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State emergency officials want to use foreclosed homes as shelter

State emergency management officials, wrapping up a six-day hurricane planning exercise, are urging FEMA to consider using Florida's more than 250,000 foreclosed homes as temporary housing for displaced Florida residents after a hurricane or other natural disaster.

FEMA's Florida guy Jeff Bryant stresses that for now it's just an idea, one of many to come from this week's exercise at the Tallahassee Emergency Operations Center, and that FEMA will explore it over the weeks to come. There are lots of questions about how this would work, including liability issues and whether the banks holding the homes would be amenable.

"In the event of something like that, you have to look at every available option," Bryant said. "But we need to talk to our legal authorities. We need to talk to our federal agencies."

Ruben Almaguer, interim emergency management director for Florida, said foreclosed vacant homes are safer, more comfortable temporary shelter than portable trailers.

"This option didn't exist two or three years ago before the (real estate) market fell," Almaguer said. "We can't not look at something staring us directly in the face. ..I believe FEMA will come to the right conclusion, which is that if it's legal and reasonable, we should pursue it."