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 3/26). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
Free legal assistance is available for all disaster survivors in California, Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands through the Disaster Legal Services of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers division. The hotline can help individuals appeal FEMA denials, make insurance claims, replace legal documents, receive counseling on landlord-tenant issues, and more.
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. Applicants without a title, deed, or other official documentation have been denied FEMA assistance even when generations have lived on a property. FEMA added Texas’ Affidavits of Facts Concerning Identity of Heirs to its list of Accepted Ownership Documents required for proof of ownership and occupancy from disaster survivors who apply for federal assistance. In the state of Texas, title bestows immediately upon death of the ancestor or testator, regardless of the existence of a will, and estates pass under state laws of descent and distribution. FEMA has agreed to reprocess any of Lone Star Legal Aid’s clients who were denied assistance relative to ownership but had affidavits of heirship, even those dated after Harvey struck. Instructions for accepting these affidavits will be issued to FEMA managers and their inspectors going forward.
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court earlier this month, Texas Housers included evidence that the City of Houston “has created and maintains a separate and unequal storm water system that results in disproportionate and preventable flooding of African-American and Latino neighborhoods.” Texas Housers found that 88% of open-ditch drainage is in predominately African-American neighborhoods. According to a 2014 study conducted by the city, nearly half of open drainage ditches could not provide adequate protection from flooding even in modest storms. Texas Housers’ lawsuit against HUD urges the agency to force Houston to address this and other issues before allocating Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding.
The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation released a report detailing how Hurricane Harvey affected the lives of migrants/immigrants along the Texas Gulf Coast. Immigrants have more precarious financial and social circumstances than native-born residents, with 70% of immigrants saying they have little to no support system and more than half living well below the federal poverty level. Immigrant residents reported higher rates of loss of income or employment and were generally less likely to seek help following the storm.