Updates on Hurricane Housing Recovery

The following is a review of developments related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and to disaster recovery efforts since last week’s Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in last week’s Memo, see 9/11). NLIHC has created a Hurricane Housing Recovery email distribution list and sends out multiple updates each week. NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog. If you would like to be added to the distribution list, please contact Diane Yentel at: dyentel@nlihc.org


CONGRESS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated on September 11: “Congress passed a critical down payment on disaster relief [on September 9]. If more assistance is required due to Irma, we are ready to do what is needed.” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also stated a willingness to speedily pass new relief funding, if necessary.


CDBG-DR

Congress appropriated $7.4 billion for CDBG Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) money for designated disasters in 2017, including Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Implementation of appropriated CDBG-DR will be through Federal Register notices that are treated as regulations. HUD is in the process of drafting a Federal Register notice.

Advocates in states impacted by the hurricanes will want to be familiar with CDBG-DR so that they can effectively influence state and local CDBG-DR-required Action Plans.

HUD’s CDBG-DR webpage has materials developed for previous disaster situations which are relevant today. Although written for state and local officials responsible for the use of CDBG-DR funds, everyone active in their communities would benefit from a familiarity with these materials.

  • The CDBG-DR Toolkit has a section for launching a CDBG-DR program and a section for implementation. The latter touches on topics pertaining to multifamily rental housing, small rental rehabilitation, homeowner repairs, and other forms of recovery assistance.
  • The Disaster Recovery Homelessness Toolkit has three guides:
      • The Local Planning Guide is designed to help ensure a community’s disaster plan addresses the needs of homeless and other vulnerable populations.
      • The Response Guide has suggestions for strengthening a community’s entire disaster response effort by addressing the needs of its most vulnerable community members.
      • The Recovery Guide addresses the fact that returning a homeless or precariously housed household to the same condition they had before the disaster is a missed opportunity for both the household and the community.
  • The 2016 CDBG-DR Webinar Series has eight webinars including one that provides an overview of CDBG-DR and one on public participation CDBG-DR Action Plans.
  • The 2017 CDBG-DR Problem Solving Clinics include one about “the basics” and other important topics such as the Uniform Relocation Act, environmental reviews, and sub-recipients.

HURRICANE IRMA

Florida

Six amendments were made to the initial disaster declaration, enabling renters, homeowners, and business owners in 46 counties to apply for FEMA Individual Assistance (IA). The Seminole Tribe declaration of emergency now has a FEMA Hurricane Irma webpage (EM-3388). The Hollywood Indian Reservation is eligible to apply for Public Assistance (PA).

FEMA outreach teams are canvasing the designated counties to help residents register for disaster assistance, to provide application updates, and to make referrals to additional community resources. FEMA has contracted housing inspectors to assess damage to homes for those who have already registered with FEMA.

Operation Blue Roof, carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provides eligible homeowners with free, temporary blue plastic sheeting to help reduce further property damage until permanent roof repairs can be made. Roofs with 50% or more structural damage, however, are not eligible. This activity is currently taking place in Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties.

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation (Florida Housing, the Housing Finance Agency) is suggesting that residents displaced by Hurricane Irma search for available rental housing using www.FloridaHousingSearch.org. Property owners and managers are urged to help by adding and/or updating their listing of available rental units by clicking here to log into their account with SocialServe, or call them toll-free at 1-(877)-428-8844 for assistance. Florida Housing reminds owners and managers that properties in Florida Housing’s portfolio are required to list with the Locator.

U.S. Virgin Islands

In the Virgin Islands, the public housing authority has nine public housing communities on St. Thomas with 1,472 units. One development, TuTu High Rise with 300 units, was devastated; approximately 100 units are uninhabitable. Other public housing units were badly damaged. The Virgin Islands Housing Authority is working with HUD to secure emergency vouchers to relocate residents.

Puerto Rico 

More municipalities (municipios) were added to the list of designated areas eligible for disaster assistance. People in Canovanas and Loiza are now eligible to apply for Individual Assistance (IA). Ten additional municipalities may apply for Public Assistance (PA) and Hazard Mitigation Grants (HMG).

Alabama

President Trump made an emergency declaration for all 67 Alabama counties and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on September 11. This authorizes FEMA to provide emergency protective measures (Category B), including direct federal assistance under the Public Assistance (PA) program with the federal government covering 75% of the cost. FEMA has an Alabama Hurricane Irma webpage (EM-3389).  Warren Riley was named the Federal Coordinating Officer.

Georgia

Two amendments were made to the initial emergency declaration, one on September 10 and another on September 11, enabling an additional 129 counties eligible to apply for Public Assistance (PA).

HUD

HUD issued a Situation Report on September 13. Highlights include:

  • The total number of HUD-assisted Multifamily properties, number of units in those properties, and the number of HUD-assisted units are listed for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico South Carolina, Tennessee, and the Virgin Islands. No damage assessments are presented.
  • Scattered-site vacation villas are being identified in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico for potential use as housing for local government employees. Also, 89 units on the east coast of Puerto Rico are undergoing Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections.
  • Some PHAs in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina have sent damage reports; most seem to be relatively minor water damage or fallen-tree damage to a modest number of units. Miami-Dade and Hialeah are still assessing damage.
  • Information from the Seminole Nation of Florida is provided. Six shelters are open (but two have leaks) housing about 85 people. Public safety buildings at Hollywood, Big Cypress, and Brighton have roof damage beyond repair. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama reports no damage.
  • The Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) has capacity to issue vouchers, but suitable units are not likely to be available on the island. Families will need to “port” vouchers to St. Croix, Puerto Rico, or to PHAs on the mainland. PIH estimates VIHA has budget authority for approximately 100 vouchers for immediate issuance. PIH staff are not yet aware of what emergency transportation resources be available through FEMA. Cruise ships are evacuating residents of the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico and Miami, but PIH has not seen this service offered to public housing residents. Coordination of transportation options is needed.
  • Only 50% of VIHA staff in St. Thomas have been accounted for, and they need help with basic necessities.

USDA

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approved a temporary waiver and supported other actions that will help households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Florida, Georgia, and the Virgin Islands and in the Nutrition Assistance Program in Puerto Rico to access food in the wake of Hurricane Irma, including:

  • Allowing SNAP participants in Florida and the Virgin Islands to buy hot foods and hot ready-to-eat foods with their benefits through September 30 in Florida and November 13 in the Virgin Islands.
  • Supporting Florida’s plan to issue all September SNAP benefits on September 7 and Georgia’s plan to issue all remaining benefits for September on September 10. Both actions will ensure families have access to their monthly benefits sooner.
  • Supporting Puerto Rico’s action to issue all September Nutrition Assistance Program benefits on September 5.

FNS is working closely with the affected states and territories to be ready, if appropriate, to make use of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to offer continuing food assistance after commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are able to prepare food at home.

Local Perspectives

Any person experiencing homelessness that does not willingly go to a storm shelter may be detained at a psychiatric institution. Dade County is invoking the Baker Act to hold at least six people against their will. NARPA has issued a statement opposing this practice.

While wealthier Miami residents have the luxury of generators and storm proof windows, low income residents lack these resources. Historically, county and city relief efforts reach these communities slowly.

With the closure of a public housing development due to potential mold concerns, residents, many of whom are older Latinos, are left at the mercy of local agencies. Public transportation in the county has been halted, so these residents are left with few options.

An estimated 25% of homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed with another 65% suffering major damage. Road blockades into the Keys have been lifted, allowing residents to return to their homes. Jacksonville and Charleston, SC are also dealing with flooding. Authorities rescued almost 400 people in Jacksonville on September 13.

Manufactured homes were some of the most impacted by the storm, but as many as 50% of these homes may lack insurance.

An estimated 80% of structures on the island of St. John have suffered extensive damage. The U.S. military has deployed service members to help with relief efforts, and supplies from the mainland are being delivered. Food and other resources remain limited.

Reports indicate that federal prisons in Texas and Florida may not have been evacuated, unlike state prisons.

While most of Puerto Rico escaped Hurricane Irma’s power, much of the capital city of San Juan is still without power.

Many Floridians remain without any electricity, internet, or cell phone service. Authorities are working to restore power, especially because the high heat and humidity create health concerns. Power outages have also been reported in Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama.

Certain Georgia residents have been hit twice with flooding. Many were still recovering from damages related to last year’s Hurricane Matthew when Irma brought on additional flooding.


HURRICANE HARVEY

FEMA

By the Numbers: (As of Friday morning)

  • 222,959 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $342,531,816 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $214,450,142 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $128,081,674 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
  • Public Assistance (PA) no longer indicated

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

In partnership with the state, FEMA is hiring workers across Texas for administrative, logistical, and technical jobs related to hurricane recovery. Jobs posted recently pay between $14 and $34 per hour. Some of the jobs include: administrative support assistant, civil engineer, communications specialist, construction cost estimator, courier, crisis counselor, customer service specialist, environmental specialist, floodplain management specialist, graphics specialist, hazard mitigation outreach specialist, historic preservation specialist, registered nurse, voluntary agency liaison, among others. Those interested should register at WorkinTexas.com, the Texas Workforce Commission’s website, where application instructions are posted. FEMA will announce more jobs soon.

FEMA has issued a number of Fact Sheets, including:

  • A FEMA Fact Sheet reminds renters that they could be eligible for disaster recovery assistance from FEMA and SBA. Renters may be eligible for FEMA grants to help with such disaster-related expenses as:Renting a home when the renter’s previous one is uninhabitable due to the disaster.
    • Disaster-related medical and dental expenses.
    • Replacement or repair of necessary personal property lost or damaged in the disaster, such as appliances and furniture, textbooks and computers used by students, and work equipment or tools used by those who are self-employed.
    • Repair or replacement of vehicles damaged by the disaster.
    • Disaster-related funeral and burial expenses.

FEMA grants do not have to be repaid. They are not taxable income and will not affect eligibility for Social Security, Medicaid, welfare assistance, SNAP benefits, and several other programs. Renters may qualify for low-interest SBA loans of up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property.

  • A FEMA Fact Sheet provides guidance regarding SBA loan applications. It indicates that after someone applies for FEMA disaster assistance, they might be contacted by SBA and asked to submit an application for a low-interest SBA disaster loan. Eligible households do not have to accept an SBA loan.

Those who do not qualify for an SBA loan will be referred back to FEMA for consideration for other FEMA grants or Other Needs Assistance (ONA) which covers items such as disaster-related car repairs, clothing, household items and other expenses. Households cannot be considered for these FEMA grants unless an SBA loan application is submitted. However, some types of Other Needs Assistance, such as medical, dental, and funeral expenses do not depend on completing the SBA application.

The filing deadline to return SBA loan applications for property damage is October 24, 2017, and the deadline to return economic injury applications is May 25, 2018.

  • A FEMA Fact Sheet explains that FEMA:
    • Can provide sign language interpreters and materials in alternate formats, such as Braille, large print and electronic formats.
    • Has amplified telephones, phones that display text, and amplified listening devices for people with hearing loss. Magnifiers are available for people with vision loss.
    • Makes Video Remote Interpreting available at Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs), and in-person sign language is available by request. DRCs also have accessible parking, ramps, and restrooms.
    • If FEMA is participating in a local event, anyone has the right to request reasonable accommodations to support their communication needs. FEMA can provide services such as sign language interpretation and captioning if a request is made through the meeting or event host.
  • A FEMA Fact Sheet explains “substantial damage” in the context of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The decision about a structure being “substantially damaged” is made at a local government level, generally by a building official or floodplain manager.

Substantial damage applies to a structure in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) - a 1%-annual-chance floodplain - for which the total cost of repairs is 50% or more of the structure’s market value before the disaster occurred, regardless of the cause of damage. This percentage could vary among jurisdictions, but must not be below NFIP standards.

If a building in a floodplain is determined by the local official to be substantially damaged, it must be brought into compliance with local floodplain management regulations. Owners may decide to elevate their structures, change them in some other way to comply with local floodplain regulations and avoid future losses, or relocate or demolish the structure.

HUD

  • HUD issued a second Situation Report on September 13. Highlights include:
    • FEMA is involved with relocating public housing residents in the Dallas Shelter.
    • Evacuees from the Beaumont area are returning via buses provided by FEMA.
    • While 11 Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are open, the governor, state Emergency Management director, and the FEMA federal coordinating officer are pressing to speed up opening more DRCs. HUD anticipates many more DRCs will open in the next week.
    • By October 1, HUD will have more than 40 staff on the ground.
    • HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) indicates that data for FEMA Individual Assistance (IA) applicants and awards and for Preliminary Disaster Assessments (PDAs) will be provided as they become available.
    • HUD is beginning to draft a Federal Register notice that will govern the use of CDBG-DR funds.
    • HUD reports that FEMA “may have asked” the Houston Housing Authority (HHA) to serve up to 700 new, non-HUD assisted persons currently in shelters. Prior to the hurricane, however, HHA’s voucher program had a substantial shortfall and was financially oversubscribed. HUD is requesting that FEMA first make such requests to HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH).

USDA

Texans recovering from Hurricane Harvey could be eligible for disaster food benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through the availability of Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP) announced on September 11 by USDA and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. D-SNAP-eligible households in the affected areas will receive two months of benefits, equivalent to the maximum benefits normally issued to SNAP households of their size, to meet their food needs as they settle back home following the disaster. To be eligible for D-SNAP, a household must live in an identified disaster area, have been affected by the disaster, and meet certain D-SNAP eligibility criteria. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will announce D-SNAP dates and locations through local media.

TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT (TDHCA)

TDHCA requested and received Governing Board approval to re-program available funds, including HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) funds, to provide disaster-related assistance. The general set-aside for the outstanding 2017-1 Multifamily Direct Loan NOFA is being reduced, and $9,086,316 in general set-aside funds for which no applications have been submitted is transferred to the current HOME Disaster Reservation Fund, also known as the Disaster Relief Set-Aside. There is approximately $2 million currently available; therefore, approximately $11 million in total HOME funding will be available for this purpose.

Local Perspectives

  • Many in the Houston area remain displaced, staying at a shelter or loved ones’ homes. Over 1,000 remained at the George R. Brown Convention Center as of Friday, September 8. Others have been forced to return to their water-damaged home, despite health risks.
  • Landlords are evicting tenants because of water damage to the units. Many residents have evacuated to Dallas and are unaware of the eviction. Large numbers of evictions will cause a housing shortage in the city.
  • People in the Houston area have been scrambling to rent any available units, especially because many properties were offering several months of free rent. Homes for sale, especially raised homes, are also in high demand with prices rising accordingly.
  • Due to the housing shortage, Houston, a city that has remained relatively affordable despite rapid growth, may see housing prices rise over the next few years.
  • The mayor of Port Arthur has announced that two floating barges with living quarters and laundry facilities will help house those left homeless after Harvey. The barges will also provide three meals per day.
  • An estimated 300,000 mortgage borrowers will become delinquent on their loans in FEMA-designated disaster areas.
  • Testing of Houston floodwaters, organized by the New York Times, found dangerously high levels of bacteria and toxins caused by sewage contamination. Contamination levels were higher inside homes, so extreme caution around floodwater or the resulting sediment is necessary to avoid infection. 
  • A group has recruited members of Nashville’s homeless community to work on clean-up efforts. They are being asked to work 12 hours a day, six days a week. Advocates are concerned about security and safety issues.
  • Houston Mayor Turner is advocating for a physical coastal barrier that would protect the region from storm surges.
  • Many small town ranchers and farmers have lost both their homes and their livelihoods to flooding that has killed livestock and destroyed crops.
  • Officials from Louisiana are using their experiences with last year’s floods to assist Texas with the process of re-housing people, including providing insight to their Shelter at Home program and their work with FEMA.