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Affordable, Storm-Resilient Housing Comes Online In Bay County

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Valerie Crowder
Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki (left) and Sheila Ware, the city's deputy director of community development, and community members tour one of the new steell panel homes in Glenwood on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

Storm-resilient, affordable houses are beginning to crop up in Panama City’s historic Glenwood neighborhood, as part of efforts to redevelop the community.

We are here embarking on an old trail of redevelopment - developing this area into a new and updated time,” said Panama City Commissioner Kenneth Brown (Ward 2) at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday in front of two new steel-panel model homes on Roosevelt Avenue.

Since Hurricane Michael, residents in Bay County have complained about a lack of affordable housing - costing no more than 30% of household income. Local leaders say rebuilding the area’s housing stock is one of their top priorities for long-term recovery.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, local leaders and community members toured the new homes, which housing officials plan to soon start showing interested homebuyers.

Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki noted the 14-foot high-ceilings. Inside the three-bedroom home, he checked out the new appliances and marveled at the home’s sturdiness. The steel-panel houses can withstand Category 5 storm-force winds. “It’s solid — built like that to withstand that kind of wind,” he said. “You can get a few trees in the yard. This is a nice house.”

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Valerie Crowder
Panama City officials tour one of the city's new steel panel homes in Glenwood on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

The homes have metal roofs and a wood-free interior, making them resistant to mold and mildew, said Matt Staver, owner of Out of the Box, the company that makes the homes.

“Everything that we’re doing is trying to put people in the best situation we can put them in to weather the storms that used to be once every five years that now we’re dealing with every year it seems.”

Staver says the home’s storm-resilient design helps keep insurance rates on the homes lower than they would’ve been otherwise. He says energy bills typically run $60-$65 a month for the company’s three-bedroom home (1352 square feet). And the homes take about a week to construct after they arrive at their destination.

After the hurricane damaged or destroyed 90 % of Panama City’s structures, local officials began exploring options for housing they could quickly build and put on the market for residents need of permanent housing, City Manager Mark McQueen explained in an interview with WFSU News in June 2019.

“It’s very, very difficult to build houses in a short period of time when you do sticks-and-bricks,” he said. “We’ve seen the 3D print homes. We’ve seen modular homes. We’ve seen containerized homes, tiny houses.”

Michael Johnson, the city’s community development director, says they chose to invest in steel panel homes primarily because it only takes about a month after the buyer closes until the home is ready.

“It’s made of steel construction, and you really can’t distinguish it from any other home.” The homes can withstand winds of up to 189 mph, Johnson said. “It’s sturdy. It’s durable. And it’s sustainable. And that’s what’s most important.”

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Valerie Crowder
Panama City Commissioner Kenneth Brown (Ward 2) addresses Glenwood community members at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new steel panel houses on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

The two-bedroom model home costs $150,000, and the three-bedroom home costs $175,000. To help cover that cost, homebuyers may apply for downpayment and closing cost assistance loans online through a county-city initiative called ReHouse Bay.

Some residents may qualify for a $25,000 - $50,000 interest-free downpayment assistance loan, bringing down the principal on their primary mortgage and saving money over time, Johnson said. “That’s truly affordable for this market and for certain populations of Panama City - Bay County.”

ReHouse Bay paid for the model homes’ construction with money from Florida’s Hurricane Housing Recovery Program. Local governments will recoup those costs when the homes are sold and then reinvest those monies into building new homes.

Residents can also get help with home repairs and rent payments through the initiative.

ReHouse Bay has put $5.87 million back into the community, assisting 484 households, according to the latest numbers from the city's housing office. The initiative is in charge of spending $36 million that state lawmakers recently appropriated to the county and city for housing recovery.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation distributes state funds to cities and counties across the state. Director Trey Price says the state’s network of local housing offices ensures resources are quickly delivered to the communities they serve. “It’s been very helpful in deploying disaster relief funds from incidents like Hurricane Michael.”

In addition to offering assistance loans, local leaders plan to continue investing in building back the housing stock. Residents anywhere in the county can purchase one of the steel panel homes and apply for help covering the downpayment and closing costs through ReHouse Bay, said Michael Johnson, Panama City’s community resources director.

“Whether we build a home like this in Callaway, Parker or Lynn Haven - that availability is there.”

He says the city is building a third steel-panel home near the first two in Glenwood. He says the houses are the beginning of new development in the area — plans are also underway for a new grocery store. The neighborhood is currently classified as a food desert.

“There’s going to be a complete change,” Johnson said. "We have a lot designed and are working on different plans for the Glenwood community.”