As Florida and Puerto Rico continued response and recovery efforts following Hurricanes Ian and Fiona, NLIHC held its second National Disaster Webinar on October 11 to discuss disaster recovery reform efforts and hear from those working in impacted areas. The call featured a rundown of accessible FEMA Individual Assistance Program data and denials by John Laycock of Texas Appleseed. John explained that while application rates were beginning to climb in Florida, the approval rate for FEMA assistance in Puerto Rico remains around 50%. Most troublingly, the denial data shows that title documentation issues are beginning to impact approval rates, recalling the situation following Hurricane Maria, when FEMA denied tens of thousands of applications for assistance because applicants did not have title documentation for their homes (a result of Puerto Rican land ownership practices for hundreds of years).
Mary Williams of the Florida Department of Emergency Management joined the webinar to discuss efforts to respond to the housing needs created by Hurricane Ian in central and southwestern Florida. Mary reiterated that those impacted should be applying for FEMA assistance – even if they were denied assistance during a previous disaster – and stated that Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) would be opening up to help shorten the lengthy wait times being experienced by those calling FEMA.
Finally, Ivis Garcia, a professor at Texas A&M, spoke about her work concerning title issues in Puerto Rico. She detailed how legal aid organizations – such as Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) members Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico and Fundacion Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia – were able to draft declarative statements allowing individuals to attest to ownership over their property, convince FEMA to accept them, and disseminate such forms to disaster survivors. As evidenced by the application data detailed earlier in the webinar, FEMA application denials in Puerto Rico due to title documentation issues remain a problem, and FEMA does not provide information on declarative statements at DRCs or online.
The challenges posed by title documentation requirements in the disaster assistance process are directly addressed by the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act” – one of the DHRC’s top legislative priorities. The bill was recently reintroduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
NLIHC will be hosting a follow up National Disaster Webinar on October 25, with the Disaster Housing Recovery Working Group meeting on October 19 and the Puerto Rico Working Group meeting on October 20.
View slides from the national call at: https://tinyurl.com/5yp776yd
View the national call at: https://tinyurl.com/5c46j5x3
The death toll from Hurricane Ian is currently more than 100, with the majority of deaths resulting from drowning and occurring among those 70 and older.
Ian has been ranked the fifteenth billion-dollar disaster of 2022.
Radar showed harrowing conditions as Hurricane Ian made landfall, picking up fields of debris that were 10 miles wide floating around the eye of the storm.
The Black communities of Dunbar in Fort Meyers and River Park in Naples are calling out the disparities in the response to Hurricane Ian. Many are unable to reach disaster recovery centers to access assistance due to the transportation system being shut down. Residents also state they were not provided evacuation orders or warnings from their respective city officials.
The impact of the storm was so great that Florida is expected to have the smallest orange crop since 1943. Shrimpers are also rushing to save a fleet that was badly damaged by Hurricane Ian.
Florida lawmakers approved an additional $360 million for Hurricane Ian-related expenses. The funds, deposited into the state’s newly created Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund, can be used to pay for debris removal, road repair, and more. Although Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is not currently considering additional requests for funds, legislators from the most impacted areas plan to introduce legislation providing more funds. Senate President Passidomo (R-Naples) noted that “affordable housing has been a huge challenge in Southwest Florida, and the devastation that we’ve seen across our communities amplify these challenges.”
Highlands and Lake counties are now eligible for FEMA assistance following Hurricane Ian. These counties join Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Flagler, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, and Volusia counties, which were previously approved for Individual Assistance.
Employees or self-employed individuals in Puerto Rico who became unemployed as a direct consequence of Hurricane Fiona may be eligible to receive Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). Survivors from all 78 municipalities are eligible to apply for disaster assistance.
FEMA released a fact sheet for survivors of Hurricane Fiona on what to expect during a FEMA Housing Inspection.
Puerto Rico residents affected by Hurricane Fiona can now receive free legal disaster-related assistance to help them through the recovery process. To be eligible for these services, survivors must have been directly affected by the disaster and not have sufficient means to hire an attorney for legal disaster-related issues.
Thousands remain without power weeks after Hurricane Fiona hit the island, with high temperatures, rain, and mosquitoes making life even more unbearable for disaster survivors.
Some Puerto Ricans fear that attention on Hurricane Fiona recovery efforts is already waning, with many organizations facing challenges collecting needed funds and donations.
The impact of Hurricane Fiona is raising concerns that even more Puerto Rican residents will leave for the mainland amid a failed disaster recovery, a housing crisis, and faulty infrastructure.
Additional FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers have opened in Yauco, Barranquitas, Río Grande, Barceloneta, Orocovis, Patillas, and San Juan.
Additional updates can be found below.
State and Local
FEMA has established a new Alaska-specific Disaster Assistance Hotline for residents who experienced damage or loss following September’s severe storm and accompanying flooding and landslides. Residents have until November 22 to apply for FEMA assistance.
A massive building fire in northern Phoenix on October 6 displaced 80 residents.
United Way of Northern California (UWNC) is partnering with Tri Counties Bank to raise $3 million dollars for wildfire victims through its Wildfire Relief Campaign. The funds will go towards relief and recovery for wildfire victims in Northern California. In 2022 alone, wildfires have destroyed over 400 structures, burned over 20,000 acres, and killed 6 people.
Bonners Ferry Ranger District officials reported on October 11 that they are continuing to monitor wildfires in the region after a minor storm was expected to increase wildfire activity. A response team is set to assess the burned areas.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky awarded more than $5.3 million in grants to families, nonprofits, small businesses, and family farms impacted by deadly flash flooding in eastern Kentucky over two months ago. Of the funds awarded, $1,200,000 was awarded to build 16 houses in Letcher, Knott, Perry, and Breathitt counties.
Mayfield Graves County Long Term Recovery Group has received a $250,000 donation for its Home for the Holidays housing project to renovate homes for tornado survivors.
The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky (FAKY) and non-profit housing developers have partnered to create high quality homes for survivors of recent flooding in the hardest-hit counties of Breathitt, Knott, Letcher, and Perry.
State and community leaders meet in Las Vegas to discuss how $2.5 billion for wildfire recovery will be spent to support those affected by the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire. New Mexicans who were affected can apply for funds to support recovery efforts through FEMA, though no application period has been established yet. Grants from the Las Vegas New Mexico Community Foundation’s wildfire relief fund have been awarded for recovery needs, such as reoccupying or replacing homes and flood mitigation.
HUD approved $422 million to support wildfire recovery from the Almeda and south Obenchain fires in Oregon. The funds will be disbursed through “ReOregon” to support community recovery to fund planning, infrastructure, and economic revitalization, with most of the funds helping house individual survivors.
The Austin City Council’s Mobility Committee continues to refine the regional response and evacuation plan in the event of a wildfire. Austin’s Fire Department (AFD) will make initial assessments if a wildfire is reported. Together with law enforcement, AFD will then assist with evacuation if necessary.