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Kelly Terrell’s family is among the lucky ones in Pensacola, Fla.
Although their current home is an 8-foot-wide trailer on a concrete lot surrounded by highways, megastores and a place called Bingo Paradise, at least they have a place to stay.
A recent article in The New York Times documents the plight of Florida’s new homeless, the thousands of families displaced by a hurricane season that left much of Florida in ruins. Up to 100 new requests for housing are filed every day, as water-damaged homes that may have been livable at first have sprouted black mold.
Gov. Jeb Bush and Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, promised that every hurricane victim who needed it would have free temporary housing by Thanksgiving. Still, close to 2,000 families are waiting for the small trailers on wheels or the larger mobile homes that FEMA will provide for up to 18 months.
“Maybe they’re trying to live in one room, two rooms, and they finally realize they have to get out,” said Brad Gair, deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA.
No agency has kept a total count of the people who lost homes, but the Red Cross believes about 25,000 homes were destroyed in the four hurricanes, which hit in August and September, while another 50,000 suffered major damage.
About 8,000 families statewide have moved into makeshift trailer parks built by FEMA. The parks are constructed on whatever free space the agency finds, and hold up to 200 identical white trailers, each 8 by 32 feet, with sewer pipes in back.
Terrell, 23, said her family stayed with friends for a month after Hurricane Ivan, whose 130-mile-per-hour winds and storm surge hit Pensacola on Sept. 16, and moved into the trailer park when it opened in mid-October. The roof of their rented three-bedroom house had caved in, and mold enveloped everything but the clothing they took when they fled.
FEMA will help storm victims rent houses or apartments, but affordable places were snatched up soon after the storms. The Terrells had paid $400 a month in rent, but found rampant price gouging following the storm.
“I don’t know what the problem is, but they want $3,200 a month for these places,” said Terrell. “There is nothing out there, nothing.”
Low-income renters are among the most vulnerable hurricane victims, Gair said, because the emergency management agency does not pay for repairs on rentals. It only offers loans, and many landlords decide to sell instead.
Affordable housing, already scarce, will be even harder to find as developers raze storm-battered neighborhoods and replace them with expensive subdivisions and condominiums. Hurricane Ivan alone made at least 1,000 apartments unlivable, including many for low-income families.
Since the first hurricane struck Central Florida on Aug. 13, FEMA has bought 12,000 of the trailers on wheels for up to $25,000 each and 4,000 mobile homes for $28,000 each. They will temporarily house at least 10,000 families, some of which may eventually buy them from the federal agency at a discounted price.
Though the agency has more than enough units to meet the demand, many families have to wait until locations are found and sewage, electric and other services can be established.