The following is a review of additional housing recovery developments related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the California wildfires since the last update in Memo to Members and Partner (see Memo, 3/12). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
HUD is holding free webinars to provide an overview of the new loss-mitigation policies that address disaster-affected borrowers. The webinar is open to all FHA-approved services and housing counselors. The next date is April 3, 11:00 am ET.
A new study finds that new housing developments are increasing fastest in areas most vulnerable to wildfires. The problem is particularly pronounced in southern California with hundreds of thousands of homes built in high fire-risk areas between 1990 and 2010.
The Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program has been extended until May 14 for Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria. The TSA, which provides hotel vouchers for survivors, was scheduled to end on March 20. The extension will be granted only to families who are already benefiting from the program and to those who qualify under new requirements established by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
Survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico now have until June 18 to register with FEMA for individual assistance.
By law, FEMA must require proof of ownership and occupancy from disaster survivors who apply for federal assistance to help with repairs to their damaged homes. When all forms of verification are destroyed or do not exist, FEMA may accept a signed self-declaration. If homeownership or occupancy cannot be proved, some individuals or families may still qualify for other disaster assistance to cover damaged or destroyed personal property. Applicants who need legal assistance regarding home ownership documentation and cannot afford an attorney may call the free Disaster Legal Services hotline at 800-310-7029.
FEMA Public Assistance provides grants to eligible governmental organizations and private nonprofit organizations for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement, or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities. The program also encourages protection of damaged facilities from future events with hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process. The application deadline for private nonprofit organizations in Puerto Rico has been extended through April 3.
FEMA will continue to cover for an additional 60 days 100% of eligible costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This federal reimbursement for Public Assistance (PA) work will now continue through May 5 for Hurricane Irma and May 14 for Hurricane Maria.
A FEMA program that provides prescription assistance for uninsured disaster survivors has been extended through April 15 for residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The program provides free 30-day replacements of certain drugs and medical supplies for eligible survivors.
The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition of more than 700 organizations submitted a set of recommendations to HUD in response to a week-long series of public information sessions held in Puerto Rico. These recommendations highlight the unique challenges on the island, including the large number of homeowners without clear titles to their homes, the need for alternative methods to provide public input, and the widespread and high rates of poverty, particularly in rural and mountainous regions.
Six months after Hurricane Maria made landfall, residents are still struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives. In a recent New York Times article, a student from Comerio shares her story of helping to rebuild her town and about the continuing struggles faced by thousands of families on the island. Community members have put the rest of their lives on hold as they raise money to rebuild the nearly 4,000 damaged homes in Comerio.
FEMA is denying assistance to many Puerto Ricans because they lack deeds to their homes. About 60% of applicants are denied Individual Assistance (IA), mostly because they cannot prove ownership of their homes. While FEMA has tried to ease documentation requirements, many Puerto Ricans are still being denied for inconsistent reasons. While Puerto Rican government officials have suggested using disaster relief money to grant deeds to families, this action will not address the immediate needs on the island.
Twenty-six Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRGs) across Florida - supported by a variety of nonprofits and FEMA Voluntary Agency Liaisons - are helping Irma survivors connect with resources. The nonprofits work to assist unmet disaster-related needs of people who may need more time and resources to recover. Specialists from several federal agencies also offer support by working with local groups to help build communities better prepared to face future disasters.
A Houston Chronicle article outlines how FEMA’s experiment of pushing responsibility on Texas for short-term disaster housing – as opposed to relying on the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and other federal programs – has left thousands of survivors without the help they need. The story describes unnecessary delays, mismanagement, lack of capacity, and communication breakdowns, all of which leave families struggling to make ends meet. The piece underscores the need for congressional action on DHAP and other solutions.
Research from NLIHC state partner Texas Housers reveals more inequitable treatment of renters during recovery. An apartment complex receiving HUD project-based rental assistance, Arbor Court, is next to Greens Bayou, which regularly floods during major weather events. During Hurricane Harvey, many residents needed to be rescued. Maps of the area surrounding the complex show that many empty lots border Greens Bayou, a result of a buyout program. While Harris County offered buyouts for homeowners, HUD has not offered alternatives for Arbor Court tenants. Residents argue that more Section 8 vouchers and new affordable homes in safer locations would be a just solution.