Federal Response

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) called on Senate leadership in a letter to take up two bills to help hurricane survivors find safe and affordable housing. The Disaster Housing Assistance Act (S.2880) requires FEMA to provide disaster housing assistance through February 2019; the Disaster Displacement Act (S.2066) provides additional Section 8 housing vouchers to areas receiving an influx of disaster victims.

Representative Bennie Thompson (R-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to the President and CEO of the American Red Cross (ARC) expressing concern over reports about its lack of organization and inadequate resources to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.   Given that the ARC is chartered by Congress, Mr. Thompson requested a written response to several questions aimed at ensuring the organization has assessed these shortcomings and implemented responsive changes.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long encouraging him to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to provide affordable housing for survivors of Hurricane Maria. An estimated 300 families are still living in hotels through FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, which is scheduled to end on June 30.

In its 2019 appropriations bill, the Senate Committee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) directs HUD to report to the House and Senate committees on appropriations what steps it will take to operationalize its Office of Disaster and Emergency Management.  As part of the National Disaster Recovery Framework, HUD is required to coordinate recovery and preparedness activities with federal, state and local partners and to facilitate the delivery of federal funding to implement sustainable and resilient housing solutions for disaster-affected areas. The Office was established by HUD to address this requirement, but little progress has been made towards implementation.  HUD was given 30 days from enactment of the bill to show how it will improve its overall response to emergencies and disaster.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs passed the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (S.3041), introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).   It amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to provide for disaster recovery reforms, including an increase in post-disaster data transparency. It also allows states to administer temporary housing assistance programs. Instead of FEMA or HUD If passed, the amendments will apply to each major disaster and emergency declared by the President on or after August 1, 2017.

Representatives Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced legislation to establish a “9/11-style” independent commission to investigate the federal response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico.  The commission would look at issues around the inaccurate death toll and the inadequate federal response—among others. Ms. Velázquez stated, “Thousands of our fellow American citizens perished in this catastrophe.  We need an independent, nonpartisan panel to fully investigate and bring all the facts to light.”

USDA has extended the moratorium on property foreclosures in Presidentially Declared Disaster (PDD) areas impacted by Hurricane Maria until September 17, 2018. This includes new and already-initiated foreclosures.

The deadline for survivors of Hurricane Maria to apply for individual assistance from FEMA was June 18. A Slate article found that about 60% of applications in Puerto Rico had been denied–many because families could not prove homeownership.

Local Perspectives
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has released a report, “The Housing Crisis in Puerto Rico and the Impact of Hurricane Maria.”  This policy brief looks at the Puerto Rican housing crisis since the island’s economic recession began in 2006 through the 2017 landfall of Hurricane Maria.

Tom Perez, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, wrote an op. ed. for Univision about barriers facing Puerto Ricans in Florida and on the island. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) gave a $100,000 grant to the Florida Democratic Party in May to provide support as well as register displaced Puerto Ricans to vote.  Meeting with families in central Florida–who expressed gratitude for the hospitality they have received–Mr. Perez said, “However, unless there are concrete actions by the federal government to extend housing assistance and grant more resources, their future is as uncertain as the day Hurricane Maria made landfall.”

Habitat for Humanity is looking for an Advocacy and Government Relations Consultant in Puerto Rico to support its advocacy work on the island. 

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas (FHLB) has set aside $500,000 of its 2018 Affordable Housing Program funds for the Disaster Rebuilding Assistance program. Through member institutions, it provides funds for the repair and rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing affected by a disaster. The county or parish, in which the homeowner resides, must have been approved for FEMA’s Individual Assistance no earlier than March 12, 2017.

The National Center on Law & Elder Rights hosted a June 20 webinar on Assisting Older Homeowners After a Natural Disaster.  A link to the webinar slides can be reviewed here, and an issue brief on the subject is shared here.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
WG leaders in Puerto Rico hosted two meetings last week on the island.  A FEMA Office of Chief Counsel attorney traveled from Washington to work with the group on a uniform, written statement that FEMA will acknowledge in lieu of title documents for proof of ownership. And the second meeting was with HUD Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude, Congresswoman Jennifer González-Colon, and Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Housing Fernando Gil Enseñat.
Next meeting:  July 17 at 3:00 pm EDT

Members of this WG with an expertise in social media have laid out a series of steps to establish a disaster-recovery guest-blog through the 2018 hurricane season that features the stories of individual survivors from the 2017 disasters.
Next meeting:  June 25 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
This WG is converting items from its list for a possible FOIA request into a GAO request for consideration by Ranking Member Bennie Thompson of the House Homeland Securities Committee.
Next meeting:   July 11 at 3:30 PM EDT

This WG is preparing a sign-on letter opposing Section 11 of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, which gives jurisdiction to states to administer temporary housing assistance programs—among other concerns.
Next meeting:  June 26, 12:30 PM EDT

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