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  1. Local Weather

Finding homes for displaced residents a big challenge as flood recovery continues in Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY

Surrounded by maggot-infested trash and dead animals, the Young family of seven was trapped.

Several feet of water filled their yard in the Jasmine Lakes neighborhood of New Port Richey, and water had begun to leak through their rental home's ceiling, causing mold to grow in the bathroom.

Calvin Young, 46, had closed his thrift store a few weeks earlier, straining the family's finances. Unable to drive a car along the flooded street, his fiancee, Ruth Roper, had to take off 10 days from her job at a preschool. Once taxicabs could reach the neighborhood, Roper would spend $30 a day on cab fare to get to a job paying $79 a day.

"It's devastating for a family that lives paycheck to paycheck," Young said.

Unable to pay the rent, Young, his fiancee, four children and grandson were evicted. Pasco County officials provided the family with hotel vouchers a week ago, housing them at the Rodeway Inn in New Port Richey.

As Pasco residents recover from weeks of heavy rainfall, one of the biggest challenges county officials face is helping displaced families like the Youngs find homes.

The flooding has destroyed 46 homes and damaged more than 300 others across the county. As of late last week, Pasco County Community Development had provided 62 temporary hotel vouchers to more than 161 displaced residents, housing them in motels for two-week stays, said Annette Doying, director of emergency management.

The county has already spent more than $25,000 on vouchers for families that make less than 120 percent of the median income for the Tampa Bay area, said George Romagnoli, community development manager. Many of these families are in limbo while their homes undergo repairs. Others, particularly renters like the Young family, have been left homeless.

With limited state and county funds, finding permanent homes for these displaced families has become a complicated task for Pasco officials.

The county's $2.3 million State Housing Initiative Partnership allocation is providing displaced families with first-month rent, last-month rent and security deposits on rental homes, Romagnoli said. Reallocated SHIP money is also providing 10-year, no-interest loans to eligible homeowners for repair assistance.

"It's not enough," Romagnoli said, particularly because Pasco County has one of the largest proportions of low-income residents in the Tampa Bay area.

"We have a lot of people with not a lot of money who need assistance."

On Wednesday, county officials submitted an application for an additional $3 million in SHIP funds to help with security payments, housing repairs and other costs, Romagnoli said. They are still crossing their fingers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will declare a federal disaster in Pasco, flowing more funds toward rehousing loans, he said.

Representatives from Community Development have begun reaching out to displaced families to discuss options for permanent housing. When two of them met with Calvin Young on Wednesday, they provided him with a list of apartments that met the rental limits for SHIP funding.

The limits follow a strict scale, such as $553 per month for a one-bedroom home and $663 for a two-bedroom home. For Young's family of seven, a four-bedroom home would have to cost less than $856 per month to qualify for SHIP assistance. Even if the rent is only a dollar or two more, the home cannot qualify.

Young is worried that it will be difficult to find a home within that price range where his family will have enough space. He doesn't want to leave New Port Richey because he doesn't want to make his younger children — ages 11, 13 and 15 — relocate from their current schools.

As they sort out where to go next, Young and his daughter Josalyne, 19, and her 5-month-old son, Azariah Fields, are recovering from a scabies rash, likely contracted while cleaning up debris in their flooded yard. While the Rodeway Inn isn't ideal for the large family, they are much more comfortable there than in their hazardous, waterlogged neighborhood.

Across town, Michael Fratto, 27, and his fiancee, Jourdan Kraemer, 26, lost nearly all of their belongings when their mobile home in the Bass Lake area flooded. The interior was covered in mold, and the home was uninhabitable, Fratto said.

The couple is staying at a Days Inn in New Port Richey with the help of hotel vouchers. Fratto, a former McDonald's manager in Tampa, had to resign from his job when his car sustained flood damage, leaving him without transportation. Although Kraemer still has a steady income, the couple doesn't know where or how they will find a new place to live.

Kraemer is 10 weeks pregnant, and the couple was hoping to get married in November. With their current financial situation, they're not sure when they'll be able to afford a wedding.

"Obviously, all our plans have changed now," Fratto said.

Contact Samantha Schmidt at (813) 435-7308 or sschmidt@tampabay.com. Follow @schmidtsam7.

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