The following is a review of developments related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria housing recovery since last week’s Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in last week’s Memo, see 9/25). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
The NLIHC-led Hurricane Housing Recovery Coalition has drafted a letter to the White House and Congress urging immediate action to provide aid to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who face a growing humanitarian crisis. Organizations that signed on to the hurricane disaster policy recommendations sent to Congress, FEMA, and HUD on September 28 (see next paragraph) are asked to let NLIHC know if they do not want to be included on this new sign-on letter by emailing Sarah Jemison at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other organizations that want to sign on to the new letter urging immediate action to respond to the pressing needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands should email Sarah Jemison at: email@example.com. The deadline for opt-outs or new sign-ons is Tuesday, October 3. The letter is at: http://bit.ly/2x1IZyE
NLIHC and 514 national, state, and local partner organizations sent letters to Congress, FEMA, and HUD on September 28 calling on them to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest incomes who are often the hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards. After past disasters, low income people and neighborhoods often have not been included sufficiently in the housing recovery process. As a result, many of the most vulnerable people – including low income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children – and neighborhoods were not able to recover fully, making them even more vulnerable to future disasters. Signing on to the September 28 letters calling for a fair and just recovery process were 108 organizations from affected areas, 290 from local organizations in non-affected areas, and 116 national organizations.
The Department of Education has released guidelines for state and local educational agencies and schools to provide some flexibility and support post-disaster. The guidelines include flexibility on deadlines, alternatives and strategies for providing program services after disruption, and methods for ensuring continuity of services.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the Southern Legal Counsel will hold a free webinar to discuss ways to help ensure stability for students displaced by the hurricanes and other disasters. The webinar will take place Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 3:30 pm ET. More information and registration is here.
Led by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA), 35 senators sent a letter to President Trump urging the administration to take swift action in addressing the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They called for eight specific actions:
- Issue a full Disaster Declaration for the entire island of Puerto Rico.
- Appoint a special assistant for rebuilding to coordinate federal efforts in Puerto Rico.
- Request additional funding for Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program.
- Utilize all federal resources to restore power.
- Mobilize additional Department of Defense assets including helicopters and construction battalions.
- Waive local cost-share requirements for all categories of FEMA public assistance disaster funding.
- Send assets and expertise from across the federal government to restore communications.
- Ensure FEMA, Coast Guard, and DOD restore all ports to working condition.
President Trump waived the cost-share requirement – increasing federal coverage to 100% - for debris removal and emergency protective measures in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands for 180 days after their respective disaster declarations.
Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security approved a waiver of the Jones Act on September 28. That 1920s law limits foreign ships’ transportation of cargo to Puerto Rico. The waiver will be in effect for 10 days and covers all products shipped to Puerto Rico.
FEMA and other federal agencies are working to address the needs of people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ten FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams were deployed in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with more task forces arriving over the past weekend. The U.S. Department of Transportation successfully opened five airports in Puerto Rico and two in the Virgin Islands, allowing military and relief flights to bring in commodities and other resources. In Puerto Rico, three ports are fully open and another five are open with restrictions. Nine ports in the Virgin Islands are open with restrictions. Thirty-two commodity points of distribution (PODs) are now open, with 16 each in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Power is restored at two Puerto Rico hospitals, and hospitals on St. Croix and St. Thomas are re-energized and re-established as mobile hospitals. More than half of the dialysis centers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are open for patients. The U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority water system is back online. In Puerto Rico, however, long-term power restoration will involve rebuilding generation, transmission, and distribution capability.
A fourth amendment to the initial disaster declaration enables residents in six more municipalities to apply for Individual Assistance (IA) and three more to apply for Public Assistance (PA).
By the Numbers: (as of 9/28)
- 144,407 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
- $124,387,092 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
- $56,284,303 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
- $68,102,790 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.
Seminole Tribe of Florida
President Trump declared that a major disaster exists for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. FEMA has established a Seminole Tribe of Florida Hurricane Irma major disaster webpage (DR-4341). An emergency declaration was previously made on September 9.
Amendment Number 2 to the initial disaster declaration makes residents in Charlton and Coffee counties eligible for FEMA Individual Assistance (IA).
Federal Home Loan Banks
The Council of Federal Home Loan Banks has established a $1 million relief fund to help communities recovering from Hurricane Irma. Funds will be allocated to specific regional and national organizations.
Owners of the Sea Horse RV Park in the Florida Keys have asked residents to evacuate due to safety concerns. Residents have few resources for relocation and worry that developers will use this as an opportunity to buy the trailer and RV park, taking away some of the only affordable housing in the Keys.
In Immokalee, Florida, many residents continue to live in severely damaged trailers. Local officials and FEMA are still assessing damages and the number of people left homeless. Plans for temporary housing are not finalized.
Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to expedite the delivery of more than 10,000 tarps until the federal Blue Roof program is fully up and running. To date, more than 100,000 tarps have been distributed to patch damaged roofs.
Members of the Texas Congressional delegation sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson requesting the immediate release of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds for Texas. The letter also requests HUD to:
- Exercise the authority given to it by Congress to lower the CDBG program’s statutory requirement that 70% of the funds benefit households with incomes less than 80% of the area median income. The letter asks the HUD secretary to reduce the low and moderate income benefit threshold from 70% to 50% of the state’s CDBG-DR allocation;
- Avoid specified percentages of CDBG-DR be used for housing, infrastructure, or mitigation efforts; and
- Shorten the usual CDBG public comment period regarding a draft disaster action plan from 30 days to seven days (last year’s CDBG-DR instructions allowed a 14-day public comment period).
By the Numbers: (as of 9/28)
- 213,062 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
- $407,677,861 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
- $276,665,092 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
- $131,012,769 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
- $203,906,217 Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated** all of which are for Emergency Work (Categories A-B)
*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.
**Funds made available to the State via electronic transfer following FEMA's final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.
The Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, which provides funding for survivors to stay at a hotel while searching for housing, has been extended to October 10. More than 40,000 families were using this program, but that number has decreased to 24,000.
The deadline for Hurricane Harvey survivors to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) has been extended to October 31.
FEMA posted an initial public notice concerning activities that may affect historic properties, activities that are located in or that affect wetland areas or are in the 100-year floodplain, and critical actions within the 500-year floodplain. The public notice explains relocation considerations based on Executive Orders concerning federal actions affecting the floodplains, wetlands, and other considerations, as well as on those based on the National Historic Preservation Act.
Texas General Land Office
The Texas General Land Office and FEMA have finalized an agreement outlining how to address disaster assistance housing needs. Their new website provides information for individuals and local governments about disaster assistance and housing options. The agreement provides direct assistance to repair or improve existing multifamily housing, allows placing manufactured housing units on private land or commercial pads, and provides minor repairs to homes in locations with limited housing options and partial repairs to homes with significant damage. The program also enables local governments to lease properties not typically available to the public.
Lone Star Legal Aid has filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents of a senior living facility owned by the Houston Housing Authority after residents received notices to vacate nearly three weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit.