The following is a review of additional housing recovery developments related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the California wildfires since last week’s Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in last week’s Memo, see 11/20). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel wrote an op-ed published in The Hill about the importance of prioritizing housing during the disaster recovery process. She shares the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition’s recommendations to ensure recovery efforts are “complete and equitable.”
Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the award of two $500,000 grants to restore water systems damaged by recent disasters. The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and the Rural Communities Assistance Partnership (RCAP) will use the grants to provide training, technical assistance, onsite repairs, and utility management advice for utilities serving 10,000 people or less. Grant money will also help rural utilities apply for FEMA assistance and increase resiliency against future disasters.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is providing $10.9 million to help farmers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The initiative will provide both financial and technical assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP). Those interested will need to file an EQUIP application, although NRCS has issued several waivers to help expedite the process. The NRCS is providing an additional $1.75 million to local governments to help restore damaged and destroyed infrastructure through the Emergency Watershed Protection program.
On November 22, President Trump increased the federal cost share for emergency protective measures from 75% to 100% for 30 days. Also, on November 28, the notice of a major disaster declaration was amended to include permanent work under the Public Assistance program (Categories C-G).
Farmworkers, particularly undocumented workers, have been hit particularly hard by the recent wildfires. The estimated 38,500 undocumented immigrants living in Sonoma County were facing an array of other struggles before the fires. Many undocumented workers affected by the fires do not apply for FEMA assistance because they fear their information will be shared with immigration agents or because they lack the required identification documents to cash a check. Local groups started UndocuFund to help provide relief specifically for undocumented residents.
FEMA, the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), and the governor’s office have approved permanent housing construction (PHC) for eligible survivors who have sustained at least $17,000 in verified loss, but whose homes were not destroyed. Assistance will be in the form of direct repairs to their pre-disaster primary residences in lieu of financial assistance from FEMA. FEMA will ensure that repairs are necessary and that estimated costs (including labor) will not exceed $75,000 per household before approving an application.
Since Maria, more than 7,200 students from Puerto Rico have enrolled in Florida’s K-12 public schools and another 800 have enrolled in state colleges. Education leaders said a lack of affordable housing is presenting challenges for those who have been displaced.
Following Hurricane Maria, FEMA signed a contract worth $30 million with a newly created company based out of Florida, Bronze Star LLC, to provide emergency tarps and sheeting for damaged homes in Puerto Rico. Those supplies were never delivered, prompting FEMA to terminate the contract. The owners of Bronze Star say that they were unable to obtain the tarps because most of the raw materials were to come from Houston, which was dealing with Hurricane Harvey. FEMA has signed a new contract with OSC Solutions, Inc., which has about two decades of federal contracting experience, and tarps should now be available.
A recent study from the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey found that poverty on the island has increased 8%, from 44.3% to 52.3%, following Hurricane Maria.
At least 140 homeowners in the Florida Keys have registered for FEMA’s Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program. STEP is a rapid repair program that allows participants to shelter in their home while rebuilding. The program provides a functional kitchen, bathroom, sleeping area, and air conditioning. Inspections for the program began November 21. Those interested had to have applied for FEMA Individual Assistance before the November 24 deadline.
Even before the devastating hurricane season, the manufactured homes industry was having trouble keeping up with the demand for homes, with sales on new units growing 15% annually. Many of the units that are available have higher-end details, making them more expensive and out of reach for low income households. The shortage has worsened in the wake of the hurricanes as people in Florida and Texas look to replace their destroyed units only to discover they cannot afford anything on the market.
The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) will now conduct phone interviews for D-SNAP with senior applicants and applicants with disabilities. The new policy comes after a federal lawsuit claiming that the DCF had not made proper accommodations for those with disabilities (see Memo, 11/13). If an applicant registered online before November 9, they can be interviewed by phone to receive benefits.
FEMA reports that 394 households have been placed in travel trailers through the “direct housing” program administered by the Texas General Land Office (GLO). Another 446 units are ready for occupancy, and 531 additional units are ready for electric hookup.
On November 15, more than a dozen community-based groups launched Houston Rising, a coalition pushing for equitable recovery. The coalition will organize affected communities to help increase their power in decision-making and help track recovery expenditures to ensure they are used for disproportionately affected communities. The new coalition held its first community hearing on November 18. Members of the coalition include: A.C.T.I.O.N CDC, Air Alliance, Black Lives Mater Houston, Coalition of Community Organizations, Faith in Texas, Fe y Justicia, FIEL, Gulf Coast AFL-CIO, NAACP Houston Branch, SEIU Texas, T.E.J.A.S., Texas Appleseed, TOP Education Fund, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, West Street Recovery, and Workers Defense Project.
Lone Star Legal Aid received a $300,000 grant as part of the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, administered through the Greater Houston Community Fund. Lone Star Legal Aid was chosen as one of the 90 local nonprofit organizations that will provide services to Houston and Harris County flood victims. The grant will support the addition of staff to Lone Star Legal Aid’s disaster relief team. These new staff members will assist in the short- and long-term legal issues survivors face, including relocation and transitional housing, home repair scams, insurance claims and appeals, property rights, title-clearing, property-related probate and tax problems, and a large number of FEMA appeals.
Families continue to struggle three months following Hurricane Harvey. Families members are not always able to stay in the same place, and they struggle with transportation, cooking their own meals, and paying for additional expenses. Many people continue to rely on FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program while they wait for additional resources. The Houston Chronicle reports that these families have spread to over 1,500 hotels across the country. A local TV station reports that 22,208 children are still considered homeless because of Harvey.
The various agencies involved in the recovery process face several challenges in estimating the housing recovery needs in Texas. Lack of data, privacy laws, and differing formulas result in a range of estimates that can leave some families out of the equation. Housing advocates worry that federal and local governments will underestimate the housing needs and allow for spending on other projects.
The flooding from Hurricane Harvey has caused additional hardship for those with HIV. Some people lost their medicine in the flooding and were unable to refill prescriptions for weeks while they waited for pharmacies and clinics to reopen. Others were unable to obtain their medicine in other states after evacuating their flooded homes. Those with HIV have high risks of infection from weakened immune systems, leaving many worried about potential contaminants in the flood waters.
Tory Gunsolley, CEO and president of the Houston Housing Authority (HHA), published an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle that explains the extent of the affordable housing crisis following Harvey. The majority of HHA properties were damaged following Harvey, and Mr. Gunsolley promises to replace and expand affordable housing in the area.
A City of Houston website provides information and data regarding post-Harvey recovery. The website maps the number of estimated affected units (311,859) as well as information on 311 and 911 calls and responses and on debris removal activities. The website reports the number of trucks collecting debris for each day in Houston as well as how much debris has been collected (1,445,905 cubic yards).
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has extended the State Disaster Declaration for all Texas counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. Currently, 60 counties are included in the declaration. State Disaster Declarations must be renewed every 30 days to keep assistance available.
The Texas state government authorized funding to assist city and county governments with their cost-share expenses associated with FEMA’s Public Assistance program for debris removal. City and county governments are expected to pay up to 10% in cost-sharing with FEMA. The state government will provide 50% of those funds up-front.
During a roundtable discussion with local leaders on November 28, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said that efforts to move survivors into temporary housing were complicated by the lack of availability and high cost of temporary housing units. Officials also expressed apprehension regarding preparedness for future storms since the approval process for mitigation can sometimes take years.
From Other Organizations
Texas Housers is seeking a fair housing, community development, and environmental justice co-director to lead their new South Texas regional office.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is looking for a disaster recovery/resiliency manager based in Houston to help the organization with coordination of its Harvey recovery efforts.