Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have affected millions of people in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Georgia. As with many other natural disasters, the most vulnerable residents—low income communities, people of color, and immigrant populations—bear the brunt of the storm’s destruction, and hundreds of thousands of residents lost their homes and all of their possessions. Recovery will take years, and NLIHC is working with local, state, and national advocate partners to ensure that assisting and re-housing the most vulnerable populations is a priority at all levels of government.
In large scale disasters like hurricanes, the federal response begins with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assessing damage throughout the region, the results of which inform the Administration’s supplemental spending request for disaster relief funds. HUD will then conduct its own damage assessment, using FEMA’s findings to determine the impact of the hurricanes on the housing stock, and in particular, on subsidized housing for low income people and on homes secured by the Federal Housing Administration.
Following these initial assessments, the White House asks Congress to pass a funding bill just for disaster relief, which provides additional funding for FEMA programs and for HUD’s Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Relief. Disaster Relief grants go to state and local governments and can be used for a variety of infrastructure and housing needs. The flexibility of this program allows for localized assistance depending on a community’s needs, but also presents a challenge for advocates. It is essential that Disaster Relief funds are used to meet the housing needs of the most vulnerable populations. Advocates at the local, state, and national level must push for fair distribution of HUD funds so that those with the greatest needs receive the most assistance.
Low income people, and low income people of color in particular, have limited choices about where to live. They are often limited in their housing choices to high-poverty, highly segregated, geographically vulnerable neighborhoods. NLIHC will continue to monitor the work of HUD and FEMA to ensure that the rebuilding process results in a smarter and fairer distribution of affordable housing.
Texas Housers and Texas Organizing Projects seven disaster recovery principles:
- Everyone in need receives safe, temporary housing where they can reconnect with family and community.
- Securing help from government is accessible, understandable and timely.
- Displaced people have access to all the resources they need for as long as they need to safely and quickly recover housing, personal property and transportation; disaster rebuilding jobs and contracts are locally sourced, whenever possible.
- Everyone is fairly assisted to fully and promptly recover through transparent and accountable programs and strict compliance with civil rights laws, with survivors having a say in the way assistance is provided.
- All homeowners are able to quickly rebuild in safe, quality neighborhoods of their choice.
- Renters and anyone experiencing homelessness before the disaster quickly get quality, affordable, accessible rental property in safe, quality neighborhoods of their choice.
- All neighborhoods are free from environmental hazards, and are safe and resilient, and have equal quality, accessible public infrastructure.