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Local affiliate leads national hurricane response

Mark Parker

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Members of Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay in Fort Myers Beach. The local affiliate will lead the national organization's Hurricane Ian recovery efforts. Photos provided.

A Tampa Bay nonprofit dedicated to repairing homes, revitalizing communities and rebuilding lives was recently selected by its national office to spearhead Hurricane Ian relief efforts throughout Florida.

Headquartered in Tampa and with an office in St. Petersburg, Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay (RTTB) provides home rehabilitation and modification services at no cost to low-income families. According to its website, the nonprofit and licensed general contractor has invested over $20 million into repairing more than 2,500 regional homes since its inception in 2000.

RTTB is part of a network that features over 140 affiliates. While there are five Rebuilding Together chapters in Florida, the national office recently chose the Tampa Bay organization to lead the long road to recovery for areas devasted by Hurricane Ian.

“We are one of the largest Rebuilding Together affiliates in the country,” said Jose Garcia, executive director of RTTB. “And we are very quick in our responses.”

Garcia explained that the organization’s national leadership in Washington, D.C. reached out to the local chapter because they realized RTTB has the necessary infrastructure and capacity to handle such a momentous undertaking. Money is now available to begin large-scale rebuilding efforts, and Garcia said the nonprofit would start coordinating roof replacement efforts in Fort Myers Wednesday.

The focus is on people and areas most likely to go without support from other sources.

Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay is one of over 140 national affiliates.

Garcia noted that workers from two key affiliates, in Broward County and Miami, will meet their colleagues from Tampa Bay in Southwest Florida to provide construction assistance. He said that work would begin in earnest by December.

Additionally, Garcia said that RTTB would utilize its funding to work in other areas, like Pinellas County. He explained that the organization can conduct preventative repairs to help low-income families prepare for the next storm.

Garcia realizes Rebuilding Together and the people it serves have a long road to rebuilding ahead. He said RTTB replaced a roof destroyed by Hurricane Irma this summer, its 22nd since the storm made landfall in September 2017.

“We do believe we’re going to be doing this work for at least the next four years,” he added. “It all depends on the funders – what areas we’re going to focus on and invest the most. Obviously, Fort Myers is going to be a big investment, but then we need to figure out the rest of the areas.”

While Garcia said RTTB would help restore homes affected by flooding in Osceola County, he noted that much of his organization’s work would consist of repairing roofs from Pinellas to Lee Counties.

He explained that federal and state funding regulations typically stipulate that RTTB provide services for those making less than 80% of the area median income (AMI). However, he said other sources allow the organization to sometimes help people in the “workforce” category that make up to 140% of the AMI.

“To replace a roof costs between $12,000 to $15,000,” said Garcia. “Not everybody has that cash in the bank.”

Justin Coles, director of corporate engagement and strategic partnerships for RTTB, noted that the average cost to rebuild a hurricane-damaged home is $25,000. Some, he said, far exceed that amount.

RTTB received national recognition for its efforts less than three weeks ago. NBC’s Today program sent Al Roker to Fort Myers as part of its “Lend a Hand” series in late October. While there, he and officials with Wells Fargo presented Rebuilding Together with $500,00 to help the nonprofit repair homes.

That publicity, said Garcia, goes a long way toward raising the funding necessary to accomplish such a massive undertaking. He expects his Rebuilding Together to repair at least 1,000 hurricane-damaged houses over the next 48 months.

“We receive donations from anonymous people every day,” he added. “They’re not a lot, but they all add up. And that’s very important for us to keep helping people.”

Mike Sutton (second from left), president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, and Jose Garcia (center), executive director of Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, at an April ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly rebranded St. Pete Resource Center. Photo by Mark Parker.

Despite serving as the lead agency for Rebuilding Together’s hurricane recovery efforts, the Tampa Bay affiliate is still busy helping the people of St. Petersburg. RTTB moved into a rebranded facility with Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties on the city’s southside in April.

Garcia relayed that RTTB has recently replaced several roofs in the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and seven in the East Tampa CRA. The organization has 60 projects scheduled throughout Tampa Bay.

While he said RTTB might have to adjust its approach, he doesn’t believe hurricane recovery will impede its typical functions.

“We just got off the ground five houses that are going to be available for affordable rentals,” said Garcia. “Hopefully, those will be finished by May of next year, and those will be for families making 50% of the AMI and below. “It’s just – life goes on.”

For more information on Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, visit the website here.

 

 

 

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