The following is a review of housing recovery developments related to the 2017 and 2018 disasters since the last edition of Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in the previous Memo, see 11/19). NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.
All six senators from California, North Carolina, and Florida and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the “Hurricanes Florence and Michael and California Wildfire Tax Relief Act” (S. 3648) on November 16. The proposal would provide tax relief for survivors of the recent disasters by allowing those impacted to more easily claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits, expanding Opportunity Zones, and implementing other assistance measures.
Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited the Camp Fire site again on Monday, stating that the associated costs would likely be in the billions of dollars.
Federal and state financial regulatory agencies issued an interagency statement with information on practices for financial institutions and their customers affected by the California wildfires. The statement included an announcement that financial institutions may receive Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) consideration for “community development loans, investments, or services that revitalize or stabilize federally designated disaster areas.”
The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) is working with owners of mobile homes and manufactured homes that were damaged in the fires to ensure they have proper documents. Survivors with damaged or destroyed manufactured homes should call 1.833.421.5990 (TDD: 1.800.735.2929) or email: ContactRT@hcd.ca.gov
Local Perspectives and Resources
Despite poor air quality from the Woolsey and Hill fires, thousands of farmworkers continued to work in the strawberry fields of Southern California. Many of these workers do not speak English – some only speak Aztecan languages – and are unable to communicate with their supervisors or understand safety warnings. Even when Ventura County closed schools and declared a health emergency, people were photographed still picking in the fields. Some companies did not distribute masks, and many workers complained they had difficulty breathing and had headaches and eye and throat irritation even after they were out of the fields. These low-wage workers cannot afford to miss a day of income or risk losing their jobs.
Free legal assistance is available to survivors of the California wildfires in Butte, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties. The Butte County free legal aid hotline is: 1-800-345-9491. The Ventura and Los Angeles County free legal aid hotline is: 1-877-301-4448.
Attorneys at The Larsen Law Firm are providing free legal advice to residents of Butte County and surrounding communities who have lost loved ones, suffered property damage, or incurred other costs related to the Northern California Camp Fire that began on November 8. The firm also created a resource guide with links to free housing resources as well as government and nonprofit disaster assistance application information.
Okaloosa and Walton counties are now eligible for the Public Assistance program. Eligibility for Franklin, Holmes, Jefferson, Leon, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, and Washington Counties has been expanded from only Emergency Protective Measures and Debris Removal to all categories of Public Assistance.
Bay County residents with properties that might be suitable for housing FEMA trailers are encouraged to share that information through this online form.
State and Local
The deadline for Disaster Unemployment Assistance has been extended to December 7.
Local Perspectives and Resources
Travel trailers have finally arrived in Marianna, FL, for inspections before being set up for use by survivors. As FEMA slowly delivers these trailers to those left homeless by Hurricane Michael, survivors are sleeping in tent cities in Panama City. CBS News reports that more than 95,000 survivors have applied for FEMA assistance, but only about 25,000 have been approved for some form of housing assistance. Many low-income residents across the Panhandle have been left to wonder what relief, if any, they will receive that can help them rebuild their lives.
PBS News Hour reports that FEMA has approved 1,700 households for trailers, but had delivered only 40 in the six weeks since Hurricane Michael struck. Another 18,000 have been approved for rental assistance, but survivors are often unable to find an available home to rent since so much of the housing stock is damaged or destroyed. Survivors and officials continue to stress that housing remains the biggest issue following the storm.
Survivors with a felony face additional barriers to finding affordable housing, making their search for shelter following Hurricane Michael even more difficult.
Low-income residents with disabilities and medical needs in Florida are struggling to access health care in the wake of Hurricane Michael.
The last shelter in Bay County closed on November 30. At its peak, the shelter housed at least 700 people. As of November 28, 82 people remained, some of whom were previously homeless, and case workers were working to ensure all survivors had housing before the shelter closed.
Doorways of Northwest Florida may be able to assist Bay and Jackson county residents who were homeless before or are currently homeless as a result of Hurricane Michael. They currently have a temporary office at the Florida Department of Health (597 W. 11th St., Panama City) open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30am – 4:30pm. Survivors can also schedule an appointment by phone or email, although the organization currently has limited service.
Guilford and McDowell Counties are now eligible for Public Assistance.
FEMA released a fact sheet with information on how survivors of Hurricane Florence who received initial rental assistance may be eligible for continued support from FEMA. FEMA also issued a public notice announcing its intent to provide Individual Assistant (AI) funding for emergency housing that may impact a floodplain or wetland or be located in a floodplain. The notice also includes activities impacting historic preservation.
State and Local
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper met with members of the North Carolina congressional delegation, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and White House Homeland Security Advisor Rear Admiral Doug Fears to ask for additional federal assistance. In an interview about his visit, Governor Cooper identified housing as a key component of his requested assistance. He has asked Secretary Carson to allow survivors to use Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds to pay for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.
Local Perspectives and Resources
A second wave of displaced North Carolina residents are finding themselves newly homeless due to new eviction notices issued by at least six apartment complexes in New Hanover County. At least four of the complexes ordered to vacate are low-income housing complexes: The Glen, The Reserve, Jervay Apartments, and Market North.
Low-income residents displaced from their homes because of damage from Hurricane Florence are struggling to use their rental assistance to find temporary housing. The assistance amount is set, and many survivors cannot afford to pay the difference.
Many people in Pender County still need temporary housing before winter. Because several communities in the county are in the middle of a flood zone, FEMA has stated that placing trailers there would be too dangerous. While many have relocated, others have been staying in tents or campers next to their destroyed homes. FEMA has approved trailers for some households but is still working to make sure they are properly hooked up to utilities and placed in safe locations.
Governor Henry McMaster sent a letter on November 16 to South Carolina’s congressional delegation with a revised estimate of $607 million in federal funding for recovery efforts, including $108 million in CDBG-DR.
FEMA announced that it will host CADGeoCon 2019 on March 21-22 in Puerto Rico. The event is a two-day conference for members of the geospatial community who responded to challenges unique to the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Those interested in presenting should submit a one-page abstract of the proposed presentation and other materials by December 15, 2018.
The Texas General Land Office released on November 19 the second amendment to the $5.024 billion state Action Plan for Hurricane Harvey. This amendment incorporates the additional $652 million (allocated to Texas from the disaster supplemental passed in February) into the state action plan, including an extra $236 million for the Homeowner Assistance Program and $200 million for the Affordable Rental Program. The amendment is open for public comment through December 19.
The CDBG-DR Draft Action Plan (English version, Spanish version) for the 2017 California wildfires was published on November 12. The comment period for the draft will close at midnight on December 12. Round 2 of public meetings to discuss the Draft Action Plan for Disaster Recovery will take place from November 26 through December 5. For specific dates and times of the public meetings, click here (Spanish version).
Hurricane Irma Housing Repair and Replacement Program Guidelines for Single Family Housing Properties are posted in English, Spanish, and Creole on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DOE) website. The program guidelines for Rental Properties are listed as pending. Technical Questions and Answers regarding the implementation of CDBG-DR program funds are posted on the website as well.
The Puerto Rico Department of Housing submitted the substantial amendment to the Disaster Recovery Action Plan to HUD for final approval on November 18. The submission included public comments and responses.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló sent a letter to congressional leadership on November 19 asking for additional federal assistance for Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, including continued emergency funding for Medicaid, the Nutrition Assistance Program and emergency work like debris removal and building demolition. Governor Rosselló also asked that the entire island be designated as an Opportunity Zone, stating that some “critical areas where economic development is essential” do not currently qualify. The Opportunity Zones are a new tax-benefit-for-investment designation under the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.”
Local Perspectives and Resources
Officials in Houston, TX aim to get more than $1 billion in federal Hurricane Harvey recovery assistance contracts in place and reimbursement checks issued by Christmas.
According to the CEO of the Houston Coalition for the Homeless, about 18% of unsheltered people in Houston said they were homeless because of Hurricane Harvey.
Officials in Puerto Rico expect initial CDBG-DR funds to be distributed to municipalities in January or February of next year.
An article in the New York Times revealed that FEMA contractors in Puerto Rico are charging steep markups and overhead on repairs for the Tu Hogar Renace program, limiting the repairs that homeowners in Puerto Rico can receive. Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s records show that FEMA paid $3,700 each for generators that cost contractors $800 apiece to purchase. The records also reveal that FEMA paid $666 for each bathroom sink, but contractors purchased them for $260. FEMA also paid $4 per square foot for roof repairs, instead of the contractor price of $1.64 per square foot.
The Hurricane Harvey Registry – a venture of Rice University, Environmental Defense Fund and health departments in the city of Houston and Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties – calls for residents to provide information about how Hurricane Harvey affected their health for the first in a series of public reports to be published early 2019. Residents have until December 21 to complete the survey.
Houston area restaurants and businesses that rely on low-wage workers are struggling to meet their staffing needs due to a lack of safe, affordable housing 15 months after Hurricane Harvey.
Marvin Odum, the former Shell Oil president who volunteered as Houston’s Hurricane Harvey recovery czar, will be stepping down from the position he occupied since 2016. He will be replaced by Steve Costello, an engineer and former councilman.