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Some affected by Hurricane Irma still waiting for Florida to act
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Some affected by Hurricane Irma still waiting for Florida to act

  • PublishedMay 20, 2024



Dozens of Floridians are trying to get back into their homes after being selected for Rebuild Florida, a program to help low-income or disabled people repair homes.

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s a day seven years in the making. Mary Simpson has been waiting for a new mobile home to replace the damaged one in Hurricane Irma. 

Now, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. She cried as workers arrived at her Valrico property, relieved to see something was finally happening. Workers were there to prep for the mobile home installation.

“They say it’s going to be a couple more hours, and it’s starting to get real now,” Simpson said.

The emotion comes from frustration.

Just 20 minutes before this moment, when we were interviewing her about the years she had waited to finally get home, she said she had no idea that in March 2024, she would still be waiting.

“I thought I would have a roof over my head by now,” she said. “I mean, our family would be in a house. I mean, like last year for Thanksgiving. No, no. Some you got another hiccup of you know, got another hiccup come Christmas. I just — when it comes, it comes.”

In 2020, the Simpsons signed their contract with Rebuild Florida

Back then, the Department of Economic Opportunity was overseeing it. Now, it’s known as FloridaCommerce. 

Rebuild Florida was created through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help Florida’s long-term recovery efforts from recent hurricanes. Applicants were either approved to get their homes repaired or replaced. Many of them were low-income or disabled.

The state received $480 million from HUD to help fewer than 4,000 Florida homeowners repair or rebuild their homes. But Simpson says she never thought it would take this long.

“We can’t afford to do our own thing, so we just keep trying to do our part of the contract. We keep the taxes paid off up on it, and we just wait,” Simpson said.

Simpson isn’t the only one who is waiting. 

After quickly learning this problem was much bigger than just one homeowner, 10 Tampa Bay and First Coast News began investigating the program and spoke to dozens of people across the state who are still waiting for Rebuild. 

The investigation uncovered contracts, noting that the process should take just months for repairs or replacement. However, it does mention that material and supply delays may impact this timeline. 

The timeline became too much for Brenda Hughes in Clearwater.

“If you ask questions, no responses — constantly being ignored,” Hughes said.

Her home was demolished in 2021. Contractors delivered a new home in 2022, but she says it was installed incorrectly. Shortly after, another storm caused water damage inside.

“Nothing happened for months,” Hughes said. “Referring to you know, August, September, October, November, December, January, February. And even though I wasn’t allowed in the park, I was notified by neighbors. Nothing’s being done.”

She spent more than two years staying in eight different hotels.

“It’s like $260,000 worth of HUD money,” Hughes said.

Hughes says the wait left her no choice but to file a lawsuit. Today, her old lot sits empty.

“Now I don’t even have a home. And I mean, it’s really hard,” Hughes said.

Records show the contractor charged Rebuild $187,000 for her project, more than double the original scope of work projection. Today, the lot sits empty.

“It’s caused me a lot of anger [and] emotional distress,” Hughes said. “I hear other people, and we’re in tears all the time. And it’s you know, we’re not alone. You know, there’s others. You know, that’s going through the same thing.”

After 10 Tampa Bay sent a list of homeowners to Rebuild Florida who said they were still having issues with their project, FloridaCommerce sent this case update:

“Brenda Hughes’ case is in active litigation. To our knowledge, the general contractor did exactly as Ms. Hughes asked, and she later changed her mind after repairs were completed. And our team approved all reasonable, eligible accommodation requests that she made. Moreover, a court of law ordered her to take certain steps, but she did not, she failed to meet the court’s deadlines. Thus, she was removed from the program, and she decided to litigate the matter.”

Hughes received a letter dated May 9, 2024, from the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights. It says they have “determined that there is reasonable cause regarding your case and received approval to pursue litigation on your behalf.”

Back at Simpson’s property, Mary’s wait may finally be over. Her home has now arrived. 

Ryan Lane, a Done Right Mobile Home Services foreman, says the company just came on board in January. Lane says it’s working to get people in their homes as quickly as possible.

“You surprised to hear that this process has taken some of them for five years?” Jennifer Titus with 10 Tampa Bay asked.

“We came in a couple of months ago, you know, so what happened before us?” Lane replied. “I mean, I don’t really have a response for it, you know, because if we weren’t, well, you know, but since we’ve been here, we try to close them out in 30 days, as soon as we get a house on-site, That’s our goal is to try to get it done in 30 days and get some people back in their house.”



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johndweiner@gmail.com

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