MONROE COUNTY, FL – The Monroe County-led task force on housing has been working on creative solutions – due to the unique lodging challenges of the Florida Keys – to help FEMA find temporary housing for people who have lost their homes or whose homes are uninhabitable due to Hurricane Irma.
On Friday, the task force got great news regarding its request to FEMA to increase the rental assistance provided to disaster survivors to rates high enough to pay for available Keys’ rentals, which primarily are second homes and vacation rental properties.
FEMA previously had approved an increase to the FY2018 Fair Market Rent figures of a cap up to 110 percent. But this did not meet the community needs of Monroe County, which has a unique housing market with 29,000 of its 53,000 total housing units owned by 2nd homeowners. Primarily due to this unique challenge and the destruction of so many affordable rentals, FEMA approved rental assistance of a cap up to 300 percent.
This is how it break downs: Efficiency goes from FY2018 rate of $960 to $2880; 1-bedroom goes from $1,139 to $3,417; 2-bedroom goes from $1,514 to $4,542; 3-bedroom goes from $1,914 to $5,742; and a 4-bedroom goes from $2,514 to $7,542. Individuals receive this assistance through registration with FEMA for individual assistance. FEMA must approve each case individually for rental assistance.
“We applaud FEMA for recognizing the unique housing challenges of the Keys,” said Mayte Santamaria, Monroe County’s Director of Planning and Environmental Resources who has been spearheading the Housing Task Force that includes representatives from the municipalities of Key West, Marathon, Islamorada, Key Colony Beach and Layton.
“Monroe County lost a lot of its affordable rentals due to Hurricane Irma,” Santamaria said. “This FEMA rental assistance increase creates a viable option for our disaster survivors to be able to rent homes within our community.”
The County has worked with the local realtors, as well as management companies of larger groupings of housing units to get people who own vacation rentals or second homes to transition them into temporary rental housing for at least 30 days.
The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners adopted an ordinance to providing for a temporary exemption from paying the 4-cent tourist development tax and the 1-cent tourist impact tax (bed taxes) for rentals to residents displaced by Hurricane Irma.
Monroe County also created a Hurricane Irma “Recovery” group of about 20 federal, state and local staff members that have been meeting regularly for the past few weeks to work together on a variety of issues that are vital for the successful rebuilding of the Keys and its economy. The most challenging issue has been housing.
For immediate needs, Monroe County provided shelters, operated by the American Red Cross. These shelters temporarily housed about 130 people. The last three people in those shelters transitioned into rental housing this week and all shelters are now closed.
As of Oct. 11th, 37,687 people in the Keys have registered for FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA), with 14,067 approved for $36.8 million in FEMA assistance. The maximum amount of assistance under the IA program is $33,600. This includes funding for Transitional Sheltering Assistance through hotels. So far, 2,387 rooms have been provided through this program, with 906 rooms currently being used.
Other housing options through FEMA include temporary travel trailers (RVs) and rental assistance. The county allows temporary travel trailers on the site of a damaged or destroyed home site with a simple temporary permit that coordinates hookup to water, sewer, and electric. So far, FEMA has placed 9 travel trailers and another 9 candidates are undergoing the background checks and evaluation of their sites.
FEMA has approved more than 400 families/candidates for travel trailers in the Keys. The challenge is not getting the travel trailers but rather finding suitable locations on which to put these travel trailers. Sites need to be able to provide power, water and sewer.
The County has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA and the Keys’ municipalities to identify sites that are suitable or could become suitable with infrastructure upgrades. Most existing RV parks and campgrounds have declined to participate, are unable to participate due to floodplain rules, or have infrastructure that is severely damaged. However, there are a couple of large sites that are in the works for the placement of approximately 120 travel trailers and the County continues to try to find more suitable sites.
The County also has waived fees for emergency permits and is expediting emergency permitting. Temporary housing permits are getting processed in about one day to put travel trailers or RVs on a resident’s own property.
So far, 24 temporary housing permits have been issued. Not all private properties are able to provide the necessary infrastructure without repairs or have enough land available to fit a travel trailer.
One way to eliminate the need for housing options is to get people back in their own homes. The County worked with the Florida Army National Guard to implement a “Demucking” program. Guard members removed damaged flooring, cabinets, furniture, appliances and other unsalvageable items from the homes of people who requested the service and signed “right of entry” forms.
To follow up on the demucking, the State of Florida offered Monroe County a $10 million grant for a FEMA STEP program, which stands for Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power. This program provides funding of up to $20,000 per owner occupied home to turn an uninhabitable living space into a livable one. County contracted work is done to provide a living area, sleeping area, functioning bathroom and functioning small kitchen that is livable until more permanent repairs can be made.
The County also is exploring unique housing options, which includes a floating barge and putting kitchenettes into the rooms of small hotels.