Hurricane Irma decimated the Florida Keys when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sunday. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, one-quarter of the homes in the Keys have been destroyed based on initial estimates.

Designed by internationally-renowned architect Andres Duany, Gorman & Co.'s Blue Water Apartments provides workforce housing in Florida's Tavernier Key. The development, seen prior to the storm, was spared by Hurricane Irma.
Courtesy Gorman & Co. Designed by internationally-renowned architect Andres Duany, Gorman & Co.'s Blue Water Apartments provides workforce housing in Florida's Tavernier Key. The development, seen prior to the storm, was spared by Hurricane Irma.

In the midst of the widespread damage, Wisconsin-based developer Gorman & Co., which has three low-income housing tax credit projects in the Keys, is breathing a sigh of relief.

“From the structural side, we dodged a bullet,” says Tom Capp, COO of Gorman & Co.

Capp says the physical structures of Paradise Point in Key Largo, Blue Water Apartments in Tavernier, and Wet Net Villas in Islamorada saw very little damage. However, much of the vegetation around the developments has been stripped.

“The big picture is that we built all those properties in recent years with top-grade materials to meet hurricane codes. A lot of thought went into how they deal with severe winds and storm surge,” Capp says. “Something we’re very proud of is that we designed and built those projects, and they withstood a major Category 4 hurricane.”

It’s unclear when evacuated residents may return to the developments. “All three have no power. It’s the infrastructure that will limit things,” adds Capp.

He says another concern the company will be wrestling with in the coming weeks and months is the loss of jobs in the Keys because of the devastation.

"We have been working with the Florida Keys for 10 years to create workforce housing for people to be able to live there and work," he says. "We have been deliberately building for people who worked in the Keys. It seems likely that many of those jobs won't be there, at least for a while."

In Tampa, Fla., developer Debra Koehler weathered the storm in one of her affordable housing properties, Metro 510, a 120-unit project that blends a new building with the adaptive-reuse of a historic church.

President of Sage Partners, Koehler knew the building was solidly constructed, and she wanted to be on site with her residents. The firm also offered the use of the property to the police department, so officers used Metro 510 as a gathering spot and a place to have breakfast.

The development and Sage’s other buildings all made it through the hurricane. Some trees were knocked down, but the firm’s four communities escaped major damage, Koehler says, noting that Sage had invested in hurricane-resistant windows in its older buildings when rehabilitating them in recent years. The new construction building was also built with the windows.

Three of Sage’s communities serve seniors, so firm leaders were especially concerned about their elderly residents. Sage and the property management firm, JMG Realty, worked to prepare residents when it appeared that Irma was heading to Tampa, according to Koehler.

This included working with residents to make sure they had their medications ready to go and preparing their pets for possible evacuation.

“We were helping them think through this stressful time,” Koehler says.

Buses were arranged for those who wanted to go to a shelter, according to Koehler, who estimates that approximately half chose to evacuate.

Other affordable housing developers in Florida reported minimal damage.

Columbus, Ohio-based National Church Residences has properties throughout Georgia, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Several sustained power outages, roof damage, and downed trees. However, two of its developments were hit harder.

Its Franklin House development in Eustis, Fla., does not have electricity or a generate; restoration of power could take up to a month. According to the nonprofit, a service coordinator has reached out to FEMA since some residents may need to be relocated temporarily. Some residents have returned to its Fair Havens Village in Sebring, Fla., which won't have power for 10 to 15 days but has a portable generator. A carport was blown off, and gutters are missing with some shingle damage.

Developments by the Housing Trust Group, a Miami-based developer and owner of affordable housing, appear to have fared well, says Matt Rieger, president and CEO.

Several properties remained without power as of Monday afternoon, and some tree limbs and debris were being cleared, according to Rieger.

According to Volunteers of America, reports had been favorable regarding its Florida properties. However, Pat Sheridan, the nonprofit’s executive vice president of housing, says power had not been restored as of Tuesday to all of the developments, which can be problematic in its senior mid-rise properties with elevators.

A number of housing agencies and development firms in the region remained closed on Tuesday. The Florida Housing Coalition also postponed its statewide conference that was scheduled for this week in Orlando.