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First Coast News helps homeowner get her house fixed years later

First Coast News helps homeowner get her house fixed years later

  • PublishedMay 23, 2024

Janet Jackson’s home was repaired through the Rebuild Florida Irma program, but she says she was left with a list of problems the contractor wouldn’t fix.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Waiting eagerly at her front door, Janet Jackson greets two FloridaCommerce employees. It’s a visit she says is long overdue.  

“Today was kind of emotional for me because I’ve been going through this for a while,” Jackson said. “The thought that they finally came out and said they were going to do something about it kind of gave me a little relief.”

We first met Jackson in March when she invited us inside her north Jacksonville home to show us the work she said she hadn’t been able to get the contractor to finish. She joined the Rebuild Florida program in 2019 after her house was damaged by Hurricane Irma. It’s a program designed to help Floridians repair and replace their homes damaged by the hurricane at no cost to the homeowner. 

“I think it is ludicrous. It shouldn’t have taken this long to come to repair a home,” Jackson said. “We still got garbage bags on our windows where we can’t even get blinds put up because they didn’t leave any space for any blinds to go up. When they did the attic, they blew the insulation in the attic. It sits right in the front. As soon as you open the attic it falls down.”

She never thought she would still be dealing with this all these years later.

“If I had to do it over again, I would wait and do it step by step myself,” Jackson said.

During her wait, the cost of her taxpayer funded project to repair her home quadrupled from $30,000 to $123,000, according to records obtained by First Coast News. The state paid for her to spend months in a hotel.

“Six months, 14 days,” Jackson recalled. 

She said the total bill was more than $20,000.

“That’s money that could be used on another house for somebody in need,” Jackson said.

An investigation conducted in partnership by 10 Tampa Bay and First Coast News investigation revealed enormous hotel bills for multiple families. We talked to other homeowners whose hotel bills topped $86,000, some spending more than a year living in a hotel.

We shared our findings with Sean Moulton with the nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.

“The length of stays we’ve seen at some of these hotels raises serious questions about whether or not the urgency was put on the homes that that it should have been put on,” Moulton said. “And again, this is the oversight from the state agency reviewing this program and implementing this program to make sure contractors are putting their time and effort. It raises questions about whether or not contractors were over extended.” 

We went to Tallahassee to get answers and sat down with FloridaCommerce Secretary Alex Kelly.

“There are a few homes that the costs have been significantly higher than originally projected. Thankfully, it is just a few. The overall average cost for homes in the program is actually one of our least expensive programs that we’ve ever run by far,” Kelly said.

Kelly says the state made the decision to provide temporary housing at no cost to homeowners.

“We can definitely see that our contractor IEM and or one of our subcontractors who’s actually doing the construction work, we can definitely see instances where those contractors could have gotten to the end of this process more quickly,” Kelly said.

The state awarded IEM a six-year $252 million dollar contract in 2018 to administer the Rebuild Florida Irma program. IEM says it didn’t have direct oversight to manage the contractors hired by Florida Commerce to carry out of the work until 2021.

Justin Domer, Director of the Office of Long-Term Resiliency, says in some cases the lead contractor dropped the ball. He says the state has imposed about $3.5 million in fines on IEM.

“Clearly, our main contractor IEM, clearly some of our contractors, clearly they were they were okay with abdicating their responsibility,” Kelly said.

IEM says it’s completed more than 95% of the projects the majority of the remaining homes will be completed by late July. The company declined multiple interview requests but sent us answers to our questions along with a video message from the company’s CEO. 

READ MORE: Company hired to run Rebuild Florida Irma program responds to allegations of wrongdoing

The company stated, “We acknowledge the concerns raised by a small number of overall homeowners regarding incomplete and subpar work on their properties. These homeowner complaints are being addressed. The homeowners you have heard from represent less than 1% of the population being served by the Rebuild Florida Irma homes.”

After we gave FloridaCommerce the names of about two dozen homeowners still waiting on Rebuild, they told us they sent representatives to 27 homes including Janet Jackson’s to see their concerns in person.

“He said we definitely will be back to do a lot of the stuff that has not been done,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she’s very thankful for the investigation into the program she says has caused her so much strife. “I think if your reporting would not have taken place, I would still be just writing notes, just writing emails. Thank you guys for stepping in to help me and all of the others that you all have helped.”

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