. The chosen entity and county staff will get the word out through various means, including the county’s website, Facebook, print notifications and in other ways.

The replacement homes will all be site-built or modular units, with a maximum of $175,000 possible through the county mortgages. This will ultimately change a demographic in Jackson County. Currently, more than a quarter of the dwellings here are mobile homes. Because so many of those eligible for the mortgages were residents of mobile homes severely damaged or destroyed in the storm, their transition to new site-built or modular units will likely reduce the county-wide profile regarding types of residences that exist here. And having more homes of a sturdier nature will also help meet the state’s goal of rebuilding the storm-damaged community in to a more resilient place to live.

Meanwhile, some of the people displaced by the storm are being offered temporary shelter in some travel trailers that FEMA has provided to the county in a pilot program.

Eventually, the federal government could give these to the county permanently—there’s been talk of such an eventuality, but currently there’re just on loan for 18 months. The Chipola Baptist Association is in charge of helping the county get that program up and running now, with the first family placed in one of the units last week.

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