FEMA Individual Assistance Staff Attend Disaster Housing Recovery Working Group Meeting to Discuss Reforms

Chris Smith, director of the Individual Assistance Division at the Office of Response and Recovery, Recovery Directorate at FEMA, and additional members of the FEMA Individual Assistance team met with the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition’s Disaster Recovery Working Group on October 26 to discuss recent and upcoming reform efforts. The discussion comes on the heels of recent reforms by FEMA that were pushed by the DHRC, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY).

The reforms address the requirement that disaster survivors submit formal title and lease documentation to access assistance. This requirement has effectively barred low-income homeowners – predominantly households of color – from receiving the FEMA Individual Assistance for which they were eligible. These requirements most prominently impacted residents living in mobile homes and heirship property owners. Under FEMA’s new policy, 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.

Chris Smith and the Individual Assistance team announced that they will be modifying the FEMA application process to allow home or unit inspections for disaster damage to occur simultaneously or prior to verification of occupancy or ownership – allowing applications to move forward more quickly. In addition, they announced that FEMA would be looking at an additional element of the application process often cited as a major barrier to assistance: the requirement that applicants apply for disaster recovery loans with the Small Business Administration (SBA) before having their applications processed. Chris Smith said the agency would begin removing this requirement for individuals below certain incomes. They also announced that FEMA is internally reviewing letters sent to disaster survivors and working towards the release of new, simplified language next year.

The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) is a group of over 850 local, state, and national organizations working in disaster recovery and housing to ensure that all disaster survivors – including those with the lowest incomes – receive the assistance they need to fully recover. The DHRC holds weekly calls to hear updates from members on disaster recovery efforts from around the country, share best practices, and stay up to date on the latest federal changes to the disaster recovery response framework.

Join the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition at: https://bit.ly/3EsLzMq

Register for weekly Disaster Recovery Working Group meetings at: https://bit.ly/3w1P1e3