Additional Disaster Housing Recovery Updates — September 17

The following is a review of additional housing recovery developments related to Hurricanes Florence, Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the 2017 California wildfires since last week’s Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in last week’s Memo, see 9/10).  NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog.

Federal Response to 2017 Disasters

Congress

  • Twenty-four members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, sent a letter to House Leadership on September 6 opposing H.R. 4557, the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act.” They raised concerns about the appropriateness of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program because it is “fraught with bureaucratic and compliance delays and exorbitant overhead and administrative costs.” The letter commits to working through these issues through a full discussion in committees of jurisdiction. NLIHC and the DHRC support H.R. 4557.
  • Democratic congressional staff published a report on September 6 for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled, A Failure of Oversight: How Republicans Blocked a Credible Investigation of the Trump Administration’s Response to the 2017 Hurricanes. The report compares the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria to the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. An article about the report is available on Vox.com
  • The Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, Evaluating Federal Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts. The GAO report on the federal government’s response to the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires will be discussed at the hearing, which has been postponed from September 13 to a later date due to Hurricane Florence.
  • The Hurricane Maria Conference: Reflecting on Catastrophe and Preparing for the Future will take place on September 20, 2018 from 9:30 am – 2:00 pm at the Capitol Visitor Center, Room 215, in Washington, DC. The conference is hosted by Representatives Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). The conference will feature panelists from a variety of organizations, including NLIHC, the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, the Center for American Progress, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and AirBnB. Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO, will speak at the conference. To RSVP for the event, email CHS.RSVP@mail.house.gov.

FEMA

  • FEMA officially ended assistance through the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program for survivors of Hurricane Maria on Friday, September 14, leaving hundreds of families without shelter. Some state agencies have stepped up with housing resources for the displaced families, but the federal government has yet to act.
  • FEMA outlined in a Fact Sheet the more than $1.4 billion it has obligated for the Individual Assistance (IA) program for more than 463,000 families to help with repair, rebuilding, personal property loss and other non-insured losses from Hurricane Maria.

State Action

  • The Texas General Land Office (GLO) opened a public comment period for residents of Harris County and the City of Houston for an amendment to its State Action Plan for the distribution of $2.3 billion of the more than $5 billion in CDBG-DR funding. The announcement is available here, and the HUD CDBG-DR requirements are available in the Federal Register. NLIHC prepared a summary of the CDBG-DR, in English and with a Spanish translation provide by the Coalición de Coaliciones de Puerto Rico.

Local Perspectives

  • A story in AL DÍA, titled One year after Hurricane Maria: The Long Road to Recovery, features stories of survivors of Hurricane Maria who were displaced by the disaster and relocated to the Philadelphia region.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) posted a short video about FEMA’s poor response to residents of Puerto Rico. The video features two local attorneys describing FEMA’s failures.
  • NBC News interviewed several advocates and survivors of Hurricane Maria, including Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO and other members of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, to share their concerns with the end of the TSA program and recovery efforts one-year after the hurricane.

Resources

  • A webinar, Employment Law Before and After a Disaster is scheduled for Thursday September 20 at 11:00 am ET. The webinar is designed for Equal Justice Works Disaster Recovery Legal Corps fellows. It is open to all advocates and attorneys interested in learning more about employment issues in the context of disaster cleanup, recovery, and disruption of survivors' livelihoods. 
  • The Urban Wire blog, a project of the Urban Institute, featured a post titled, Improving the disaster aid application process will ensure victims aren’t left behind. According to the authors, the complex processes for applying for and determining eligibility for disaster-related aid from federal agencies such as FEMA, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and HUD tend to leave behind individuals with disabilities and/or limited-English proficiency – groups that are already vulnerable and would benefit most from lower barriers. The post includes recommendations for how disaster relief agencies can improve the application process.