Among the most battered structures Hurricane Irma left in its path were mobile homes, particularly those in low-lying waterfront areas of the Florida Keys.
San Pedro RV Resort and Marina at mile marker 87.4 in the Village of Islamorada was all but destroyed by the ocean’s surge as Irma passed over the Keys as a powerful Category 4 storm Sept. 10.
“It’s toast,” Becky King said of her home.
Irma left the future of mobile-home communities in Islamorada like San Pedro and Sea Breeze Resort, located less than a quarter-mile apart on the Old Highway, in doubt.
As it stands, they likely will remain communities of small, prefabricated homes, but whatever replaces the trailers destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the storm will have to meet pending village code for waterfront houses.
Current code mandates the home’s floor must be at base flood elevation. The upcoming rule is one foot above base flood elevation, said John McLaren, president and chief operating officer of Sun Communities Inc., the Michigan-based RV retailer that owns San Pedro and Sea Breeze. The firm also owns Ocean Breeze RV Resort and Marina in Marathon, which suffered extensive damage during Irma.
Sun is offering to sell residents of the three affected subdivisions new mobile homes at cost. Prices range from roughly $35,000 to $100,000 per home, all of which meet the new village flood standards. McLaren said his company sells a range of models.
“This is a good thing because all of you know what’s happening to the property values here in the Keys,” McLaren told residents of San Pedro and Sea Breeze during a meeting held under a tent in front of the decimated trailer parks Tuesday.
“So by us being able to sell you a house at cost, it can put you in a very good position in an equity standpoint in your home from Day 1,” McLaren continued.
Yet to be determined is what types of homes the village would allow to replace the destroyed trailers. Cheryl Cioffari, Islamorada’s director of planning, could not be reached for comment.
As a further incentive for people to buy new Sun homes, the company is offering finance plans where current residents could put down payments as low as 3 percent of the at-cost price, and the company would put down an additional $5,000 toward buying the home.
“The reality is, we’d be selling the house to you below cost, which doesn’t help this immediate situation right now, but hopefully, it will provide you with a little light at the end of the tunnel as time progresses,” McLaren said.
The “immediate situation” is layered. Most San Pedro, Sea Breeze and Ocean Breeze residents — many of whom live in these communities full-time — now are essentially homeless. Installing infrastructure needed before new homes can be brought in likely will take a year or longer.
“Right now, it’s going to be a while,” McLaren said. “I don’t want to sugarcoat this.”
The roughly 50 people who stood and sat in the hot afternoon sun to hear McLaren out seemed mostly receptive to what he had to say, but they weren’t sure what their immediate next moves would be.
“It’s going to be a year, a year and a half before they even get all the sewer, water and electricity,” said Kat Skowronski, who lived in Sea Breeze full-time before Irma made her home uninhabitable.
For now, she and her husband plan to go on the road.
“We’re gonna be vagabonds for a while and just go traveling, pestering everybody we know,” Skowronski said, laughing.
Regarding Sun’s offer to sell current residents a new house at cost, Skowronski said it’s too soon to say if she will take the company up on the offer. “Until they get everything back in here, we’ll see what we’re going to do,” she said.
In the meantime, King said whatever the reincarnated San Pedro and Sea Breaze end up looking like, she hopes the current atmosphere of community, celebration and camaraderie comes back with it.
“It’s a great place. The people are fun. They’re very much family. Everyone visits everyone. They have dinners,” said King, who also has a home in Cutler Bay where she can stay.
“So it’s going to be very difficult to be without. That’s the sad thing you’re losing. It’s that family,” King said. “That’s what everyone is anxious about. It’s losing this. It’s a tiny community, but it’s a family.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story had the wrong title for John McLaren and also the wrong name of the Sun Communities’ RV park in Marathon that was damaged by Irma. It is Ocean Breeze RV Resort and Marina, not Pelican, as was originally reported. Pelican was not significantly damaged.