Debbie's Story

"My life is changing for the positive daily."

As a single woman in her 60’s, Debbie has worked hard to maintain the most valuable asset in her possession—her home. A frugal spender with only $17,000 remaining on her mortgage, she’s accumulated significant equity in her home over the years. Even better, she’s seen her property appreciate thanks to its prime location in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

But Debbie’s financial acumen, breadth of experience, and respect for nature could not keep her property unscathed when disaster struck. The resulting challenges are a sobering reminder that property owners living in disaster hotspots can find themselves in a financially precarious situation overnight.

Hurricane, Infestation, and Disability

In September 2020, Hurricane Sally hammered the Gulf Coast, exposing the region to hours of tropical and hurricane-force winds. The storm ripped trees from the ground, toppled powerlines, and battered thousands of homes, including Debbie’s.

Some of the most severe damage Debbie’s home sustained include a gaping hole in the roof, obstructed entry to her garage, substantial drywall deterioration, and partial collapses in the ceiling of her bathroom, laundry room, bedroom, and kitchen.

Her electricity was alarmingly compromised, and her HVAC system has been down since the hurricane struck. Because of Florida’s brutal heat, the lack of air conditioning is more of a health hazard than an inconvenience. Unfortunately, the threats to Debbie’s physical health don’t end there.

The hole in Debbie’s roof resulted in a pervasive mold problem and an uncontrollable raccoon infestation. Unassisted and disabled, she was unable to prevent the raccoons from nesting in her bedroom ceiling, breeding, and leaving behind copious amounts of excrement.

Overwhelmed and physically sick from these ongoing complications, Debbie also faced judgment from her neighbors, a lack of transportation, and bridge closures to her island. Each of these conditions could result in Debbie’s isolation, but thanks to Project Porchlight she is not alone.

Finding Support

Home restoration is a daunting project for anyone. Still, the difficulty is exponentially greater when the property owner is disabled, working with a limited income, and recovering from the trauma of surviving a hurricane.

Debbie knew she couldn’t navigate all the challenges of recovery alone, so in the days following the hurricane she searched for help online and found MMI’s Project Porchlight through HUD’s website. Project Porchlight specializes in post-disaster financial coaching, including a recovery assessment, action plan with personalized referrals, and monthly progress check-ins to maintain forward momentum and provide encouragement.

Debbie worried that contractors might take advantage of her and recognized that she was underinsured. She needed additional financial support from FEMA to adequately renovate her home, but she found navigating that process to be complicated and intimidating.

Debbie doesn’t have children or other familial support, so she’s worked hard to build an alternative support network. Debbie leans on her Project Porchlight counselor for assistance and emotional support as she trudges through the lengthy and expensive process of renovating her home.

Thanks to her counselor’s guidance, Debbie has developed an understanding of the home restoration process, spoken to her insurance company, obtained an adjuster, and filed applications with FEMA and the SBA. Debbie’s counselor has also provided coaching on how to sell assets to cover renovation expenses, secure contractors, and organize her finances.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Regularly speaking to her Project Porchlight counselor gives Debbie the clarity and encouragement she needs to forge ahead. Debbie’s counselor takes her calls at any time and connects her to other helpful resources, such as the Council on Aging, home repair services, and organizations that can help with food and utilities.

Debbie has made tremendous strides toward recovery and has remained engaged in the process, with more than two dozen check-ins with her counselor over the last year. Though she must remain in her house at this time, her counselor believes that the bulk of necessary renovations will be underway or completed in the next few months.

She’s not entirely out of the woods, but Debbie is equipped with knowledge and support to make smart decisions, access appropriate resources, and find serenity once again. MMI’s doors will remain open to her as she progresses through her recovery journey.

“My counselor continues to guide and assist me through damages due to the hurricane,” Debbie says about her experience. “Enough good cannot be said thanks to Project Porchlight and my phenomenal counselor! My life is changing for the positive daily.”

Debbie’s optimistic outlook illustrates the powerful impact that emotional support and financial education can have on even the most harrowing circumstances.

Debbie is a real client. Her success is a result of hard work and dedication. Similar results are not guaranteed.

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