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Applications for CARES housing assistance lag

By Tim Croft
The Star

So, the Board of County Commissioners last month put in place the framework to provide financial housing assistance for those of need in Gulf County. 

The framework provided up to $2,000 in assistance per individual for rental, utility or mortgage assistance. 

The money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act could potentially assist 75 residents. 

As of Tuesday, a grand total of nine had applied. 

Not a one for mortgage assistance and most folks sought simply a month’s help on rent or utilities. None have requested anywhere close to the maximum.

“The people we have coming in are being very honest,” said Joe Paul, the director of the county’s State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP) program. 

“But there is an opportunity to assist more.” 

The CARES Act housing funds process is being administered for the county by the Apalachee Regional Planning Council. 

The county has until the end of the year to expend the funds. 

Paul requested the board adjust previous deadlines for applications and accept “rolling applications” moving forward. 

“We’ll take them first-come, first-served until we spend the money,” said Administrator Michael Hammond. 

The county has advertised, this newspaper has published stories, but the lack of response, county staff believed, reflected that the word had not sufficiently been heard. 

“A lot of people are late getting the word out,” Paul said. 

Commissioner Jimmy Rogers added, “I do think there are more people of need who have not applied for some reason.” 

Folks can apply for the CARES Act funds through the county SHIP office. 

As for the county’s Hurricane Housing Recovery Plan (HHRP), commissioners approved expending $45,000 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). 

UMCOR will leverage the money to provide a pair of two-bedroom stick-built homes to residents in the very-low income range whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Michael. 

Paul said despite deadlines having passed, he would like to continue to take applications to meet the county’s threshold for very-low income housing. 

The county must still spend $267,000 to meet its set aside for funding in that category. 

Paul said UMCOR indicated there was the possibility of two more stick-built homes and Monday the county opens bids from mobile home vendors to provide housing for low and very-low income residents. 

“I want to just keep taking applications on that money,” Paul said. 

Commissioners unanimously approved. 

Economic development 

Jim McKnight, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition told commissioners the fall should be one of “groundbreaking and openings.” 

A new nursing center should break ground at the Gulf/Franklin campus and Skyborne Technology is nearing completion on its tethered vehicle. 

The Gulf Coast State College drone “boot camp” should also begin at the Gulf/Franklin campus. 

An EDA loan to construct a road for Skyborne at Costin Airport is nearing approval, he added, and the company is also hiring. 

The EDC is working on several projects with the Port St. Joe Port Authority, he added, as well as a Gulf to Gadsden intermodal project that could re-open the railroad and port. 

“Things are up, unemployment is down,” McKnight said. “By October we’ll be looking for people to work.”