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Housing Recovery Slow In Rural Northwest Florida After Hurricane Michael

A badly damaged house with debris and trees strewn about the yard
North Florida Inland Long-Term Recovery Group
Hurricane Michael caused significant damage to hundreds of homes across rural Calhoun and Jackson Counties in October, 2018.

Housing remains one of the greatest long-term recovery needs in Calhoun and Jackson counties more than two years after Hurricane Michael.

“The dire shortage of housing is a major issue in both of our communities,” said Kevin Yoder, chairman of the North Florida Inland Long-Term Recovery Group, during a conference call Thursday.

The long-term recovery group is a coalition of 20 faith-based and nonprofit organizations from across the region that offer disaster recovery assistance to residents in the two counties, according to the organization’s website.

Since the storm, the group has helped 800 households in the two rural counties with repairs to damaged roofs, water wells and home interiors, along with demolition work. There are still 502 clients in need of assistance, Kristy Terry, executive director of the long-term recovery group wrote in an email.

“We still have so many clients that are in need of home repairs,” Terry told coalition members on the call. “And we definitely continue to need money for resources to assist with that.”

Another issue that was brought up during the meeting was the need for affordable housing.

In Jackson County, the school district has identified about 300 families with school-aged children who meet the federal definition of homelessness - which means an individual or family “lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”

Families in Calhoun County have turned to the school district for help finding an affordable place to live, said Ladona Kelley, the district’s student and family support liaison.

Kelley told others on the call that she heard from three families in-need just before the meeting.

“They’re either living out of a car or they’re trying to find a house. In our area, there’s just not very many places available to rent, especially affordable places for them to rent,” Kelley said. “I’m struggling on a daily basis as to how can I support these families.”

In 2019, more than $14 million in state disaster recovery funds were distributed to both counties to help residents with home repairs, the long-term recovery group’s latest housing study shows.

Terry says disaster recovery funds are diminishing more than two years after the Category 5 hurricane. “This far out from the storm some of that money that was immediately available is gone.”

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.