As meteorologists track the potentially catastrophic Hurricane Irma, affordable housing developers are making preparations for their residents in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Sugar Estate provides 80 units of affordable housing for seniors on the east side of the foothills in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Courtesy The Michaels Organization Sugar Estate provides 80 units of affordable housing for seniors on the east side of the foothills in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Category 5 hurricane is expected to hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico today and early tomorrow, but it’s still uncertain what path it will take as it nears the United States.

Nonprofit Volunteers of America has a 41-unit seniors housing development in Augadilla, Puerto Rico. All residents had been evacuated from the Victor Hernandez building as of this morning. In addition, all outside items were secured or brought inside, the front doors were reinforced with plywood panels, and windows and doors were locked, according to a VOA staffer.

VOA has 27 Florida housing properties, including five in Miami-Dade with over 800 units, plus its program offices. Since Irma's path is still unknown, the nonprofit has reached out to the sites statewide and is preparing for the worst. The VOA Florida administrative staff is meeting each morning to discuss plans for residents and staff.

According to the nonprofit, staff members are working to help residents prepare to evacuate. It also will provide two gallons of water, a flashlight with batteries, and several cans of food to each resident who stays on site.

The Michaels Organization has affordable housing properties in St. Thomas and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“We have an extensive hurricane checklist that we provided all of the residents with,” says Mario Molano, regional vice president for Interstate Realty Management Co., Michaels’ property management arm.

Molano says the team held emergency calls two days ago and coordinated with housing authorities in the area as well. “We are well informed and well in touch with those on the island,” he adds.

Property managers also have assisted with providing batteries and lanterns for residents, fueling generators, and notifying area resources about the needs of residents who were staying. He adds that there are property managers and maintenance personnel who live on-site, which will be helpful for seniors and families with children.

“We’re concerned,” he says. “Even though residents are used to and are prepared for storms, it’s still going to be a damaging weather event for the islands.”

Michaels also is preparing its developments on Florida’s East and West coasts.

“We’re doing the same preparations there and making sure we are accountable to the individuals,” he says. “We want to make sure we know who’s on site and have their current contact information for them and their family members.”

Miami-based Housing Trust Group (HTG) has also been working to prepare its many properties for Irma's wrath.

"We have had calls with managers daily to get updates and reviewed our HTG hurricane policies and procedures, which were previously reviewed with all management staff in May," reports Matt Rieger, president and CEO. "At senior housing properties, we have assisted in making sure that all seniors that have needs either go to a shelter or have access to the assistance they need."

HTG has been working to provide information via the the firm's resident portal and the posting of letters and information on doors, according to Rieger. In another move, HTG has called on landscapers to pick up debris and trim trees to minimize potential damage.

"While every storm is a new experience, we rely on having a standard protocol which has been fine-tuned through the years to guide us," Rieger says. "Preparing for the storm is the easy part, dealing with the unknown and the clean-up is the tricky part. One new tool that has been very helpful with communication with our residents is our resident portal. As always, the best advice is to remain calm. As a management company, we’re in the service business, and we strive to make a stressful situation a little less stressful for our residents."