Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY) have introduced “The Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act” (S.2996 and H.R.5474), which would activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and address the challenges disaster survivors in Puerto Rico have had securing FEMA assistance due to title issues and informal housing. NLIHC supports both bills and urges advocates to call on their members of Congress to sign on.
On June 27, a group of U.S. senators and representatives sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long and HUD Secretary Ben Carson requesting an extension of the Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) program and the activation of DHAP. They cite the extensive destruction of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and the high rate of Individual Assistance (IA) program denials by FEMA. The lawmakers note, “DHAP has historically been activated within two weeks of a disaster, while Puerto Ricans have waited over eight months for relief.”
Four ranking members of various House committees sent a letter on June 29 to Administrator Long. Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA) of the Financial Services Committee, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) of the Small Business Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) of the Committee on Homeland Security, and Richard Neal (D-MA) all signed onto a letter urging FEMA to activate DHAP.
On June 28, HUD approved the Florida disaster recovery plan, which allocates $616 million towards long-term housing recovery from the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. There is $100 million earmarked for affordable rental housing. The largest allocation is $273.3 million for a housing repair program. Governor Rick Scott put out a press release about the allocation.
On July 3, Diane Yentel, President and CEO of NLIHC, sent a letter on behalf of DHRC to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude urging them to issue a Federal Register Notice with robust transparency and accountability requirements to help states and local communities administer disaster recovery programs. The letter includes recommendations for more effective and equitable allocation of limited resources along with critical oversight and accountability.
On June 30, the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Massachusetts blocked FEMA’s plans to evict 1,744 hurricane survivors from hotels and motels provided through the TSA program. A lawsuit was filed by Latino Justice PRLDEF, and the judge scheduled a telephone hearing for July 2. FEMA released a statement extending TSA through July 5 to comply with the Court’s order. FEMA will extend transportation assistance for 60 days to those who choose to return to Puerto Rico. The DHRC also responded to the injunction in a press release.
On July 3, the District Court ordered FEMA to extend the deadline nationwide for its TSA program till July 23 (checkout on July 24). FEMA must file its opposition by July 13; and the plaintiffs--all individuals who evacuated Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria--will reply by July 18. FEMA announced that it will notify hotels about the extension. The DHRC released a press statement commending the court’s decision.
With TSA anticipated to end on June 30 for nearly 2,000 displaced hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico, multiple media outlets picked up the story in several host states, including Florida where over 600 families fled from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. DHRC partner, the Florida Housing Coalition, is quoted in this Miami Herald article; and the NLIHC, in one from the Orlando Sentinel.
The Orlando Sentinel featured an op. ed. by Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the NLIHC, admonishing FEMA’s inadequate disaster-recovery response. Ms. Yentel calls out FEMA on its claim that it is “doing all it can to provide stable housing to these U.S. citizens who have suffered loss and displacement”—citing its refusal to use the Disaster Housing Assistance (DHAP) program after congressional members and the Governor of Puerto Rico have requested it.
In New York City, a family struggles to find permanent affordable housing after their last day at a local hotel. The family of four was sent to a group hotel, where they will be living in a one-bedroom apartment and required to sign in and out with a 9:00 p.m. curfew.
YOUR ONLINE TOOL FOR SHARING STORIES OF DISASTER SURVIVORS WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS:
Personal stories from disaster survivors can make a compelling case for the development of more responsive federal policies and programs—now and in the future. DHRC is collecting these accounts from survivors of the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and their advocates through a brief online form in both English and Spanish. Clients can choose to remain anonymous.
Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery
Next meeting: July 17 at 3:00 pm EDT
Next meeting: July 23 at 3:00 PM EDT
Next meeting: July 11 at 3:30 PM EDT
On July 3, the Policy WG’s Recommendations to Improve Transparency, Accountability, and Equitable Allocation of Resources in HUD’s Federal Register Notice were sent with a letter from NLIHC CEO Diane Yentel on behalf of the DHRC to HUD Secretary Carson and Deputy Secretary Patenaude.
Next meeting: July 10, 12:30 PM EDT