NLIHC Vice President of Public Policy Sarah Saadian testified on November 12 before the Texas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the federal disaster housing response to Hurricane Harvey. The Committee is hosting a series of online public panels to hear testimony examining local, state, and federal emergency response to Hurricane Harvey.
Sarah called attention to how the federal response to Hurricane Harvey failed to address the housing needs of low-income survivors and survivors of color. She spoke about the barriers survivors faced in accessing federal assistance after Hurricane Harvey, noting that low-income households were denied FEMA Individual Assistance at much higher rates than households with higher incomes. In her testimony, Sarah also discussed how FEMA’s refusal to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) after Hurricane Harvey resulted in increased homelessness in Houston. Rather than activating DHAP, which could have provided the lowest-income survivors with the rental assistance and wrap-around services they needed to get back on their feet, FEMA relied on its Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) hotel program and other temporary housing programs that are ill-equipped to address the needs of low-income families. Sarah also highlighted how Texas’s long-term recovery efforts diverted resources away from communities with the greatest needs that have suffered from decades of disinvestment and segregation in favor of whiter, wealthier communities.
In closing, Sarah spoke about the urgent need to reform our nation’s disaster housing response and recovery system to ensure a complete and equitable recovery for the lowest-income survivors, including people of color, people with disabilities, seniors, and others. She spoke about DHRC-supported reform legislation, including the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” which would permanently authorize and reform the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, and the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act,” which would address FEMA’s title documentation requirements that disproportionately harm low-income survivors and survivors of color.
Other panelists included Karen Paup of Texas Housers, Chrishelle Palay of the Houston Organizing Movement for Equity (HOME) Coalition, Sapna Chittur Aiyer of Lone Star Legal Aid, Stephanie Duke of Equal Justice Works, and Rachel Zummo of the Texas Justice Court Training Center.