FEMA Fla. Housing Units Drop Below 10,000

With the 2005 hurricane season now in its third week and the first named storm – Arlene – in the past, Florida continues its long-term recovery from last year’s four unprecedented hurricanes.

Federal disaster assistance to Florida to date totals more than $5.3 billion, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported, in releasing county-by-county data for its Individual Assistance and Public Assistance programs.

Good news comes in the decline of the number of Floridians living in FEMA-provided mobile homes and travel trailers, which is below the 10,000-mark for the first time since reaching a high of a high of more than 16,000. As of last week, only 9,721 housing units are occupied.

Families continue to move out of FEMA mobile-home group sites on the east and west coasts and in the Panhandle with the help of 120 advisors dedicated to finding permanent housing solutions. In some cases, occupants may qualify to purchase the mobile homes. Travel trailers, typically parked on private property while homeowners complete repairs, are being returned to inventory. Travel trailers no longer needed are for sale through the General Services Administration Web site www.gsaauctions.gov.

To date, FEMA has approved nearly $1.2 billion in grants to individuals for rental assistance, minimal home repair and other disaster-related needs. More than 1.2 million people applied for federal and state assistance through FEMA’s registration system by telephone and online.

Nearly $1.2 billion of the $5.3 billion approved has gone to state agencies and local governments as grants to reimburse eligible costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures and for community infrastructure repairs and replacement.

As Public Assistance funding continues to be approved, local officials can track the progress of their grant applications – called Project Worksheets – online at www.floridapa.org. After FEMA approves funding, the state requires applicants to submit a “request for reimbursement or advance” along with their documentation to start the payment process. Under the presidential disaster declarations for Florida’s 2004 hurricanes, FEMA will pay 90 percent of the eligible cost for emergency measures and permanent restoration, while the state and local entities pay the remaining 10 percent. The state manages the grants for all projects.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved more than $1.7 billion in low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters and business owners in Florida who suffered uninsured or underinsured losses as a result of the disasters.

Of 53,084 SBA loans approved, 42,305 went to homeowners and renters for more than $1.1 billion. Loans for physical damage or economic injury were approved for 10,779 businesses totaling more than $600 million. While most application deadlines have passed, businesses that suffered economic injury as a result of Hurricane Jeanne can apply through June 27. Floridians with questions about SBA loans can call 1-800-359-2227.

The federal response to the disasters included an additional $1.2 billion for contracted goods and services needed at the time of the hurricanes.

Individuals with questions about their application status or general disaster inquiries may call the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Hearing- and speech-impaired applicants can use the TTY number 1-800-462-7585. Both lines remain open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.