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People are still waiting for help from Rebuild Florida, 3 years after Irma

Posted at 7:16 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 12:29:21-04

LEE COUNTY — Some homeowners are still waiting for repairs, three years after Hurricane Irma.

After the storm, the Rebuild Florida program offered to help people make repairs, or replace their homes altogether. The program is run through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

On Thursday, we spoke with Kelly and Ray Smith, who live at the Buccaneer Estates in North Fort Myers. They were hoping to spend the rest of their lives there, but Hurricane Irma seriously damaged their home. So they reached out to Rebuild Florida for help. That was two years ago, and they’re still waiting.

Kelly and Ray now have years of correspondence saved between them and Rebuild Florida. Kelly still remembers the day they came back after evacuating for the Hurricane.

“He and I held hands coming through the front gate, not knowing what we were going to find," said Kelly Smith.

What they found was a house damaged beyond their ability to repair.

“Mildew, condensation. I mean, there’s so much that it’s pulling the walls apart," said Kelly Smith.

Once the Smiths got approved by Rebuild Florida, they were told the house needed to be replaced entirely. They received a letter, saying they should not make any repairs, because they wouldn’t be reimbursed.

Now, two years later, Kelly says the ceiling leaks, the floor is unstable, and the mold has grown out of control.

“We can grow mushrooms in our bathroom because of the mold," said Kelly Smith.

But Kelly says, 30 days ago, they were told, if they want their house replaced, they’ll have to move out of Buccaneer Estates, because Rebuild Florida won’t pay for a car port and shed, which Kelly says are required to live there.

“They’re not putting us in parks that are equal to ours," said Kelly Smith.

But Kelly says, they don’t have the money for a car port and shed, and with her health problems, moving to a new community may be the only solution.

“The longer I stay in this house, the sicker I’m going to get," said Kelly Smith.

Rebuild Florida did respond to us, saying it has helped more than 900 families, spending more than $31 million on repairs and replacement houses since the hurricane. But it couldn’t say how many more people like the Smiths are still waiting.

UPDATE 09/11 12:30 p.m.: The Department of Economic Opportunity responded, saying that it has now helped more than 2,100 families through the Rebuild Florida program. The 900 number was an old statistic.