NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel sent a letter on behalf of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on May 31 calling on the agency to waive rent collections for survivors of Hurricane Laura currently in FEMA-owned temporary housing units in Louisiana and to implement a similar pause later in the year for survivors of Hurricanes Delta and Irma. FEMA assistance programs have a statutory limit of 18 months following the date of a disaster, but FEMA can waive the deadline and supply assistance beyond that date. When 18 months have elapsed, federal law gives the agency the option of charging rent to disaster survivors who remain in FEMA-owned units.
Nearly 1,700 Hurricane Laura survivor households were informed earlier in March that the 18-month deadline had occurred and that agency would begin to charge them the Fair Market Rents (FMRs) for their units – the highest possible rent FEMA could make them pay under law. While disaster survivors were informed of their right to appeal the amount of rent being charged, rent must continue to be paid throughout the process or otherwise collected as a lump sum upon the conclusion of the appeal. Disaster survivor households remaining in FEMA-owned units are among the lowest-income disaster survivors.
In response to FEMA’s decision, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and John Kennedy (R-LA) and Representative Clay Higgins (R-LA) wrote a letter to FEMA Administrator Criswell requesting the agency reverse the decision and waive rental payments through the end of October – when the program is expected to be closed. NLIHC partner the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center also sent a letter regarding the decision to FEMA Region 6 – which administers FEMA programs in Louisiana. The letters both from NLIHC and the DHRC and from the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center ask FEMA to waive rental payments for a similar time period for Hurricane Delta and Hurricane Ida survivors.
“One of the top priorities after a disaster must be ensuring all displaced survivors have a safe, accessible, and affordable place to live while they recover,” wrote Diane Yentel in NLIHC’s letter. “Far too many Hurricane Laura survivors, however, are struggling to access safe, accessible homes. Your decision to have FEMA charge survivors rent without sufficient alternative supports in place will only make it harder for the lowest-income and most marginalized survivors to recover and runs counter to FEMA’s recent public commitment to uphold equity throughout its programs.”
Read the NLIHC letter here: https://bit.ly/379BOY7
Read Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center’s letter here: https://bit.ly/3NREcE2