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'There is no uniformity': Fla. Dept. of Emergency Management takes aim at cities, counties over trailer delays

Unite Florida trailers
Posted at 4:37 PM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 04:29:47-05

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Florida Department of Emergency Management and Gov. Ron DeSantis want more red tape cut down locally in order for Ian victims to get more travel trailers.

The trailers come from the state-funded program Unite Florida, which was launched in late November 2022.

During a press conference in Fort Myers on Thursday, FDEM Director Kevin Guthrie said 103 people are waiting for site inspections, 33 need utility inspections and 45 are waiting on permits from their local jurisdiction.

"There is no uniformity at local levels on timelines, permits, inspections, required documentation and so on with any individual jurisdiction," Guthrie said.

A Lee County spokesperson responded to Guthrie's statement stating,

For unincorporated Lee County, we can tell you we have a process in place to eliminate or mitigate delays. We have worked hand in hand with two different state entities to ensure our residents receive seamless assistance through this process.

Subsequent to the Dec. 6 Board of County Commissioners workshop I referenced in my prior email, the Lee County Department of Community Development (DCD) team worked closely with Florida Division of Emergency Management leadership to streamline the permitting and inspection process for the placement of temporary housing within unincorporated Lee County. The county has dedicated a point person in DCD to intake and process the permit applications. Also, the county brought in the State Department of Health-Lee to discuss and help the process regarding septic review.

Lee County has made the process of setting up trailers on properties extremely efficient.

"We have a couple thousand people that can use trailers right now," said Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday.

There are 2,400 ordered state-funded trailers in the pipeline.

On Thursday, Guthrie also said one of the other big constraints comes back to FEMA. They cannot put travel trailers in floodways. DeSantis said they can be fined and would not be able to take part in the federal flood insurance program.

Guthrie said they're sending a letter to FEMA, "asking for us to be able to put those trailers in flood ways and help us come up with a solution, come to the table and negotiate how we can get that done."

"Let's get rid of more red tape. We need to work with local, we need to work with FEMA to be able to do it," DeSantis said. "Hopefully we’re in a healthy competition with FEMA to deploy as many trailers as quickly as possible."

One Fort Myers woman got her state-funded trailer over the weekend, calling about a month ago.

"This is a blessing," said Barbara Morgan. "It's beautiful. I didn't really realize for all the help I got and every place I was welcome, how good it is to have my place back."

DeSantis says they have 140 state-funded trailers in the community while FEMA has 80. Fox 4 reached out to FEMA to confirm its numbers and the request is still being fulfilled.

We also contacted the City of Fort Myers and Cape Coral about the statement Guthrie made.

Cape Coral's spokesperson said,

Cape Coral has a temporary habitable structure ordinance that governs the placement of travel trailers. For persons receiving trailers through FDEM and FEMA permitting is being handled by their contractors.

  • For private sites and private RVs the property owner must apply for a temporary habitable structure permit. 
  • An electrical contractor is required for the connection to electric.    
  • Private trailers require review by the building official or designee to deem the home uninhabitable.  
  • All permits require construction permits for the home be submitted and work commenced while the temporary structure permit is valid.  
  • Each site will be evaluated by the building division for compliance with floodplain regulations if located in the SFHA.