NLIHC, the New Jersey Resource Project, and a number of other New Jersey-based organizations sent a letter to FEMA on December 2 raising concerns about the lack of rental assistance being provided to survivors of Hurricane Ida in the state. To date, FEMA has approved only 172 New Jersey residents for rental assistance beyond two months (known as “continued rental assistance.”)
Continued rental assistance is available to disaster survivors who remain without housing after two initial months of assistance because affordable rental housing remains unavailable to renters in the disaster-impacted area or repairs on disaster-damaged homes remain in progress. In order to apply for continued rental assistance, disaster survivors must submit an additional application form and evidence that their disaster-damaged residence or rental housing is unavailable. While FEMA has historically interpreted its policy regarding continued rental assistance very stringently to prevent survivors from receiving this form of assistance, the approval numbers in New Jersey are exceptionally low. As a result, families impacted by Ida have struggled to find affordable housing in their areas. Many homeowners have faced a choice between remaining in homes left uninhabitable after Ida or attempting to pay both rent and their mortgage simultaneously. This continues to result in displacement, extreme housing cost burdens, and in the worst cases homelessness.
“FEMA programs can provide crucial assistance to help survivors recover from a disaster by providing temporary shelter and financial assistance and making basic structural repairs to homes,” reads the letter. “However, FEMA has created unnecessary and often insurmountable barriers to accessing these programs, leaving far too many survivors without the resources they need to rebuild their lives.”
The letter requests that FEMA:
- Reopen Individual and Households Program (IHP) applications for families wishing to apply for continued rental assistance.
- Provide retroactive assistance from the point of eligibility in cases where a household has been unjustly denied continued rental assistance.
- Immediately assign case managers to Hurricane Ida survivors and require that they help survivors utilize all aid for which they are eligible.
- Extend the period of assistance for Hurricane Ida to ensure that households can utilize FEMA housing programs as their homes are repaired or as they find acceptable alternative permanent housing.
- Remove barriers to continued rental assistance during future disasters through administrative action.
- Activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) in conjunction with HUD. Given the difficulties in accessing FEMA assistance and housing resources in impacted areas, FEMA should immediately move to provide this less-burdensome, longer-term assistance in conjunction with HUD, the only federal agency that has robust housing experience assisting households at risk of homelessness.
Read the letter at: https://bit.ly/3FiWrjj