Representatives Fletcher and Williams Introduce Bills to Make Disaster Aid Accessible to Heirs’ Property Owners

Representatives Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) and Nikema Williams (D-GA) introduced the “Heirs Empowerment and Inheritance Rights (HEIR) Act” and the “Heirs’ Estate Inheritance Resolution and Succession (HEIRS) Act” in a single legislative package in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 24. The two bills would make disaster aid accessible to heirs’ property owners. “Heirs’ property” is family land inherited without a will or traditional documentation of ownership. NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) helped draft language in the bills and has endorsed both pieces of legislation.

Federal agencies’ refusal to accept alternative forms of documentation for heirs’ property has been a major barrier for many marginalized groups attempting to access the disaster recovery aid they need. HUD administers the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which provides long-term housing assistance to disaster-impacted households. Currently, many states administering these programs require title documentation from homeowners interested in enrolling in a program, preventing individuals who own their home via heirs’ property from receiving assistance.

Representative Fletcher’s “HEIR Act” would allow homeowners and landlords to use a variety of documentation, instead of only a traditional title, to prove to HUD that they own their property and thus should have access to recovery money. The legislation also directs HUD to create a standardized affidavit of ownership form that will be accepted as ownership documentation and be available in a variety of languages.

“These bills are meaningful steps toward increasing resources and access to justice for heirs’ property owners,” said Congresswoman Fletcher. “We have seen the devastating consequences heirs’ property owners have faced following natural disasters and forced sales of property over many years.”

Representatives Williams’s “HEIRS Act” would create two grant programs for states that adopt the “Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act.” If enacted, the grant programs would fund educational outreach, housing counseling, and legal assistance for heirs’ property owners.

“We have seen the devastating impact on families who can’t get assistance to repair and rebuild their homes after a disaster because they don’t have traditional proof of ownership,” said Madison Sloan, director of disaster recovery and fair housing at Texas Appleseed. “These bills will provide critical help to families across the country so they can stay in their homes, build financial security, and be less vulnerable to the next disaster.”