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Five years after Hurricane Irma, hundreds are still recovering

Hurricane Ian is expected to be twice as costly as Hurricane Irma.
Florida preps for Hurricane Irma
Posted at 9:44 PM, Oct 27, 2022

Hurricane Ian may be on the minds of most Southwest Florida residents, but for hundreds of others Hurricane Irma is the storm they are reminded of every day.

A Fox 4 Investigation found hundreds of people are still dealing with damage from the storm more than five years ago.

Some are waiting on state-run programs to rebuild their homes.

Others have found themselves in battles with insurance companies and housing associations.

And now with estimates showing Ian could end up being twice as costly as Irma, there are concerns about an apparent lack of a safety net.

“I don't think any state is prepared. I don't think the federal government is prepared to provide resources to get people's properties repaired in some sort of timely fashion where they're not exposed to some sort of financial hurdles, they're not able to overcome,” said Laura Wagner, Executive Director of Floridians for Honest Lending.

At Cheryl Mandel’s Naples home, every storm means a new story and new damage.

“After Ian there were some wet spots,” Mandel said. “After Tropical Storm Elsa last year, this whole wall was opened up.”

But everything goes back to Irma.

“These leaks have been going since after Hurricane Irma,” Mandel said.

“I've been dealing with this for five years.”

In Fort Myers, Gloria Hooks struggles to open the door to the home she grew up in.

Once inside, it’s as if she never lived here at all.

“You can't open the front door. The back door, you can't even close it because it was jarred open. There's no flooring in the house,” Hooks said.

The home on High Street survived the 1960’s category 4 Hurricane Donna.

But 2017’s Irma made the home unlivable.

“My mom, she's in her 90s,” Hooks said.

“She hasn't been able to live in her home in almost (five) years.”

Hurricane Irma caused more than $30 billion worth of damage, according to an analysis from the Insurance Information Institute.

That same trade association estimates Ian could end up costing more than $60 billion, making it the second costliest disaster in U.S. history behind Hurricane Katrina.

Wagner says federal back mortgage holders can get reduced or suspended payments for 12 months.

But repairs can often take longer than that.

“If your home is not repaired, you’re having to pay rent and your mortgage. And that’s really not sustainable for most people,” Wagner said.

“Then you’re stuck in a situation where how do you sell your property when its damaged?”

Five years after Irma, outstanding repairs connect different struggles.

For Mandel, she says the problems started after she was forced to rely on her housing association to replace her four-plex’s roof.

Since then, she says she’s had constant leaks.

This week, Collier County Code Enforcement put a notice on her door that the housing association is in violation due to leaks.

Mandel has also sued her association and is awaiting trial.

The housing association told Fox 4 Investigates they are waiting on a contractor to finish the repairs.

In court filings, the association argues they’ve replaced Mandel’s roof and that the “contributing cause of the incident and injuries alleged was (Mandel’s) own negligence.”

“It's been pretty stressful,” Mandel said. “And I've been fighting a lot. Just trying to get it fixed. Had I been responsible I would have had it fixed.”

Back in Fort Myers, Gloria Hooks attributes frustration to the Rebuild Florida program.

The program, run by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, was created after Hurricane Irma to help homeowners rebuild.

It’s funded by $350 million in federal funds.

But five years later, the Hooks home is still unlivable.

“It's frustrating. Period,” Hooks said.

“The Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program for Hurricane Irma has helped more than 2,685 impacted homeowners return to decent, safe, and sanitary homes,” the DEO said the Fox 4 Investigates in a statement.

The agency said another 1,199 projects, like the Hooks’ home, are still underway.

DEO cited confidentiality when asked to speak about the Hooks’ home. However, the family says they received a call from the state soon after Fox 4 Investigates spoke with agency leaders.

Even after that phone call, still no progress.

“When we tried to talk to the state to tell them about this, they said ‘ok we'll call you back, we'll call you back, we'll call you back,’” Hooks said.

“Still no fixes.”

Mandel and Hooks have two different stories with one common theme.

And hundreds of others are still in the same situation.

“It's just very, very frustrating to see my mom having to go through this,” said Hooks.