Government Accountability Office Report Refutes FEMA Claims about Disaster Housing Assistance Program

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on December 15 refuting FEMA’s claim that the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) is less cost-effective than its other housing programs. DHAP – jointly administered by FEMA and HUD – provides disaster survivors with housing assistance vouchers that can be used to access affordable housing both inside and outside a disaster area. While DHAP was used successfully to house low-income disaster survivors by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the past, the program has not been activated for any recent disasters. When confronted by advocates, FEMA maintained DHAP was not cost-efficient and that it provided less assistance than FEMA’s other housing programs, including the Transitional Shelter Assistance Program that provides short-term hotel stays to disaster survivors, and their direct housing assistance programs which provide disaster survivors with temporary manufactured housing units. NLIHC and the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Coalition have been refuting these claims since 2017.

The GAO report found FEMA could not make valid claims regarding the cost-efficiency of DHAP compared to other FEMA disaster housing assistance programs because the data necessary to make these comparisons are not collected by the agency. Further, the report found that while the assistance provided through DHAP varied for each disaster in which it was activated, the program provided as much as 17 percent more assistance to disaster survivors than other FEMA housing programs during past disasters.

This analysis not only bolster advocates’ arguments in favor of DHAP, but also identifies a potential violation of federal regulations. The National Disaster Housing Strategy – which FEMA is required by Congress to follow – states the agency must evaluate the cost-effectiveness of its housing assistance programs when choosing to activate them during disaster recovery efforts. As FEMA is not actively collecting cost-efficiency data, it cannot fulfill its obligations under the strategy. Although FEMA did not plan to collect these data, the report identified several data tracking initiatives due to be implemented by FEMA that could collect information needed to fulfill this requirement. The preliminary response to the report sent to the GAO by the Department of Homeland Security – FEMA’s parent agency – stated it would be the data tracking initiatives.

The DHRC will continue to push for DHAP activation during future disasters.

Read the report at:

Learn more about FEMA’s decision not to activate DHAP after Hurricane Maria at: