Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida disaster official suggests using foreclosed properties as hurricane housing

TALLAHASSEE — The state's top disaster-management official has a use for all those foreclosed homes in Florida: temporary hurricane housing.

"This option didn't exist two or three years ago, before the real estate market crashed," said Ruben Almaguer, interim director of Florida's emergency management division. "We can't not look at something staring us directly in the face. It's a solution to a potential problem."

Almaguer asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to consider the proposal this week during a mock-disaster drill that spotted vulnerabilities in the state's emergency response plans.

The mock drill's scenario: A Category 4 storm nearly bankrupts the state, displaces 1 million residents, destroys homes and schools, and even frees zoo monkeys that terrorize Floridians.

During the weeklong exercise, Almaguer said, it didn't take long for the 250 state, federal and local officials to figure out that neither Florida nor FEMA has enough shelter space to house the newly homeless.

Florida has about 250,000 homes in the process of foreclosure and up to 300,000 unsold homes on the market.

Using the foreclosed homes is just another example of using whatever shelter is available, said Almaguer. Six years ago, he noted, the notion of using cruise ships as shelter space seemed out of the question but now it's a recognized option.

Almaguer said other issues to emerge from Wednesday's exercise included a suggestion that the state must ensure it can tap the credit market in a crisis.

Jeff Bryant, FEMA's federal coordinating official in Florida, was cautious Wednesday about the potential of using foreclosed homes as hurricane shelters. He stressed that — for now — the idea is just one of many to come from this week's hurricane exercise at the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center. He said FEMA will explore it in the coming weeks.

"In the event of something like that, you have to look at every available option," Bryant said. "But we need to talk to our legal authorities. We need to talk to our federal agencies."

There are lots of questions about how the use of the homes would work, including liability issues and whether the banks holding the homes would be amenable.

Tampa-based foreclosure attorney Scott Stamatakis pointed out that it might be difficult to find out who owns the foreclosed properties. Some are controlled by investors who limit their use.

Obtaining use of a large number of foreclosed homes after a hurricane might also be complicated because it would involve negotiating with numerous banks, said Broward County housing director Ralph Stone.

"I think it would be a whole lot of work," he said. "I think it's much easier said than done."

The aftermath of a giant storm will leave its scars not only on homes but also on the insurance policies of everyone in the state, Gov. Charlie Crist acknowledged Wednesday in a wrapup of the weeklong mock emergency drill.

Ever since the Legislature and Crist expanded the role of state government in the hurricane insurance market in 2007, former House Speaker Marco Rubio — a Republican running against Crist for U.S. Senate — has warned that Florida is "one big storm away from the largest tax increase in state history."

Crist said insurance companies are overcharging Floridians, as if a storm had already hit.

"I don't want our citizens to be gouged when we aren't having storms," Crist said. ''Now, when we do have a storm, we all have to pay — not only the customers, not only the state, but our federal friends. And I think that's a more appropriate route to take."

Insurance aside, the state would be in disastrous condition if a big storm hit. The disaster drill this week retraced the path of the 1928 hurricane that hit the county line between Miami-Dade and Broward, sliced through Tampa Bay and then hit the Panhandle.

Almaguer said a storm like that would be "three times worse'' than Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and forced many to relocate to Texas and other states. He said he doesn't want to see the same kind of exodus from Florida.

"If we don't provide them with adequate temporary housing here, guess what: They leave, and they don't come back," he said.

Miami Herald staff writer Amy Sherman contributed to this report. Marc Caputo can be reached at

Florida disaster official suggests using foreclosed properties as hurricane housing 06/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 11:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.
  2. Told not to look, Donald Trump looks at the solar eclipse


    Of course he looked.

    Monday's solar eclipse — life-giving, eye-threatening, ostensibly apolitical — summoned the nation's First Viewer to the Truman Balcony of the White House around 2:38 p.m. Eastern time.

    The executive metaphor came quickly.

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the solar eclipse from the Truman balcony of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 21, 2017. [Al Drago | New York Times]
  3. Secret Service says it will run out of money to protect Trump and his family Sept. 30


    WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Monday that it has enough money to cover the cost of protecting President Donald Trump and his family through the end of September, but after that the agency will hit a federally mandated cap on salaries and overtime unless Congress intervenes.

    Secret service agents walk with President Donald Trump after a ceremony to welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions the Clemson Tigers on the South Lawn of the White House on June 12, 2017. [Olivier Douliery | Sipa USA via TNS]
  4. After fraught debate, Trump to disclose new Afghanistan plan


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in …

    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache near the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2003. Sixteen years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan have left the insurgents as strong as ever and the nation's future precarious. Facing a quagmire, President Donald Trump on Monday will outline his strategy for a country that has historically snared great powers and defied easy solutions.  [Associated Press (2003)]
  5. Trial begins for man accused of threatening to kill Tampa federal judge


    TAMPA — Jason Jerome Springer was in jail awaiting trial on a firearms charge when he heard inmates talking about a case that had made the news.

    His attorney said Jason Jerome Springer, 39, just talked, and there was “no true threat.”