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Hundreds of victims scattered throughout Polk and other Florida counties decimated by last summer’s hurricanes are still living in recreational vehicles and manufactured housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), according to The Ledger, Lakeland. Fla.
Next Saturday (Aug. 13) will mark a year since Hurricane Charley raked Polk, followed the next month by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. Charley was especially unkind to
Lake Wales, where victims signed contracts giving them up to 18 months of free shelter.
FEMA, however, isn’t content to let them remain in their borrowed homes for the full 18 months without proving they’ve exhausted efforts to find permanent housing.
Campers say they want nothing more than to move out but can’t because local housing is in short supply and rent has shot up as a result.
“Everything I’ve looked at is $600 and up,” Lisa Wilson, a 29-year-old single parent, said of houses for rent in the area. “Everything is just too expensive for my budget. It’s not that I haven’t been looking.”
Wilson and others said their extra money has gone toward other expenses, such as paying off credit and other bills.
Last year’s hurricanes exacerbated a shortage of affordable housing in Polk. Help is on the way with at least $16 million in state emergency disaster funds earmarked for construction of new housing.
But it won’t be fast enough for families who are priced out of the available housing market. Adding to the problem is a housing boom in much of Central Florida, which is draining the supply of contractors willing to repair hurricane-damaged properties.
Having fewer rental properties has wildly escalated prices countywide, said Alice Spivey, who helps coordinate recovery efforts for United Way.
“A $600 house that you could rent before the hurricanes probably rents for $1,000 now,” she said. “That’s a dramatic increase. It’s the law of supply and demand.”
FEMA has provided lists of possible landlords and turned up the pressure on campers with monthly evaluations of their progress.
Time has run out on some people who said FEMA evicted them for taking too long to get their lives in order.
FEMA did not immediately respond to The Ledger’s request for details on how it is dealing with people who remain in the trailers.
However, a spokesman did say the agency still has 360 travel trailers and mobile homes loaned to hurricane victims in Polk, down from a peak of 927. Statewide, there remain 8,407 leases from a high of 16,417.