September 6: Update on Hurricane Harvey housing recovery

The House of Representatives has passed $7.85 billion in funding for immediate Hurricane Harvey relief. It now heads to the Senate, where it will likely be combined with legislation to lift the debt ceiling. While the White House supports combining disaster relief with must-pass debt ceiling legislation, Members of the House Freedom Caucus, including Representative Mark Meadows, will likely oppose it. Congress aims to deliver the first installment of aid by Friday, when FEMA is expected to run out of emergency dollars.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimate of H.R. 3672 making supplemental appropriations for disaster relief.

Meanwhile, HUD Secretary Ben Carson does not believe that the budget cuts requested by the Trump administration are an obstacle to disaster relief.

BY THE NUMBERS:

  • 190,686 individual assistance grants have been approved.
  • $172,463,376 individuals and household program dollars have been approved.

LOCAL RESOURCES AND PERSPECTIVES

  • Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas is providing $6.7 million in grants available to members’ employees, small businesses, and community based organizations involved in recovery efforts.
    • $4.5 million will assist member banks’ employees whose homes were damaged or destroyed. Maximum grant is $10,000. If these funds are not used by November 15, the remainder will be available to assist qualified households in the general public.
    • $2 million will assist small businesses. Maximum grant is $15,000.
    • $225,000 will assist community-based organizations involved with affordable housing to help meet their operating needs while assisting with recovery efforts. Maximum grant is $10,000.
  • Political Climate: Conservative Texan politicians are not letting their political views get in the way of working with the federal government or advocating for federal relief funds.
  • Lone Star Legal Aid: Despite a fire destroying their offices, Lone Star Legal Aid is assisting with FEMA applications and preparing for eventual appeals.
  • Texas Appleseed and National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty: Pre-K through 12th grade students displaced by Hurricane Harvey have the right to attend school. This fact sheet will help parents and students navigate their rights.
  • National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s report on Homeless Education Advocacy Manual provides disaster-specific guidance.
  • Yardi to Donate $1 Million: Santa Barbara-based real estate software developer Yardi has donated $1 million to relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey, and launched a website to help displaced residents find housing. Yardi is using its RENTCafe property marketing and leasing platform to create a housing registry website, to help displaced residents find temporary and permanent homes. There is no charge for housing providers to list their properties or for residents to use it.

HUD:

  • A media release jointly issued by HUD, FEMA, and the Small Business Administration states that those agencies are “focused on identifying strategies to strengthen the housing market, building inclusive and sustainable communities, and integrating disaster mitigation measures into community design and development, to reduce future damages.” The joint letter lists short-term as well as intermediate and long-term housing activities, all of which have been written about in earlier versions of NLIHC’s Hurricane Harvey blog posts.
  • In radio interview, HUD Secretary Ben Carson hopes to “get rid of a lot of the red tape” during efforts to re-house displaced households who rely on HUD-supported housing. He does not see potential budget cuts as an obstacle to disaster relief.

FEMA:

  • Three more State of Texas/FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers are open: one Houston, one in Colorado County in the city of Columbus, and another in Fayette County in the city of La Grange. Earlier in the week a DRC opened in Jackson County in the city of Edna. DRCs offer in-person support to individuals and businesses in the 32 counties in the Texas federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent floods. Recovery specialists from the FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the state, and other interests will be at the centers to talk about assistance and to help anyone who needs guidance in filing an application.

Rural Development (RD):

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, USDA Rural Development (RD) issued a letter outlining ways the agency can provide assistance to homeowners affected by the hurricane. RD also provides assistance for new grants and to help existing loan and grant recipients. RD-assisted homeowners are urged to contact their local Rural Development State Office by email or telephone regarding questions about their loan or grant.

Department of Justice (DOJ):

In a media release, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez announced that representatives from numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey.

“This disaster has brought and will continue to bring unprecedented human and financial loss to our communities, and victims of this event have already suffered staggering devastation,” said Martinez. “The last thing that victims of this damage need is to be victimized again. Under the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, we bring a comprehensive law enforcement focus to combat any criminal activity arising from the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the rebuilding efforts underway.”

The Disaster Fraud Hotline is 1-866-720-5721 and is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The public can also send an email or fax information to 225-334-4707.

In addition, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking Texans to contact their Consumer Protection Division and file a complaint if they feel they have encountered price gouging, have been scammed, or fall victim to a charities fraud. They can call the toll-free hotline at 800-621-0508, send an email or file a complaint on via the web.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS):

  • IRS Notice 2017-48 reminds employers that have adopted or may be considering adopting leave-based donation programs that employees can elect to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer makes to charitable organizations described in 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code. The notice provides guidance for income and employment tax purposes on the treatment of cash payments made by employers under leave-based donation programs.
  • Oklahoma is permitting all owners of low-income housing tax credit (“LIHTC”) properties to provide temporary emergency housing to displaced individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey, in accordance with Revenue Procedures 2014-49 and 2014-50. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) reports that since 1987, more than 28,000 rental units in about 500 properties have been built with LIHTC assistance. A database listing of LIHTC properties is on the OFHA website.

Advocacy:

Twenty-three organizations, including NLIHC, issued a joint statement calling on Congress to swiftly appropriate funds for Hurricane Harvey relief, and to do so with emergency funding that is not offset by cuts to other important programs. They assert that the rebuilding process must result in a smarter and fairer distribution of affordable housing, so that options available to low income people, particularly low income people of color, are not limited to high-poverty, highly segregated, geographically vulnerable neighborhoods. In this regard, Houston must resolve the problems related to the location of its assisted housing that were identified by HUD in its recent Title VI finding. It is essential that those affected have meaningful access to emergency and recovery-related services, including those who are blind, deaf and hard of hearing, and regardless of ability to speak English or citizenship status.

For more information, please contact NLIHC Director of Public Policy Sarah Mickelson (smickelson@nlihc.org) or Senior Advisor Ed Gramlich (ed@nlihc.org).

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