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With the influx of Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria's wreckage, Central Florida's affordable housing becomes a scarce resource

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro,
Photo by Monivette Cordeiro,

Ana Mieles wants to be buried in Puerto Rico.

She tells her children this when she visits them every few months on the mainland. But Hurricane Maria destroyed her home. Now she’s staying with a daughter in Orlando, just one of thousands fleeing the wreckage.

Like Mieles, many are staying with their families for now. Others, though, may need more permanent, affordable housing – a scarce resource in Central Florida.

The Metro Orlando area ranks third in the nation for its lack of rental housing within reach for extremely low-income residents, with just 18 affordable units available for every 100 needy families. But state leaders estimate that about 100,000 Puerto Ricans will migrate to Florida in the coming months.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs says that while the county has been able to manage requests for assistance, providing long-term support for evacuees is beyond the county’s means, and more in the wheelhouse of state and federal leaders.

Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office echoes that view, saying: “The state is the determining entity in exploring what housing solutions would be best applied for this situation. … The state of Florida’s direct relationship with FEMA should guide that discussion and, if needed, expedite resources being deployed.”

When asked about affordable housing for those coming from Puerto Rico, Gov. Rick Scott’s office didn’t provide a detailed plan. Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development did not respond to questions about their housing solutions for the region.