Over the years, the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) has provided funds to help thousands of lower-income Floridians in their communities. To show the critical importance of this program, the Florida Housing Coalition is highlighting some of SHIP’s many successes. Della Bilbry, who was helped by the St. John’s Housing Partnership, is one of them. Here's her story:

Della Bilbry was taking no chances when Hurricane Irma was threatening St. Augustine in 2017, so she headed to Virginia to stay with her daughter.

After the storm, Della returned to Florida to find her house still standing but flooded.

“I had no clue what I was coming back to,” says Della, whose daughter, a chief in the Navy, lives in Norfolk.

Della bought a wet vacuum and started removing as much water as she could. In time, she was able to clear the remnants of Irma, but she soon learned this was just the beginning.

Because the storm had damaged her home’s roof, water seeped in every time it rained. It got so bad that the ceiling in Della’s bedroom weakened and started to collapse. She stopped sleeping there and camped out in the living room.

“I thought the whole roof was falling,” she says.

Even with those rooms closed off, Della says, mold permeated the house. She developed headaches. Her co-workers at Flagler College and her family started to worry.

The three-bedroom house—a childhood home she moved back to in 2010—needed a permanent solution. But Della, 61, couldn’t afford repairs, and assistance she received through the Federal Emergency Management Agency went toward flood insurance.

That’s when Della turned to the SHIP program. SHIP helped make the 1950s house livable again. After almost two years of coping with temporary fixes, Della now has a new roof and master bedroom along with an updated bathroom and kitchen. Other changes improved the home’s energy efficiency.

“I’m so thankful and grateful I can’t put it into words right now,” she says, adding her health improved as soon as the project was done.

Plus, all the repairs were completed in time for the 2019 hurricane season, a time of year that’s always on Della’s mind.

“I feel safer,” she says.