Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition Expresses Serious Concerns about FEMA Activity in Puerto Rico

NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel sent a letter to FEMA Director of Individual Assistance Chris Smith outlining serious concerns with the execution FEMA Individual Assistance (IA) in Puerto Rico. The letter – sent on behalf of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition which includes more than 800 national, state and local organizations, including many organizations working directly with disaster-impacted communities – warns that FEMA has done little to alleviate barriers that prevented many low-income Puerto Ricans from accessing FEMA assistance.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, FEMA did not recognize the local land ownership practices on the island and denied assistance to individuals who owned their homes but who did not have traditional titles to those homes. FEMA staff informed NLIHC that the agency has taken only limited steps in recent months to help Puerto Rican and other survivors overcome this barrier. Moreover, FEMA staff indicated that the agency is actively considering policy changes that could make it more difficult, if not impossible, for future disaster survivors to receive the assistance to which they are entitled. The letter, sent August 15, urges FEMA not to create additional barriers and instead to take all possible steps to allow the most vulnerable survivors access to its programs.

While FEMA staff acknowledge these barriers have impacted the lowest-income survivors in nearly every disaster-impacted community since at least 1995, survivors in Puerto Rico were affected at a much greater scale because of widespread local land-ownership practices. It is estimated that more than 77,000 low-income survivors of Hurricane Maria were denied assistance because of this issue.

Read the full text of the letter at: https://bit.ly/2Hn05Ku