DeSantis, FEMA announce new debris removal, housing assistance initiatives | News, Sports, Jobs

Governor Ron DeSantis was in Fort Myers Beach Wednesday for a joint announcement with FEMA on a debris removal program and housing assistance funding. Photo by Nathan Mayberg

Gov. Ron DeSantis was on Fort Myers Beach Wednesday to announce in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency new measures to assist in hurricane recovery efforts including debris removal, vessel removal and housing assistance.

According to Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy, the announcement means that FEMA will pay for the demolition of properties deemed to be totaled either by FEMA or by property owners seeking to demolish their buildings due to a total loss.

Speaking near Times Square, which was all but leveled by Hurricane Ian, DeSantis said that the state has come to an agreement to “expedite debris removal on private and commercial properties.”

DeSantis said FEMA would be able to assess damage more quickly at homes and businesses with satellites and technology to make quicker determinations for program eligibility, which will speed up the process rather than going door-to-door.

That will accelerate cleanup and debris removal efforts and removal of damaged slabs on private property. DeSantis said the agreement with FEMA by the state would allow for the reimbursement of debris removal.

DeSantis said during Hurricane Michael it took more than 20 months to remove debris.

DeSantis said the Division of Emergency Management will work with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coast Guard and Department of Environmental Protection to remove displaced and abandoned tidal property. DeSantis said a hotline has been set up online for residents and property owners to report displaced and abandoned property on private or commercial property at the website Residents and property owners can request the removal of vehicles, vessels, motorcycles, trailers and ATVs.

DeSantis said he is working on providing housing for hurricane survivors. After the hurricane, DeSantis said there was a transitional sheltering assistance program for those displaced by Hurricane Ian, at hotels.

“This past weekend, I announced that the Florida Housing Finance Corporation has awarded $5 million to local housing partners to help Floridians impacted pay their home insurance deductibles in the six hardest-hit counties,” DeSantis said.

Murphy said he met Wednesday afternoon with Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie to discuss details of the governor’s announcement with FEMA.

“It’s big news,” Murphy said. “It’s what we have been waiting for.”

Murphy said more information would be made available to the public at a meeting Thursday at Heights Elementary School in Fort Myers. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Town department heads and staff will be joined by representatives from state and federal agencies to provide information for residents and property owners seeking to rebuild from Hurricane Ian.

“We’re committed to aggressively moving this ball forward, continuing taking on issues that the community is seeking assistance from,” DeSantis said.

FEMA currently has been paying for temporary housing, which it has approved for impacted individuals whose homes are uninhabitable, The funding provides up to 18 months of assistance. Those who have applied for FEMA assistance do not need to re-apply. They will be contacted by FEMA.

DeSantis said the temporary housing assistance “will give displaced individuals the time they need to take a breath and evaluate their next steps without worrying about where they will sleep at night.”

The FEMA Direct Temporary Housing program has been approved for individuals whose homes are uninhabitable in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, and Lee counties. This program provides for 18 months of assistance for manufactured housing units, non-motorized recreational vehicles, and other ready to occupy housing for impacted individuals.

Florida has also developed a state-led housing mission to provide trailers and recreational vehicles to impacted Floridians who may not be eligible for FEMA’s Direct Temporary Housing Program. Florida’s housing mission will allow families to live on their own properties while repairs are made to their homes.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council acted Tuesday to allow property owners to have trailers or RVs on their properties, relaxing town prohibitions and regulations on them.

Thomas McCool, federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said there were about 2,200 FEMA staff in the area, down from about 4,500 at the height of the response.

McCool said they are opening a facility at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers that will house responders and recovery specialists.

McCool said about 700,000 Florida residents have applied for FEMA assistance and expects more than 100,000 additional applications. McCool said residents should expect to see FEMA crews knocking on doors in the coming days.

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