Survivors of California Wildfires Lack Adequate Housing Assistance

Both the Camp and Woolsey fires in California have been completely contained. After more than two weeks of burning, the Camp Fire destroyed or damaged over 14,000 homes, displacing tens of thousands of people in the state.

An article from ThinkProgress states that, as of November 20, only 49 households had been approved for the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, even though more than 17,000 people have applied for housing assistance. The TSA program pays for survivors to stay at one of the nine participating hotels within a 50-mile radius of Paradise, CA. In a recent fact sheet, FEMA shared information on available housing options, including TSA and rental assistance, which provides up to one month of rental assistance at the fair market rents. FEMA also states that it is working with state agencies to review available housing options but does not confirm that it will provide any direct housing (RVs, manufactured units, etc.).

Given the limited housing assistance currently available, many survivors are staying in shelters or in tent cities in parking lots. Shelters near impacted areas are overcrowded, allowing sickness to quickly spread. California is already facing an extreme housing shortage, especially for those with the lowest incomes, and finding affordable housing will become even more difficult following the deadliest and most destructive fire in the state’s history. The executive director of the county’s housing authority told the Sacramento Bee, “We have 6,000, possibly 7,000 households who have been displaced and who realistically don’t stand a chance of finding housing again in Butte County. I don’t even know if these households can be absorbed in California.”

The Hill published on November 26 an op-ed by Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO, about the Trump administration’s failure to adequately respond to the disaster housing crisis caused by the California wildfires and hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, the Carolinas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. She urges action, stating, “The next Congress must do what the current Congress has not: hold the administration accountable and ensure that low-income disaster survivors are provided with stable, affordable homes so they can recover.”