Recovery

First Panama City FEMA Housing Site Online, Already Almost Filled

'The idea was to make sure people could live as close as possible to where they normally live.'

by Patrick Mccreless, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / January 23, 2019

(TNS) - Dan Woody's living conditions put him in a hospital.

The Springfield man spent last weekend in a hospital bed with a combination of flu symptoms and breathing problems related to black mold. Hurricane Michael took a wall and part of the roof of Woody's apartment, but with a limited income from Social Security disability money, he was unable to leave.

"Living in that apartment, it's been ugly," Woody said.

But, he said, there was nothing ugly on Wednesday about Woody's new Panama City home, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It feels great, it feels so much better than where I came from," Woody said as he sat in the kitchen area of his travel camper. "I'm very happy and grateful that I got put in this place."

Woody was the latest person to move into FEMA's first housing group site in Bay County on Wednesday. Located at the intersection of 15th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the 46-trailer site started accepting residents on Sunday with 38 sites occupied by Wednesday. Some FEMA officials said that once similar sites open in the coming weeks, combined with trailers placed on qualifying homeowners' properties, the agency should have enough temporary housing for all 928 county residents currently eligible for it.

Some area officials and FEMA representatives were on hand to tour a few of the two-bedroom campers, all lined up in rows at the site on Wednesday morning. While FEMA has been delivering trailers for months since the hurricane, those were for homeowners who qualified and had space on their properties for the temporary shelters. The Panama City site instead is mainly for renters and has the trailers all grouped together. The trailers are free, but occupants must pay for the utilities.

"The idea was to make sure people could live as close as possible to where they normally live," Mayor Greg Brudnicki said of the group site.

Brudnicki said the people living at the site are all local.

Bay County Commissioner Bill Dozier said the county has been working with FEMA to develop similar sites.

"The county and the city have been happy to provide sites and other locations are being developed right now," Dozier said.

According to FEMA, of the 928 county residents registered and eligible for temporary housing, 397 had obtained trailers to date.

"Other sites will be available next week," said Thomas T.J. Dargan, deputy federal coordinating officer for the Hurricane Michael disaster. "And in the first week of February, we'll have two larger areas open that'll have a total of 190 trailer pads."

FEMA plans to provide housing for all eligible residents, but only until November 2020.

"This is a temporary housing solution," Dargan said.

However, residents might get an extension, said Dennisse Calcano, FEMA direct housing crew lead for the county.

"There's a possibility for applicants to qualify for the second phase of the program, but it's a second step that applicants need to take," Calcano said.

Woody just wants FEMA to give him enough time to find a new place.

"I'll do what I have to do, but I just hope FEMA allows me to find something that's affordable," Woody said.

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©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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