Federal Response

Eight Senators introduced the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act of 2018 on May 31, which will require FEMA to enter into an interagency agreement with HUD to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) as may be necessary in any of the 2017 disasters, including Hurricane Maria. This is in response to FEMA’s denying Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello’s request for DHAP five months after it was requested.  In a press release from Senator Warren, NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel offered strong support for the bill on behalf of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition. 

Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) amended a bill to permanently authorize the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. Focused on the equitable distribution of funds, especially for low income households, one of the amendments requires FEMA to share with HUD–and make publicly available–all data collected and analyzed during the course of the disaster recovery.  The markup for the CDBG-DR bill in the House Financial Services Committee is this Thursday, June 7.

Representative Sean Maloney (D-NY) issued a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long urging him to reconsider FEMA’s May 15 denial of Puerto Rico Governor Rossello’s request that DHAP be activated for survivors of Hurricane Maria. In a press release, he noted the swifter provision of disaster relief by FEMA in Texas and Florida compared to that in Puerto Rico.

Fourteen members of Congress sent a letter to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop (R-UT) in response to the recent study that cited over 4,646 deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria. The Members requested the Committee hold a hearing on Puerto Rico to address this new information.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)—covering the period from 2008-2016– found that guidelines for why FEMA accepted or rejected requests for Individual Assistance from states were unclear and inconsistent. It also found that FEMA regions did not consistently obtain and document information on all elements of established IA regulatory factors when making IA recommendations to headquarters.

FEMA representatives are in the greater Houston area to provide expertise and advice on how to protect homes and prepare for the 2018 hurricane season. Locations, dates, and times can be found here.

FEMA spent $74.7 million on a ‘floating hotel’ cruise ship for federal workers in the US Virgin Islands. While the ship was supposed to house 2,056 workers, the average number of nightly passengers was under 800. This came at a rate of $5,959 per person per week, which was entirely paid for with tax-payer dollars.

HUD announced new job opportunities in Houston and San Juan, including Regional Relocation Specialists and Environmental Protection Specialists in the Office of Community Planning and Development.

State Action
The Texas General Land Office (GLO) is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin to conduct research on homeowners and renters to best assess the housing needs of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. This will facilitate the GLO in identifying the best type of housing assistance for individuals receiving CDBG-DR funds. The survey is open for two weeks, beginning on June 4, and can be found here: www.harveysurvey.com.

Local Perspectives
A protest was held outside of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on June 2 demanding an audit on the number of casualties caused by Hurricane Maria. This demonstration was in response to the recently published study which estimated the death toll from Hurricane Maria to be over 4,646 people, despite the official death toll of 64.

Citizens in Puerto Rico also protested the inaccurate death toll by placing shoes to represent those who died from Hurricane Maria In front of the capitol building in San Juan. 

Hurricane Maria tore away over 250,000 roofs, leaving most citizens in substandard living conditions. The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) installed 59,500 tarps (or blue roofs) designed to last only a month, and many survivors were forced to install these tarps without professional assistance. It was reported that only 0.11% of applicants to FEMA’s Individual Housing program received the maximum assistance of $33,000, while most received less than $5000.

It is estimated that one quarter (100,000) of first-lien, home mortgages in Puerto Rico are in some stage of delinquency or foreclosure—well over half of these are hurricane-related. For the third time since Hurricane Maria made landfall, HUD has announced a foreclosure moratorium for survivors across Puerto Rico until August 16.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
WG leaders met by phone with FEMA’s Office of the Chief Counsel in Washington to propose two affidavits designed by leaders in Puerto Rico to address the challenge of survivors without legal title to their property qualifying for assistance.  A second in-person meeting is being scheduled for next week when the FEMA counsel travels to Puerto Rico.
Next meeting:  June 19 at 3:00 pm EDT

Next meeting:  June 26 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
Individuals from the WG combed through FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide draft to identify an initial set of 17 comments.  These will be edited by the larger WG and shared with the entire DHRC for submissions by each organization during the public comment period, ending COB June 7th.
Next meeting:   June 6 at 3:30 PM EDT

The DHRC Policy WG decided to support Representative Wagner’s bill to permanently authorize the CDBG-DR program and to continue to advocate for ways to improve it through the legislative process. If your organization wants to be listed as a supporter of the bill, reach out to Sarah Mickelson (smickelson@nlihc.org). The WG encourages you to reach out to your Representatives–especially if they are on the House Financial Services Committee—and urge them to support the bill scheduled for a vote in committee on June 7.
Next meeting:  June 12, 12:30 EDT

Read previous Disaster Housing Recovery updates at: http://nlihc.org/issues/disaster