Bill Lazar, executive director of St. Johns Housing Partnership, says his organization is still trying to help 30 to 40 mobile homeowners make repairs after Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma, whether it’s through money or manpower.
Many residents living in mobile homes in Hastings and Flagler Estates, Treasure Beach and other low-lying areas sustained flood and/or wind damage from either or both of the storms.
For those in older models not built to better withstand severe weather, per federal regulations that were put in place after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, funding can be particularly hard to come by.
Older mobile homes are more likely to be uninsured. Resources that may be available to them are often only available through slow processes, often with extra paperwork. Other pots of money cannot be used to make repairs on these homes.
Lazar said about $1 million coming in from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program this year will be used to help about 50 households, often with the help of monies from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or insurance. He said most of the beneficiaries will be seniors in site-built homes.
Although SHIP funds are primarily targeted at site-built homes, Lazar said it is possible to extend eligibility to mobile homes through an extended process. But, even then, mobile homes built prior to rule changes in 1994 miss out.
Lazar said money due to the county from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, via the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, is specifically designed to help low-income families and communities.
“We just haven’t gotten the money,” Lazar told The Record on Friday. “Once we get it, even, the paperwork is overwhelming. But at least it’s a chance to help these folks.”
In January, HUD allocated $58.6 million for the state of Florida through its CDBG program dedicated to disaster recovery. Of that allocation, $46.9 million was to be used in St. Johns County, as it was the most impacted by Matthew last October.
However, 14 months after the storm, the county continues to resist DEO’s wish to reallocate some of these funds to other Florida communities. In the meantime, HUD has allocated another $61.1 million for Florida but it has not yet been programmed for distribution.
Lazar said he and other housing officials around the county are hoping for a chance to do something that will have a long-term impact, but until that money starts coming in, they’re just hopes.
He said the “pie in the sky” would be, perhaps, a couple million dollars for low-income families — in mobile or site-built homes — to make repairs, or maybe several million dollars to be used for looking at older mobile homes and considering whether they’re worth fixing or replacing and elevating.
“All of that is sort of in limbo,” he said, adding even if the state issued a notice of award today it could still take years for certain projects to come to fruition.
In lieu of any of these funds, Lazar and other individuals and organizations are doing what they can to leverage the funds they have and even to tackle repairs themselves, one project at a time.
One such effort for an elderly couple in Hastings — whose mobile home was flooded in Matthew, resulting in damage to their HVAC system, duct work and flooring — required several skilled volunteers spending every Saturday over the course of about 3.5 months to make the home whole again.
“That was a huge amount of time and effort for one home with two elderly people,” he said. “We’re certainly trying to look at what our other options are.”
In the meantime, skilled volunteers from near and far are being matched up with households in need depending on the specialties of the worker and the scope of the jobs. A team of 8-10 people can clear a yard and a home in a weekend. Porches and wheelchair ramps that got washed away are being replaced one by one.
Lazar said the 30 to 40 people in mobile homes with whom his organization has been in contact may not even scratch the surface of the need out there.
“I don’t even know how much is out there,” he said. “People lose track of who to call or what to do and sometimes maybe they think, ‘Well, I got denied by FEMA and the insurance company, so I guess I’m not going to get any help.’”
Lazar said many people (in mobile homes or site-built homes) have been able to get some help from FEMA or their insurers after his organization has argued their case for them. There are often other resources as well.
He said his organization received about 200 to 300 calls for help after Irma and that calls and emails are still trickling in.
For more information, go to www.sjhp.org. For help or to volunteer, call 824-0902.