The following is a review of disaster housing recovery developments since the last edition of Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in the previous Memo, see 1/28). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
Congressman José E. Serrano (D-NY) led 55 Democratic colleagues who sent a letter to President Trump condemning his administration for attempting to undermine disaster recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, including the president’s objections to providing $600 million for the Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) and his initial consideration of diverting funds Congress appropriated for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for disaster recovery to instead build a wall on the southern U.S. border.
2018 California Wildfires
The last remaining shelter in Chico, CA, is set to close January 31. A story in the Sacramento Bee describes how families displaced from Paradise, CA, bounced from shelter to shelter following the Camp Fire in November. Survivors contracted norovirus and dealt with crime and other dangerous activity. An estimated 100 people remain living at the Red Cross shelter and an additional 470 survivors live in cars or trailers in the parking lot. Those with newer trailers or RVs will be allowed to stay on the property for $40 per night while others have been told they need to leave. Counselors are working with the remaining individuals to help them find a place to stay – a difficult task given the limited amount of housing prior to the fire and increasing rent prices after the disaster.
FEMA released recovery fact sheets for Jackson, Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, and Gadsden counties. In total, more than 10,000 homeowners have been approved for basic housing repairs, 19,528 survivors were approved for rental assistance, 604 households remain in hotels through the TSA program, and 389 households have been licensed-in under the Direct Temporary Housing Assistance Program. FEMA also reports that it cannot approve assistance for more than 18,500 survivors because they have not submitted insurance claims or other paperwork.
The White House approved Governor Ron DeSantis’s request for 45 days of 100% federal cost share for emergency protective measures. This cost-share support will assist ongoing Hurricane Michael recovery efforts through debris removal, overtime pay for workers, and community restoration.
Local Perspectives and Resources
Families in the Florida Panhandle are still struggling to find stability following Hurricane Michael. A recent NPR story focused on Panama City, where many families of Macedonia Garden and other federally subsidized housing – which comprised about 66% of the housing stock prior to the storm – are still looking for a place to live. Many others have been forced to leave their community. FEMA and local officials are working to bring in about 1,000 trailers to help meet the need of displaced Panama City residents, particularly the 70% of the population that rented. FEMA housing like RVs or trailers are only available for 18 months, however, whereas rebuilding affordable housing could take much longer than that. Mayor Greg Brudnicki advocates to have areas of Panama City designated federal “opportunity zones” to encourage reinvestment.
Communities in the Florida Panhandle are still waiting for ruined houses to be demolished and debris to be removed. The moratorium on rebuilding continues as local and FEMA officials discuss a new construction code. "It's not the food anymore; it's not the water anymore. It's trying to figure out how to put your life back together,” a resident of Mexico Beach told NPR.
Philanthropic contributions to the Florida Panhandle have fallen far below donations for recent landmark hurricanes. The difference seems to originate primarily from a weaker corporate response, with corporate giants contributing tens of millions of dollars less for recovery than after past hurricanes.
Dozens of homes still have tarps and fallen trees on their roofs in Seminole County, one of counties with the greatest damage in Georgia following Hurricane Michael.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety reports that FEMA has installed 601 housing units and that 273 households (773 individuals) are checked into hotels through the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program.
Individuals in Puerto Rico who became unemployed as a direct consequence of either Hurricane Maria or Hurricane Irma and have exhausted Disaster Unemployment Assistance may be eligible to receive additional assistance.
Survivors of Hurricane Harvey living in temporary housing units provided by FEMA and Texas GLO will need to leave or pay rent by February 25. Some households may also opt to purchase their units. Survivors choosing to remain in their current units through August 25 by paying rent must meet eligibility requirements.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter on January 29 to President Trump calling on him to “cut through the red tape” and ensure HUD and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) immediately publish the rules governing mitigation funding. In February 2018, Congress appropriated $13.8 billion in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grants to help disaster-impacted states with major mitigation efforts. Commissioner Bush previously sent a letter to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney about the same issue.
Local Perspectives and Resources
FEMA failed to address aspects of its temporary housing program – like sewer issues and the need for butane tanks – for some local residents. Despite the extension of the temporary housing program until August 2019, one resident claims that FEMA has only given her the option to move out, forcing her to turn to a local church for assistance.
Some Puerto Rican residents are skeptical about recovery and reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Maria and question the government’s ability to spend $20 billion from HUD in a way that benefits people, not just developers. Researchers at The Center for a New Economy state the territory’s CDBG-DR plan accurately identifies housing issues in Puerto Rico but does not outline comprehensive solutions.
According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, nearly all Puerto Rican evacuees who fled to the state have been able to find permanent housing. This success is in large part due to public housing and certain cities’ policies to give waitlist priority to those made homeless by natural disasters.