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DEO Launches Rebuild Florida Centers in SW Florida

John Davis, WGCU
Ft. Myers Mayor Randy Henderson (right), Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (middle) and DEO Deputy Chief of Staff Erin Gillespie at the launch of the Ft. Myers Rebuild Florida center

For Florida residents still struggling with homes destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Irma, there is still help out there.  This week the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is launching the “Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program.”  On Wednesday, DEO officials opened centers in Fort Myers and Naples as part of an effort to help low-income residents still struggling with damaged or destroyed homes more than a year after Irma made landfall.

This effort marks the first phase of the DEO’s “Rebuild Florida” program, which is funded through $616 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Overall, nine centers staffed with case managers will open this week along with three mobile centers, which are aimed at targeting regions hardest hit by Irma.  This includes residents of Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties.  DEO Deputy Chief of Staff Erin Gillespie said this effort is prioritizing Florida’s most vulnerable populations.

“This funding for affordable housing is specifically for low income families,” said Gillespie.  “So there’s median income requirements in each county.  Every county’s different. We’re also prioritizing families with children under the age of five, people who are over the age of 62 and individuals with disabilities.”

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson and state Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) attended the launch of the Fort Myers Rebuild Florida center.  Sen. Benacquisto praised the state’s response in providing immediate short-term help after the hurricane.  “This program looks to bridge that into long-term support for folks who are still struggling and we know that that’s occurring across Lee County,” said Benacquisto.

“And we want to be sure that folks who are in need and are still struggling with the issues in their home post-storm or have economic issues that they’re dealing with; Well, make sure to step forward and ask.”

For renters still facing Hurricane-related damage the program also works with landlords to provide assistance.  “Our plan will rebuild and replace thousands of damaged homes across the state for low-income families,” said Gillespie.

“We will construct new affordable rental units and buy out land to develop affordable housing.  We will also support Florida businesses and ensure that Florida’s infrastructure is strong and resilient.”

Residents can also apply online at RebuildFlorida.gov or by calling 844-833-1010.  Registration runs through December 23.  The Fort Myers center is located in the Department of Children and Families building near downtown Fort Myers at 2295 Victoria Ave.  The Naples center is located at 3050 Horseshoe Dr. North.