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'So many people need help': Families displaced by Ian turn to short-term rentals as they rebuild

Posted at 5:43 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 19:13:07-05

BOKEELIA, Fla. — Many families are turning to short-term rentals after being displaced by Hurricane Ian. For some, they're looking for a temporary home until they rebuild, while others cannot find a home to live in long-term.

"I was part of it, I feel it," said Sharon Ihlefeld, an Air BnB host in Bokeelia. "There's so many people that need help."

Ihlefeld owns Serenity Bay, a motel in Matlacha. Hurricane Ian flooded it, causing her to not only lose one source of income, but a place that could help families.

"I wish I had a motel. I have four rooms and a house there, but they were uninhabitable because of the damage," she said.

Her short-term rental home is now helping one couple, displaced by Ian. Simply, there isn't enough inventory. It's not just families looking for a place to stay, but people visiting our area to help us rebuild.

"There were insurance adjusters and there were people saying do you have anything available? I need a place to stay," Ihlefeld said.

She was getting 10 messages a day for her rental home. It's not an uncommon fact right now in southwest Florida.

Some Punta Gorda City Council member want to have more control over them.

"The legislature has completely taken the power away from municipalities to have any jurisdiction over short term rentals," what one member said during a council meeting on Wednesday.

This is part of the 2023 Legislature priorities list the Council has come up with. It's not clear if the state will talk about short-term rentals this upcoming session.

In the meantime, Ihlefeld says she's going to push to help people.

"I never thought in a million years I would say, 'gee I’m glad I have a place to help people,'" she said.

Helping people rebuild while getting her motel off the ground.

"If you don't find something today, keep looking," Ihlefeld said. "Every day is a new day."

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