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 12/11). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
A group of seven U.S. senators sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General John Kelly on December 5. The letter called on Mr. Kelly to investigate a $30 million contract with Bronze Star to supply tarps following Hurricane Maria. Although FEMA has terminated the contract, the senators requested information on FEMA’s decision-making process for awarding the contract to Bronze Star, which failed to deliver the tarps as contracted.
The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) sent a letter to the tax reform conference committee and all other congressional offices outlining the Coalition’s concerns about the possible impact of the tax bill on disaster recovery. The DHRC is also urging appropriations committees to include their top priorities for the next disaster funding supplemental bill, which could come before the end of the year or in early January.
President Trump signed an Emergency Declaration on December 8 for five counties in southern California. This declaration makes federal emergency aid available to assist state and local response efforts. The covered counties are Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. The President's action authorizes FEMA to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, will be provided as a 75% federal funding cost-share.
The State of California and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services created a website with resources for survivors of the wildfires and local governments to aid in the recovery process.
The deadline for survivors of hurricanes Irma and Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands to register with FEMA has been extended to January 8. The registration deadline has been extended to individuals and families to apply for grants for rental assistance, essential home repairs, personal property losses, and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance. FEMA encourages everyone affected by the hurricanes to register for assistance.
FEMA has authorized Direct Leasing in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Direct Leasing program allows FEMA to rent housing units directly from private owners to provide survivors a place to stay. FEMA also pays for utilities as part of the agreement. The agency is currently seeking properties that meet the required safety standards.
Property owners have enrolled over 3,000 housing units in Puerto Rico for FEMA’s Direct Lease program.
Although the official death count in Puerto Rico is 64, others estimate as many as 1,052 have died as a result of the storm. Many of these deaths are due to lack of power, inability to access health services, and exposure to infections.
Three months after Hurricane Maria, only 60% of the power grid in Puerto Rico has been restored. The lack of power is especially difficult for older residents and those with medical conditions. Residents at the island’s largest housing project for low-income seniors have fallen, accidentally ingested poison in the dark, and missed medical appointments because of closed roads.
FEMA requires survivors who have been placed in a FEMA-provided housing unit to provide evidence of progress related to their long-term housing plans. Evidence can include invoices for repairs and other options determined by a FEMA caseworker. FEMA re-evaluates eligibility every 30 days.
An update from the Monroe, FL County Emergency Management Office states that 160 households in the county are staying in FEMA Direct Housing. This includes 139 households in travel trailers and 21 households in Direct-Lease properties. Monroe County includes the Florida Keys, which was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Irma.
Residents in the Keys continue to struggle to find housing after Hurricane Maria. While some have received FEMA assistance, others have received nothing, even after four FEMA inspections. Even if a household does obtain FEMA funding, the costs of rebuilding manufactured housing - the main source of affordable housing in the area - to new, higher standards is expensive.
Houston residents gathered outside of City Hall demanding the adoption of a Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). Individuals shared stories of being forced to live in unsafe housing conditions without alternative options that could be provided through programs like DHAP. They also distributed Christmas cards during a city council meeting that read, “All I want for Christmas is safe, affordable housing.”
Homeowners are struggling to pay their mortgages following Hurricane Harvey. Some are choosing to sell their homes to pay mounting bills. Some officials are predicting an increase in foreclosures.