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HUD official visits region to take in Hurricane Ian’s devastation - and to give out hugs

Tom Bayles
Adrienne Todman, right, the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, gives a hug to Belinda Carmona, a supervisor associated with the Lee Mental Health Facility on Evans Avenue, after the pair finished touring the complex to examine the damage from Hurricane Ian

The wreckage that Hurricane Ian left behind in Southwest Florida drew the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to Fort Myers, and she had a packed agenda.

Adrienne Todman was to meet with local officials to discuss the need of their community, see some of the damage Ian wrought and visit a HUD-sponsored home for the developmentally disabled to reassure the staff and residents.

Her goal: Drive home the message that she believes HUD is a first-in responder, along with FEMA and the Small Business Administration, after a natural disaster strikes – and to give hugs to everyone along the way.

“One of the reasons I'm here is to really understand the damage that was done, and see what the work ahead looks like,” Todman said. “Two, is to talk to residents and talk to the leaders - I met with the mayor of Fort Myers (Kevin Anderson) earlier today - to understand what the experience was like and what they say the work is to be done.”

Tom Bayles
Adrienne Todman, the deputy secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, listens to concerns about the cleanup from Hurricane Ian at an impromptu roundtable discussion during Todman's recent visit to Fort Myers last week

As deputy secretary, Todman is HUD’s chief operating officer. She was nominated by President Joe Biden, confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and sworn in by Marcia Fudge, HUD’s secretary, in June of 2021. Todman worked previously as the chief executive of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, and in lower positions at HUD.

At the Lee Mental Health Center on Evans Avenue, Todman toured the spartan ten-unit housing complex and saw screens ripped out by the hurricane’s winds, trees felled, and other relatively minor damage. She talked with a few of the residents to hear what their experience was like during the hurricane and, of course, each got a hug.

Todman also sat for an impromptu roundtable discussion with some of the administrators and staff, reassuring them that money is on the way to fix up the place and discussing HID’s role during natural disasters.

“FEMA, of course, carries the heavy lift. You know, they're the ones that are really helping to quarterback a lot of the federal government's response. But at HUD, we do the same thing,” she said. “We are responsible for helping people with some of their housing questions. We have strong responsibility with our emergency response, but we also segue that into recovery, which is one of the core reasons that I'm here.”

Another reason was to hug, and every administrator and staffer got one.

Tom Bayles
A large piece of a roof shingle ripped off by Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022, remains in the grass next to the Lee Mental Health Facility on Evans Avenue. Adrienne Todman, the deputy secretary with the Department of Housing and Urban Development visited the complex recently and assured the administrators and residents that money to clean up storm damage there is on its way

With more places to visit and quite likely more hugs to give, Todman left the health center and headed down Evans Avenue, which was still lined with branches, tree trunks, and miscellaneous detritus from the storm piled several feet high.

A few days after Todman's visit, HUD provided Lee County, including Fort Myers, with more than $288,000 in taxpayer-funded disaster relief money to help identify those with nowhere to live and to assist those on the cusp of also becoming homeless due to Hurricane Ian.

Belinda Carmona, a supervisor for the company that owns the health complex, said Todman’s visit left her knowing that the damage at the complex would soon be repaired, but that the deputy secretary at HUD’s greatest gift that day was reassurance: “Knowing that they are there,” Carmona said. “And when she said ‘you contact us if you need anything’ I know she meant it. She meant it from her heart.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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