Washington – The National Low Income Housing Coalition and its partners, on behalf of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition of over 700 national, state, and local organizations, condemn FEMA’s continuing inaction on implementing proven, long-term housing solutions to help the lowest income survivors displaced by recent hurricanes and wildfires get back on their feet. FEMA’s ongoing failure to prioritize solutions to help low income survivors secure safe, stable housing is compounded by recent and looming deadlines that have abruptly ended Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) for displaced Puerto Rican families in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, and other states. Without long-term housing solutions in place, like the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), these families have resorted to doubling or tripling up with other low income families, sleeping in cars, paying at least half of their income on rent, or to returning to their uninhabitable homes on the island with just a few days’ notice.
Nearly 10,000 families remain in hotels under FEMA’s TSA hotel program, and thousands more low income families have been unable to access TSA due to financial and other barriers, including the practice of hotels charging daily “resort” fees and requiring security deposits or credit cards.
Despite a clear need and ample evidence of DHAP’s effectiveness after previous disasters, FEMA has so far been unwilling to enter into an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stand up the program. DHAP provides temporary rental assistance and wrap-around case management to low income families in need. The program helps the lowest income families find permanent housing solutions, secure employment, and connect to public benefits as they rebuild their lives.
“It has been nearly six months since the first hurricane made landfall, and FEMA still refuses to put in place proven long-term housing solutions, like DHAP,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of NLIHC. “Because of FEMA’s inaction, low income survivors are facing predictable and preventable crises in having to choose between living in unhealthy and unsafe homes or paying far too much of their limited incomes on rent, making it harder to meet their other basic needs.”
“At a time when people are living in tents on the streets, we must not flood our communities’ overstretched emergency shelter systems by arbitrarily ending the temporary housing assistance to families displaced by recent disasters that is the only reason they aren’t on the streets too,” says Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “They have already been the victims of a natural disaster – we don’t need to compound that with the manmade disaster of homelessness.”
“FEMA's top priority needs to be continuing rental assistance for survivors who will otherwise become homeless when their TSA expires,” says Jaimie Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition. “These families need vouchers to help pay rent while more permanent housing arrangements can be made. DHAP is needed now.”
"It is shameful that the lack of coordination on the part of FEMA has caused so many survivors of hurricanes to endure such housing instability in addition to the trauma of the disaster," said Texas Housers co-director John Henneberger. "There are proven solutions, such as DHAP, that enable survivors to have stable options during the long-term recovery process. It's time to act on those solutions."
“FEMA's failure to provide rental assistance and services is re-traumatizing families who fled disaster and subjecting them to constant uncertainty. Instead of finding stability, hundreds of Puerto Rican families in Massachusetts are stuck in limbo and unable to make the most basic decisions – where to seek medical care, where to look for jobs, or where to enroll children in school,” says Andrea Moon Park, Housing & Homelessness Staff Attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
“In Puerto Rico, FEMA gave eligible displaced families TSA vouchers and plane tickets to come here and stay at hotels so they could rebuild their lives. Now that the families are here, FEMA is turning their back on them by abruptly ending assistance,” says Wildaliz Bermudez, member of the Hartford City Council. “This means that cities will have hundreds and in some cases thousands of newly homeless families in the middle of winter, at a time when our shelters are at full capacity. This is unacceptable. A horrendous way to respond to a humanitarian crisis.”
“In the North Bay Area of California, rents are at an all-time high and vacancy levels are low, which has made it extremely difficult for low income folks seeking housing”, says Jeffery Hoffman, directing attorney for the Santa Rosa office of California Rural Legal Assistance. “FEMA terminated the TSA program at the beginning of February of this year, less than 4 months after the wildfires. We feel there was insufficient advanced notice provided, and low-income survivors were forced out of their hotels with few alternatives. It is clear more assistance is needed.”
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest incomes in the United States have affordable and decent homes.
The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition of over 700 local, state, and national organizations is led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and works to ensure the federal response to recent hurricanes prioritizes the housing needs of the lowest income people in the impacted areas.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, a 501(c)3 based in Washington, D.C., is the only national legal group dedicated to ending and preventing homelessness.
The Florida Housing Coalition, Inc., is a nonprofit, statewide membership organization whose mission is to bring together housing advocates and resources so that all Floridians have a quality affordable home and suitable living environment.
Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, or Texas Housers, is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation established in Austin in 1988 by a concerned group of community leaders, nonprofit, public and private housing providers and low income people. Its mission is to support low-income Texans’ efforts to achieve the American dream of a decent, affordable home in a quality neighborhood.
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute is a statewide nonprofit poverty law and policy center. Its mission is to advance economic, racial and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and community outreach.
California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. is a nonprofit legal service program created to help California's low-income individuals and communities. Its mission is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside the most exploited communities of our society.