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 1/22). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
Legislation and Congressional Action
The partial federal government shutdown had far-reaching effects on disaster response and recovery. In addition to delaying much-needed funding and preventing communication with HUD, federal researchers dedicated to predicting hurricanes and other storms were furloughed during the shutdown, preventing them from conducting important analyses that will help the government prepare for hurricane season, which officially begins in June.
Both the House and the Senate have included disaster funding in their recent spending proposals to end the shutdown. Senate Republicans provided $12.7 billion in disaster relief in their bill, including over $1 billion in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grants for areas impacted by storms in 2018; however, unlike the supplemental spending bill passed in the House, it failed to allocate any funding for Puerto Rico’s Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) – which faces a financial cliff in March that will result in 1.3 million people losing assistance. A recent statement from the White House described funding for NAP as “excessive and unnecessary.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter on January 21 to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney and HUD Secretary Ben Carson expressing her concern that the Trump Administration is “using the shutdown as a pretext for withholding funds from Puerto Rico.” The letter points to previous statements made by President Trump about cutting off additional funding for Puerto Rico and the recent statement from the White House that opposed funding for the Nutrition Assistance Program for Puerto Rico. Reports have indicated that HUD will be unable to disburse CDBG-DR funding to Puerto Rico due to the shutdown. Senator Warren poses questions to Director Mulvaney and Secretary Carson about this delay and the president’s instructions regarding funding for Puerto Rico. During a visit to Puerto Rico yesterday, Senator Warren called for the resignation of FEMA Administrator Brock Long for his agency’s poor response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
2018 California Wildfires
The State of California has almost completed the first phase of the debris-removal process in Butte County, which involved removing household hazardous waste from 13,000 properties. The next phase will remove fire-related debris from damaged or destroyed properties. This effort is the largest ever state-run debris removal undertaking in California.
Governor Ron DeSantis and FEMA Administrator Brock Long visited the Florida Panhandle on January 16. Governor DeSantis announced that the State of Florida would provide “an additional $2.8 million in matching funds for debris removal in Mexico Beach” and directed the state Division of Emergency Management to expedite funding to Panhandle communities financially and physically swamped with debris. He also promised to push the White House for increased federal reimbursements for debris cleanup.
Local Perspectives and Resources
Many Panama City residents are still struggling to return home due to financial troubles, legal issues, and a lack of housing. A recent Panama City News Herald article details four of their stories.
Housing was listed as one of the top five primary concerns post-Hurricane Michael for local leaders by State Representative Jay Trumbull and State Senator George Gainer as they met with area mayors on January 21, though an exact recovery plan was not discussed.
Severe weather in Bay County on the night of January 20 created chaos by causing damage to tarps - used in lieu of roofing - still left from Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.
Residents of Bay County say prices of rental properties in the area have skyrocketed, complicating the already difficult search for affordable housing in the area after Hurricane Michael: "I understand high demand and low supply. However, everyone is suffering in this town one way or the other. If housing is more affordable, that would help the community a whole lot.”
The deadline for North Carolinians impacted by Hurricane Florence to apply for the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program has been extended to February 1. The STEP program provides partial home repairs for homeowners at no cost.
Local Perspectives and Resources
Legal Aid of North Carolina will be holding clinics to help survivors file FEMA appeals on February 9 in Wilmington and February 23 in Morehead City. Anyone denied FEMA assistance can appeal the decision.
An article by The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board describes three different potential sources of disaster recovery funding that have failed to be allocated to North Carolina due to the government shutdown: $1.14 billion from Congress for Hurricane Florence, $168 million from HUD for Hurricane Matthew and mitigation, and an undesignated amount from the $12 billion disaster recovery bill that seems unlikely to pass in the Senate.
An article in Environmental Health News discusses how Hurricane Florence impacted the mental and physical health of New Bern residents. The lack of affordable housing options forced many survivors to live in mold-infested homes, which can cause serious health issues. Additionally, the trauma of living through a storm and dealing with the aftermath often greatly affects survivors of natural disasters.
Harvey’s impact on Houston serves as a warning to mortgage lenders that FEMA’s flood risk maps fail to account for extreme weather. Eighty percent of homes flooded in the Houston area lacked flood insurance, causing severe mortgage delinquency following the hurricane. The area only avoided widespread foreclosures because post-hurricane investors were able to pay cash.
Local Perspectives and Resources
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that the federal response to Hurricane Maria was slower and less robust than the efforts for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The study demonstrates that disparities between storms in terms of both federal funding and staffing did not align with storm severity and resulted in more deaths and slower recovery in Puerto Rico than in Florida and Texas.
Nearly half of all residents of Puerto Rico lack clear titles to their properties for loans or sales, complicating the process of housing recovery. Puerto Rico’s governor has outlined a proposal for new development that promises no one will have to move but requires those living in flood-prone areas to comply with certain standards to receive public money.
Graduate students from Penn School of Design’s City and Regional Planning department have spent months evaluating Philadelphia’s response to the influx of Puerto Rican residents since Hurricane Maria and have found numerous government shortcomings, particularly regarding housing, aid, and cultural transition.