ORLANDO, Fla. — Six years ago, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.
The storm devastated the island and sent thousands of Puerto Ricans to Central Florida.
Hurricane Maria was a living nightmare many like Dachiramari Vila will never forget. She sheltered in the bathroom of her parent’s home in Puerto Rico, while the Category 4 storm wiped away much of the island.
She was one of the hundreds of thousands that came to Florida following the storm. Something that benefited the area for a while.
“The reality is, you know, the Florida economy needs people,” said Samuel Vilchez, Florida State Director at the American Business Immigration Coalition.
The American Business Immigration Coalition is an advocacy group that helps immigrants coming to Florida.
“We work really closely with the Puerto Rican chamber and Puerto Rican businesses across the community to see how we can create new programming and new services to help these people who have arrived here as a result of Hurricane Maria, and afterwards,” Vilchez said.
Vilchez said while he’s seen many families arrive and businesses blossom as a result, but limited housing stock is sending them back to the island.
“The Puerto Ricans that came here because Hurricane Maria have a lot of difficult challenges related to being able to afford homes,” he said. “And then now the inflation crisis just in general afford living in Central Florida, which has become really expensive over the last few years.”
It’s an issue Vilchez finds worrisome after continuing to see industry-wide worker shortages.
The Florida chamber found on average there are only 64 applicants for every 100 open jobs.
Vilchez said he hopes something changes soon, after seeing firsthand so many Puerto Ricans come to Central Florida and become successful entrepreneurs, he said they could be a solution to continue Central Florida’s growth.
“It’s really important that we’re doing all of this, this work to bring all these communities together,” he said.
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