Aftermath (Part 3): Jennifer Ulman and Paulette Spaay

The duo applied to the Rebuild Florida program, but they say they were hesitant to not get too hopeful.
The duo applied to the Rebuild Florida program, but they say they were hesitant to not get too hopeful.
Published: Nov. 8, 2023 at 7:14 PM CST
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BAY COUNTY, Fl. (WTVY) - For 10 years Jennifer Ulman and her mom Paulette Spaay called a sprawling property that used to be a women’s correctional facility home. The mother and daughter duo said they had big dreams for its future.

Jennifer said, “Because we have the big fences and everything like that, we’d be a good candidate I think for high-risk foster kids because we have the space for it.” Those dreams were swept away by the storm. Hurricane Michael flooded their home and tore apart the land.

“I peeked out a spot,” Jennifer said, “and I saw the aviary was gone, and I just went in the closet with the dogs and just didn’t want to watch the rest of it.” Paulette said she, “was watching from my bedroom window, the garage door flapping in the wind.”

When the storm passed Jennifer and Paulette’s only way out was blocked for three days. Their neighbors helped them cut through almost 40 trees blocking the path. Then came the hard part— repairing their home.

Jennifer and Paulette said water damage was the main concern. “We didn’t maybe realize all the damage that was done,” Jennifer said, “and so I saw, I can’t remember where it saw, but I saw something about the Rebuild Florida program, and it was nearing the closeout time, and you know we like to do things ourselves fix things ourselves, but it’s hard, and it’s hard to swallow that pride and ask for help.”

The duo applied to the Rebuild Florida program, but they say they were hesitant to not get too hopeful. Jennifer said they are grateful for the intent of the program to fix homes and provide relief.

When asked about what the contractors hired by Rebuild Florida said needed to be fixed Jennifer said, “Project managers would come and go, you’d have one come and say, ‘put notes on everything’.” Her mom Paulette added, “Then you wouldn’t hear from anybody for weeks, and then you’d get a new person coming in saying oh yeah they’re gone.”

Jennifer and Paulette said that no one initially gave them documentation or spoke to them about what the rehabilitation plans for the home were. Then, the duo said, days without communication turned into weeks, then months. Jennifer and Paulette said after Rebuild Florida’s team said they finished work in one bathroom, more problems appeared. The family found water gushing from a light fixture.

At that point, Jennifer said she started trying to track down answers. “I was just sending email and text and just whoever I could find to contact,” she recounted.

“There were two leaks in the back bathroom,” Jennifer said, “and they had to come back three or four times just for that shower, and that’s when the nail in the pipe in the wall was discovered that’s created black mold in that pantry.” Mold is now a word Jennifer said she hears more than she ever cared to. “The mold, I showed them pictures where they had exposed mold, the answer to that at the time was, we sprayed it with antimicrobial and that’s it,” she said.

Jennifer performed the first mold tests on her own. Rebuild Florida brought in experts to begin mold remediation. After running into more mold in the home Rebuild Florida brought in an additional expert to inspect the problem areas.

The second expert, Jennifer said, attributed the expansive mold to the lack of initial protocol. Their report shows that the first company was not allowed to follow protocol for the areas that failed the mold test, which allowed the mold to grow worse. Jennifer fears if they were to move in, “that would have serious health consequences.”

Currently, Rebuild Florida is paying for additional mold testing on Jennifer and Paulette’s home. In the meantime, Jennifer is working through another safety issue. She found blown insulation coating electrical wiring throughout the attic, insulation that she says was not there before the storm.

We reached out to Rebuild Florida again about the issues this family and others are facing.

Their response reads: “Ms. Ulman’s home is a commercial structure that was converted into a residential property and had existing issues prior to damage from Hurricane Michael. It is also important to note that work on Ms. Ulman’s home was rehabilitative and was not a complete rebuilding project. Rebuild Florida has worked with Ms. Ulman to return her to a decent, safe, and sanitary home and to do work that is beyond the scope of the Rebuild Florida program to address her concerns. This includes honoring the warranty on her home and even addressing issues that pre-date Rebuild Florida’s work to rehabilitate her home. Remediation for the mold in Ms. Ulman’s home is in progress and on schedule. To expedite mold remediation, we are going beyond the scope of the project to replace all of the air ducts in the home. As an additional measure, we are addressing pre-existing electrical hazards in the home – also beyond the scope of the project. Our team will continue to monitor Ms. Ulman’s project closely until her home passes a rigorous third-party inspection.”

Jennifer said the contractors hired by Rebuild Florida have agreed to remove the insulation in the attic and reimburse her for the expenses for the initial mold testing.

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