Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery hosted FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell for a hearing on a review of FEMA’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget proposal. In an opening statement, Administrator Criswell highlighted recent efforts, advocated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and the NLIHC Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), to improve access to FEMA’s disaster recovery resources for marginalized disaster survivors. Administrator Criswell said the reforms to FEMA’s title documentation requirements for homeowners and renters provided access to assistance for nearly 100,000 additional disaster survivors.
During the hearing, Criswell stated that “changing the types of documentation we accept, allowed 42,000 homeowners and over 53,000 renters to receive assistance from FEMA that just a year before we would have denied assistance . . . the total amount was about $350 million.”
These reforms were developed and advanced by NLIHC and its DHRC, with its more than 850 organizational partners nationwide, and were also championed by NLIHC legislative partners Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY).
“These changes are much needed and long overdue,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “Work to reform FEMA’s harmful policies began with efforts by NLIHC and disaster survivors and partners in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, and they were continued by the DHRC and advocates in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Michael, in California after several wildfires, and in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, where over 77,000 households were wrongfully denied FEMA assistance due to title issues. We will continue to advocate other critically needed legislation to ensure the lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to recover.”
For decades, FEMA required homeowners to submit title documents to receive assistance, and the agency refused to accept alternative documentation. This requirement effectively barred low-income homeowners – predominantly households of color – from receiving the FEMA Individual Assistance for which they were eligible. Under FEMA’s new policy, these survivors can now self-certify ownership of their homes when they do not have other documentation, overcoming a major hurdle to recovery. FEMA will also allow all survivors to submit a broader array of documents to prove occupancy and ownership of their homes.
NLIHC and the DHRC will continue to monitor implementation of the new policy and urge Congress to enact the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act,” introduced by Senator Warren and Representative Espaillat, to make these reforms permanent and ensure that the lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors remain stably housed.
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About the National Low Income Housing Coalition
The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated to achieving racially and socially equitable public policy that ensures people with the lowest incomes have quality homes that are accessible and affordable in the communities of their choice. NLIHC educates, organizes, and advocates to ensure decent, affordable housing for everyone. For more information about NLIHC, please visit www.nlihc.org.