Federal & State Housing Money Is Coming To The Panhandle, But How Long Will It Take To Get Here?

May 10, 2019

A housing crisis has emerged in the wake of Hurricane Michael. Now state and federal money is on the way to address it as local residents and leaders are growing anxious and frustrated. 

Jackson County resident Rachel Conrad stood in line for hours recently, in Panama City Beach. She was among some 10,000 people waiting to hear President Donald Trump speak at a campaign rally and she was hoping to hear the President come with news.

What remains of this home is a lonely, cream colored chair amid skeleton walls.
Credit Robbie Gaffney / WFSU TV

“Everybody’s jacking up [housing] prices," she said. "Big companies came in and bought all the houses, we already had a housing shortage, everybody was renting. And now we have an extreme housing crisis. And President Trump and his daughter Ivanka with the Trump hotels, if somebody would come in and build something, we would be so grateful.” 

Conrad is still living with friends after her house was destroyed in Hurricane Michael. She’s not sure when she’ll be able to afford a place of her own again. The Category 5 storm was among the strongest to strike the U.S. and it also hit in the poorest part of the state.

What housing is left is expensive and people are moving from place-to-place. Thousands have moved away, and the housing shortage is affecting the ability of businesses to find and keep workers. Now, the President is promising a cash infusion.

“Tonight I am pleased to announce our administration is $448 million in HUD [Housing and Urban Development] disaster recovery funds for the great people of Florida," he said to a cheering crowd. "These dollars will help communities get back on their feet. We’ve already given you many, many millions of dollars, but these are additional dollars that are coming in to help people put their lives together. Some families are still working very hard. It’s been a tough one.”

That announcement comes as thousands of people remain homeless In Bay County, where the storm made landfall, local officials estimate between 8,000 and 10,000 people don’t have a place to live.

“Housing is a big issue on the board, not just at Tyndall, but for residents and communities throughout the area," said Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nunez, following a recent tour of North Florida. She was taking stock of the remaining damage at Tyndall Airforce Base, speaking with local sheriffs and seeing what needs remain on the ground. 

On the heels of the President’s visit, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio wrote a letter, urging Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to quickly publish the rules that will allow local communities to access the money.  Politico Florida reports Rubio and Congressman Matt Gaetz urged the President not to come to the area empty handed, and lobbied for the additional federal money.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers recently approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. It steers $115 million  in affordable housing money to the area. Democratic Minority Leader Kionne McGhee called the move one of the few highlights for Democrats this session:

“I had the opportunity to visit the panhandle," he said. "and one of the things we wanted this session more than anything was to make sure our brothers and sisters in the panhandle received the resources to rebuild.”

Some of that money will go to developers to create affordable housing units. Some will go directly to potential homeowners to help with down payment assistance.

And more is on the way. The Florida Housing Finance Corporation oversees state and federal money to build affordable housing and help low-income Floridians with down payment help to buy homes. It has announced it will give $30million to five developers who will create 245 subsidized housing units in Bay, Gulf, Jackson and Wakulla Counties. Gov. Ron DeSantis has also announced the Florida Division of Emergency Management has secured 50 trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is donating them to Bay County.