Temporary Shelter Assistance and Other Housing Options Provided to Residents of Puerto Rico

The following are updates on hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico related to Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s request for FEMA to approve Temporary Sheltering Assistance (TSA) to provide residents with temporary hotel vouchers and FEMA’s subsequent announcement about the Puerto Rico TSA program and other housing options available to the residents of the island.

Puerto Rico Governor Rosselló Requests TSA

In an October 25 letter to the FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer linked in a news article published by Bloomberg News, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló asked FEMA to approve Temporary Sheltering Assistance (TSA) to provide residents with temporary hotel vouchers. The letter states that Hurricane Maria destroyed more than 300,000 homes and damaged many more. “Many of our citizens face the daunting task of finding a safe place for their families to stay at a time when there is a severe shortage of housing options due to the catastrophic disaster,” Governor Rosselló stated. He stressed the importance of Puerto Ricans remaining or returning to the island as critical to its recovery and urged that “any government assistance should not encourage people to relocate permanently.”

The governor requested:

  • TSA be made available for a period not to exceed 60 days or until additional on-island housing resources become available.
  • FEMA authorize assistance through the Individual and Household Program to contribute to the cost of repatriating residents who have left the island to enable them to return before the expiration of the TSA program.
  • FEMA immediately activate the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program to deliver temporary repair assistance for those whose homes can be quickly repaired so that they can return home sooner. The STEP Pilot Program was designed by FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The program was primarily intended to provide essential power to affected residences, reducing the demand for other shelter options and allowing individuals to return to or remain in their homes. In addition, STEP enables residents to return to or remain in their homes while permanent repairs are completed, thereby reducing the number of individuals in congregate shelters or in the TSA Program.
  • FEMA immediately approve permanent or semi-permanent housing construction assistance so that residents can move quickly to reconstruct their homes and return to Puerto Rico.
  • FEMA and other federal agencies move their personnel out of hotels and apartments into alternative housing locations such as ships or government-developed base camps.

After receiving the letter, HUD, FEMA, and staff from the White House met to discuss next steps in meeting the housing needs of Puerto Ricans both on and off the island. Over 70,000 people have left Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit, and tens of thousands more are expected to move to the mainland. The purpose of the meeting was to consider a number of potential options including mass evacuation opportunities via cruise ships and the TSA program to give people hotel vouchers for short-term stays in or outside Puerto Rico. HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program was also discussed.

FEMA Makes TSA Available for Puerto Rico

FEMA announced on October 30 that (TSA) is now available to Puerto Ricans unable to return to their homes due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Transitional Sheltering Assistance allows eligible applicants to shelter in a hotel or motel for a limited period of time, as a FEMA pays all costs for rooms and taxes through direct payments to participating hotels and motels. For those currently in Puerto Rico:

  • Consistent with the Governor’s request, FEMA will prioritize placements for those currently residing in emergency shelters.
  • FEMA will provide transportation to select locations in the continental United States, where people will be connected with support services and lodging. 
  • Transportation also will be provided for people to return to Puerto Rico.

Additional Housing Options Available

FEMA also announced on October 30 that a variety of housing programs in addition to the TSA program would be available for residents of Puerto Rico. Among the housing programs available are:

    • Tu Hogar Renace (Your Home Reborn): Managed by the government of Puerto Rico, a homeowner’s primary residence may be eligible for assistance for repairs to return the home to safe, habitable, and functional conditions. Work includes repairs to keep roofs from leaking, replacement of damaged windows and doors, repairs to damaged walls, and water heaters.
    • Direct Lease: Vacant units are leased by FEMA and used as temporary housing for disaster survivors. FEMA pays the rent for these units. Utility costs and other expenses not covered in the lease are the responsibility of the household.
    • Multi-Family Lease and Repair (MLR): FEMA identifies and prepares existing vacant rental properties to house survivors in multifamily residential units. Vacant units are leased by FEMA and are used as temporary housing for disaster survivors. FEMA pays the rent for these units. Utility costs and other expenses are the responsibility of the disaster survivor.