The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity clearly listened during a recent series of town hall meetings pertaining to its action plans in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
Specifically, FDOE representatives said the goal was to make the state plan to spend federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief funds broad enough to align with specific county needs.
On the whole, the verdict was FDEO heard what was being said.
“Overall, we are very pleased with the plan,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “We are likely to have very few comments.”
Hammond said the final document was the product of not only public comment but considerable input from local governments, with a number of counties in the region approving resolutions urging more flexibility at the local level.
The state action plan spells out how Florida proposes to disburse more than $735 million in U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant funds in counties and zip codes that sustained damage from the storm.
One positive for Gulf County is that it joins Bay, Calhoun and Jackson counties as those “sustaining the largest impacts and having the most remaining unmet needs.”
Those four counties will divide the larger of two main pools of funds, roughly $500 million.
In another positive for the small rural counties impacted by the hurricane is more than $100 million earmarked to provide matching funds to leverage FEMA hazard mitigation grant dollars.
That was a big one for the county, Hammond said.
The county is undertaking cleanup of stormwater ditches and waterways via a hazard mitigation grant it could only match after awarded a state grant to mitigate revenue loss from the hurricane.
Individually, the county will receive nearly $8 million to leverage another $22 million.
The largest of three main pots of CDBG-DR money, $246 million, will be focused on housing, both rental and workforce housing.
That includes $8 million for workforce housing and the plan detailed that the FDEO will “rehabilitate where possible instead of demolition” and that affordability provisions will be in place during a specified period.
For example, affordability provisions, based on the market prior to the storm, on rental units will be in place at a minimum of five years.
On a housing complex of eight or more units, affordability provisions for ownership must be in place for at least 15 years.
The restoration of an affordable rental market was a main topic during the Gulf County town hall held by the FDEO.
The plan also includes a housing buyout program for those eligible.
The two other pots of dollars, the language for which Hammond said was a little vaguer than for housing, are earmarked for infrastructure and revitalizing the economy ($60 million), including workforce training ($8 million).
According to the plan, 20 percent of homes in Gulf County sustained some damage from the storm and more than 50 percent of FEMA applicants had verifiable damages.
Business losses were estimated at $331 million with $21 million in remaining unmet needs in the business sector.
The county also sustained more than $121 million in infrastructure impacts, though some documented costs, including debris removal after the storm, were picked up by the state.
A complicating factor in Gulf County, the plan noted, was that 1,940 applicants to FEMA are living in the flood zone, requiring an increase in height to address new flood maps and insurance costs.
As documented in the state plan, Hurricane Michael was the strongest storm to hit the mainland United States in terms of pressure since Hurricane Camille in 1969; Michael was the strongest in terms of wind speed since Andrew in 1982.
In the region, 340,000 homes sustained damage; 56 percent sustaining “major to severe” damage were low or moderate income households.
“Hurricane Michael’s strength also took a heavy toll on the region’s infrastructure and economy,” the action plan stated.
The plan now enters a public comment period which will end 5 p.m. ET April 10.
The plan can be found by visiting “Rebuild Florida Hurricane Michael” on the internet.
Comments may be submitted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mailing comments to Florida Department of Economic Development, Office of Disaster Recovery, Attention: CDBG-Disaster Recovery Program, The Caldwell Building, 107 E. Madison Street, MSC-400, Tallahassee, 32399.