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 1/22). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
The IRS is urging survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria to see if they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). A special computation method is available for residents of the affected areas, increasing their eligibility for EITC or increasing the amount they receive. The EITC helps low and moderate income individuals and families by decreasing the amount of federal taxes due.
NLIHC has compiled a list of upcoming deadlines related to disaster recovery. The next deadline for Hurricane Irma survivors in Florida participating in the TSA program is February 10.
A FEMA update reports that 184 applicants and 360 individuals are living in direct housing, such as manufactured housing or directly leased units.
The Voluntary Agencies Leading and Organizing Repair (VALOR) program launched a new initiative in Puerto Rico to provide temporary, essential repairs to allow survivors to move back to their homes. Supplies are funded through FEMA, and the repairs are not intended to return housing to pre-disaster conditions.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Roselló announced he is moving to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The utility company has long been accused of corruption and mismanagement and has faced increased criticism following Hurricane Maria. Selling PREPA could take 18 months.
A short Politico video discusses issues related to informal construction in Puerto Rico, which by some estimates comprises almost 50% of the islands housing. Prior to Hurricane Maria, residents built houses on land they did not own or added on to their existing houses without proper permits. FEMA is unwilling to reimburse people for damages to illegally constructed housing.
Puerto Rican residents are becoming concerned as private banks’ three-month moratoria on foreclosures draw to a close. The number of repossessed homes on the island was already high prior to the storm, and experts worry those numbers will jump significantly, leaving many homeless. The lack of power on much of the island has prohibited people from generating revenue, leaving them unable to resume making mortgage payments.
The Florida Housing Coalition, an NLIHC state partner, holds Hurricane Update webinars every Friday at 1:30 pm ET. The webinars are free and open to member organizations and others interested in staying updated on Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott approved a General Land Office (GLO) request for $38.6 million to fund direct housing programs. The dollars have been transferred to the GLO from funds previously appropriated for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The transfer will help maintain the program’s functions until the Texas Legislature passes fiscal year 2019 appropriations.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and numerous disaster survivors testified at the Texas House Urban Affairs Committee hearing on January 18. While approximately 900,000 people in Texas have applied for housing assistance through the General Land Office, hundreds of thousands are still waiting to be approved or have been denied. Land Commissioner Bush and Mayor Turner placed heavy blame on the federal government, specifically Congress, for the slow pace of recovery.
From Our Partners
Texas Housers, an NLIHC state partner, released a new report that shows owner-occupied housing is being inspected at higher rates than renter-occupied units despite similar FEMA registration rates. This disparity could be a result of intentional decisions at FEMA or complications with the application process for renter households. The report also shows that, overall, less than half of federal assistance applications have been approved to date.
Lone Star Legal Aid received a $250,000 grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to help expand its Disaster Relief Unit. The grant will allow for additional staff and resources.