Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

Local officials and housing advocates worry about what the damaged housing stock will mean for people with low wages or fixed incomes. In interviews, some people said staying in water-ravaged homes is their only option.

“Cities will rebuild,” said Edward Murray, a housing expert and associate director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. “But what about poor communities? But what about individuals?”

When the storm barreled through the state last week, it left a wide path of destruction that ran from Key West to the coastal cities of Naples and Fort Myers in the southwest, and through inland farming communities to the suburbs of Orlando. It was indiscriminate in its march, leaving some places untouched and others unrecognizable, and it struck particularly vulnerable pockets that were no match for the storm’s power.

It ravaged mobile and trailer homes; it submerged the first floors of houses and peeled the roofs off apartment buildings. The hurricane devastated and displaced many workers and families already living check to check — and often unseen in the shadows of coastal Florida’s luxury living.

In Winter Springs, a city of strip malls and subdivisions in Seminole County, northeast of Orlando, Robert McLain, 67, a military veteran and retired construction worker, sat in the garage of his waterlogged rental home. With foot-high water marks in his home, there was no way he could move back in. Mr. McLain, who lives on social security and disability benefits, figured there were few options but to live in his car for a while. “I’m not running to go live in the Hilton, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “I’m totally screwed.”

Three hours’ drive southwest in Arcadia, an inland agricultural community in one of the state’s poorest counties, Joann Hampton, 50, stood on a raised pool deck, crying. The nearby Peace River had drenched much of her neighborhood. It submerged her backyard and house where water from the river continued to seep in, days after the storm passed.

“It’s all gone,” said Ms. Hampton, who had property insurance but, like many Floridians, not flood insurance. After moving from Fort Myers, Ms. Hampton bought her one-story ranch-style home for $44,000 in 1998. Her only income is a disability check and for now, she will live with a relative nearby. “We lost everything.”

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