The state Department of Economic Opportunity on Monday launched a new program providing $616 million to help the most vulnerable in the hardest-hit areas rebuild their homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
Rebuild Florida will place centers in Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward, Brevard, Collier, Lee, Polk, Orange and Duval counties.
The first one — in the Keys, where Irma made landfall Sept. 10, 2017 — opened Monday in Marathon on the second floor of a state building located at 2796 Overseas Hwy., next to the Marathon Government Center. The rest of the centers will open over the next five days.
“We know that many families across the state are still struggling, even one year after Hurricane Irma,” said Cissy Proctor, executive director of DEO, at a press conference Monday in Marathon.
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“For those whose homes were destroyed or are still damaged, please go online to RebuildFlorida.gov or visit a Rebuild Florida center opening near you to register for assistance,” Proctor said. “Our Rebuild Florida team will guide homeowners through every step of the process and help them repair and rebuild their homes.”
The Marathon center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is the only one in the Keys. Residents only need to bring identification to register and case managers will help homeowners register for the program.
The program is open to residents who own their homes and to owners of rental properties. Low-income individuals, including the elderly, those with disabilities and families with young children will be given priority.
In the Keys, several thousand homes were damaged or destroyed and communities such as Big Pine Key and Marathon still bear the fresh scars of Irma. Many have been unable to rebuild or finish repairs due to inadequate insurance, being uninsured or unable to find contractors.
“Unfortunately, we have some individuals who haven’t had the chance to start,” said Stephanie Kaple, executive director of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition, which provides housing assistance and homeless prevention services.
The federal funding was announced by Gov. Rick Scott and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in June, part of the state’s total federal take of $1.4 billion for disaster recovery.
“The first phase is dedicated to repairing and replacing homes of low-income families in the most impacted communities,” Proctor said.
Rebuild Florida will also have buses traveling the state beginning Oct. 1. That schedule and dates of the other center openings weren’t released Monday.
Residents can call 1-844-833-1010 or go to www.rebuildflorida.gov to register. Eligible property owners have until Dec. 23 to register for the Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program.
“We are going to bring new meaning to building strong, building resilient and building better,” said State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo. “This is an opportunity for our residents to apply for resources, that is what we need.”