PANAMA CITY — Hurricane Michael took Tyler Parrish’s apartment.
But it gave him the chance to buy his first home.
Parrish, his wife and two sons have lived in their new Panama City home since Nov. 30 — a life made possible through a federal program only available to people living in places the president declares major natural disaster areas. It’s a program that several hurricane-displaced residents have used to purchase their first homes, but which will be available only through Oct. 11.
“The apartment was a place to come home to, but it wasn’t actually yours,” Parrish said while his 5-year-old son Terrance played a spelling game on their living room floor on Thursday. “To me, the house is more enjoyable to come home to.”
The Federal Housing Administration’s disaster loan program is only available in places declared major natural disaster areas, such as Bay County. The program lasts for one year after the declaration.
Doug Brown, branch manager for the Panama City office of Homestar Financial, who has helped Parrish and several other residents take advantage of the loan program since the hurricane, said it particularly helps people who previously couldn’t afford to buy a house.
“It waives the down payment requirement for a home,” Brown said.
Brown said there are few requirements to qualify for the program. Participants must have lived in the area declared a natural disaster and had homes or apartments that were significantly damaged. Participants must meet certain credit requirements.
The new house being bought does not have to be in the same city or state as the residence that was damaged or destroyed. Also, the maximum loan is 100 percent of the appraisal or purchase price, whichever is lower.
Brown said he has helped residents from all walks of life, from nurses to teachers, buy homes through the program in recent months.
“We’ve taken applications from hundreds of people, but not all of them qualify,” Brown said. “But all who did were renters who were not able to get a home before.”
The sweet aroma of pork ribs wafted through the living room of Parrish’s three-bedroom, one-story, white brick home on Thursday evening. After arriving home from work, Parrish decided to check his backyard for his 10-year-old German shepherd, Bentley. The dog was nowhere to be found, but within minutes, she ran up to greet Parrish from across the street.
“Now she has room to run instead of being stuck in a two-bedroom apartment,” Parrish said as he scratched behind his dog’s ears.
Parrish said he and his family lived with friends after the hurricane. Parrish first looked for another rental, but there were few options and the ones that were available had increased in price.
“We were kind of at the point where we didn’t really know if we could stay in Panama City,” Parrish said.
But after learning about the program, Parrish jumped on the opportunity and the process moved fast, he said.
Robert Palo closed on his Panama City home through the program in January. Palo had never owned a home before and was living in a city apartment before the hurricane destroyed it.
Palo said after learning about the program online, he decided to take the plunge into home ownership.
“It makes me a little nervous since it is a little more to make a payment each month, but it’s worth that to own it,” Palo said of home ownership. “I’ve got my own yard to do what I want and more bedrooms and a bigger kitchen … I’ve just got to manage my money a little better.”
Palo noted that not having to make a down payment was particularly helpful for him.
“It was great to use the money I would have put on a down payment to replace all the stuff that I lost,” Palo said. “I lost clothes, pots and pans, towels, blankets, just a lot of little things.”
Still, while Parrish is satisfied with his decision to purchase a home, even fulfilling the American dream can have a downside.
“I’m not looking forward to this yard work,” Parrish said with a chuckle.
For more information about the program, visit www.loanbydoug.com/disaster-loans.