Panama City and other communities in the Florida Panhandle impacted by Hurricane Michael continue to struggle with a lack of even short-term housing options. Following a NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) call on October 25 with Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki, The New York Times published a story documenting the ongoing housing crisis in Panama City and the lack of an adequate response from FEMA. While a news release from Florida Governor Rick Scott states that FEMA has approved Direct Housing Assistance for five counties, the plan linked in the update provides no specifics regarding the amount of assistance available or the timeline for implementation. The DHRC and our partners will continue to pressure FEMA to provide adequate housing for the thousands of displaced people in the Florida Panhandle.
Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) and Representatives Neal Dunn (R), Al Lawson (D), and Matt Gaetz (R) sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long on October 26 urging him to immediately approve the state’s request for direct housing assistance. The DHRC also sent a letter to FEMA the same day, urging the agency to implement the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and immediately provide shelter options like trailers or manufactured housing units (see Memo 10/29).
DHRC partners on the ground have shared reports of landlords cutting off power, water, and even mail service. Local news outlets have run stories detailing the attempted evictions of low income tenants and the lack of substantial housing assistance to address the extreme shortage of housing options. Survivors can use FEMA assistance through the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program at only one motel in all of Bay County where Panama City is located. Many of the other hotels were destroyed, are housing emergency workers and first responders, or are not participating in the TSA program.
Those displaced have virtually no local options for shelter, and the lack of housing and destruction of many local businesses is causing many survivors to move out of the area. The county is currently working on finding additional spaces to serve as shelters so that schools can be reopened. FEMA has announced it will begin providing trailers, although FEMA spokeswoman Nikki Gaskins stated, “It’s not FEMA’s decision in the long-run. We’re working to make those decisions with the state and local governments.” NLIHC has been working with our legal aid partners in Florida and with HUD to ensure residents know their rights and are given adequate time and resources to relocate.