PANAMA CITY — More than half of all apartments in Bay County are still damaged by Hurricane Michael and few of those units will be available until at least fall.
Panama City Community Development data shows that as of May 14, out of 8,384 apartments in the county, only 3,837 were considered livable and of those, just two were listed as available. Meanwhile, many of the apartment complexes showed no new units would be open for another four to six months. Some indicated longer wait times. The housing crunch is a continued concern for economic recovery since businesses needing workers have few places for them to live, some local officials say.
“It’s not as fast as we want … but we’re encouraged and optimistic that they’re working diligently,” Mark McQueen, city manager of Panama City, said of the apartment complexes.
The city data includes information from 86 apartment complexes in the county. Of the total available apartments in those complexes, 4,620 were listed as damaged.
Panama City was shown as the municipality with the most apartments at 4,241 in total and the highest number of damaged units with 2,785 deemed unlivable.
Lynn Haven had the next highest number of damaged apartments, with just 333 out of a total of 1,020 units reported as livable.
Panama City Beach apartments were shown to be faring the best, with only 16 out of 1,750 units being reported as damaged. Still, even the majority of PCB apartment complexes reported being full or having nothing available for six months.
McQueen said the city is doing its part in getting apartments open, with having EPCI Code Administration Services, the local company that provides building department services for the city, responding rapidly to inspections of repaired units.
“It’s not as fast as anyone wants, but it’s as fast as humanly possible,” McQueen said.
McQueen said his main concern about the insufficient housing is how it has and continues to impact economic recovery in the county. Businesses and economic developers in recent months have reported that hiring in the county has been difficult in some cases because there’s little available housing for new employees.
“The employee housing is a critical issue right now,” said Becca Hardin, president of the Bay Economic Development Alliance. “As I talk with existing industry, some are telling me they’ve got employees driving from as far away as Tallahassee … housing is our number one priority as we focus on recovery efforts.”
Hardin noted that because of the hurricane, there’s very little in available building space for new industry, but that might work in the county’s favor in terms of the housing issue. Hardin said the new companies the EDA is trying to attract to the county are, because of the insufficient building stock, looking at greenfield sites to build facilities from the ground up. Such projects would take at least a year to complete, Hardin said.
“We feel optimistic that by then we’ll have housing under control,” she said.
Another issue created by the apartment shortage has been rising rent, pricing more residents out of the market.
“Truly it’s market demand that’s raising the rental rates,” said Ida Hargaray, president of the Central Panhandle Association of Realtors. “With the shortage, it ups the rental rates.”
But as more apartments come back online, those rates should start to drop, she said.
“As we get more apartments online, I would presume rental market rates would go down,” she said. “With more options, you don’t have to take a place from someone asking three times the rental rate.”
As for the long wait for more apartments to become available, complexes are working as fast as they can, Hargaray said.
“There’s so many of them damaged and the apartment complexes are huge,” Hargaray said, noting that she’s working with a contractor who is currently restoring three complexes. “It’s not like we had one or two go down, we had most of our complexes go down …and these apartments are not small and they’re being gutted.”