Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) wrote a letter to Kathy Kraninger, Program Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), expressing concern over her role in the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria. They are demanding documentation related to her oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, HUD, and the Department of Treasury.

HUD
HUD approved the U.S. Virgin Islands’ disaster recovery plan for $243 million in CDBG-DR funds.  This allocation includes $5 million for rental rehabilitation and reconstruction, $32 million for public and affordable housing development, $15 million for supportive housing and sheltering programs, and $125.5 million for infrastructure.

The Puerto Rico Department of Housing (PRDOH) has posted over 300 pages of public comments and PRDOH responses relative to its CDBG-DR Action Plan. In response to a letter sent on behalf of the DHRC, PRDOH added a rental assistance program for the elderly, a definition of vulnerable population, and a Title Clearance Program. 

Local Perspectives
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has announced a new $1 million case management program aiming to connect displaced Puerto Ricans with housing, social services, and employment opportunities. Governor Cuomo, in a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, urged the federal government to activate DHAP and extend TSA.

A mayor and two former government officials allegedly used nearly $5 million in federal funds to illegally pay the town’s public employees and municipal contractors. This includes $2.5 million in HUD funding in October 2014, and the officials have now been arrested.

Resources
The National Disaster Legal Aid Advocacy Center has released a guide for quicker reference points in a recording of its webinar:  25 Pro Tips for Working with FEMA:  Lessons Learned that Work.  It’s designed for those providing legal assistance to clients in recovery efforts. To gain access, please log in or sign up to be a member of the practice area.

Equal Justice Works has launched a Disaster Recovery Legal Corps Fellowship Program to provide legal assistance to individuals impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. The program will place 18 lawyers in Texas and 3 lawyers in Florida, where they will be matched with local non-profits to provide legal assistance related to housing, employment, flood insurance, public benefits, and more.

YOUR ONLINE TOOL FOR SHARING STORIES OF DISASTER SURVIVORS:

Personal stories from disaster survivors can make a compelling case for the development of more responsive federal policies and programs—now and in the future. DHRC is collecting these accounts from survivors of the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and their advocates through a brief online form in both English and Spanish.  Clients can choose to remain anonymous.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
Next meeting:  July 17 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
Next meeting:  July 23 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
DHRC’s pro bono attorneys have secured a meeting with FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel to secure information relative to FEMA’s data collection protocols and quality control.
Next meeting:   August 1 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
The WG developed the language for the sign-on letters for former/current government officials to urge congressional leaders to pass legislation to implement DHAP for the 2017 and future disasters.
Next meeting:  July 17, 12:30 PM EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY) have introduced “The Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act” (2996 and H.R.5474), which would activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and address the challenges disaster survivors in Puerto Rico have had securing FEMA assistance due to title issues and informal housing. NLIHC supports both bills and urges advocates to call on their members of Congress to sign on.
  • On June 27, a group of U.S. senators and representatives sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long and HUD Secretary Ben Carson requesting an extension of the Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) program and the activation of DHAP. They cite the extensive destruction of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure and the high rate of Individual Assistance (IA) program denials by FEMA. The lawmakers note, “DHAP has historically been activated within two weeks of a disaster, while Puerto Ricans have waited over eight months for relief.”
  • Four ranking members of various House committees sent a letter on June 29 to Administrator Long. Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA) of the Financial Services Committee, Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) of the Small Business Committee, Bennie Thompson (D-MS) of the Committee on Homeland Security, and Richard Neal (D-MA) all signed onto a letter urging FEMA to activate DHAP.

FEMA

  • On June 30, the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Massachusetts blocked FEMA’s plans to evict 1,744 hurricane survivors from hotels and motels provided through the TSA program.  A lawsuit was filed by Latino Justice PRLDEF, and the judge scheduled a telephone hearing for July 2.  FEMA released a statement extending TSA through July 5 to comply with the Court’s order.  FEMA will extend transportation assistance for 60 days to those who choose to return to Puerto Rico.  The DHRC also responded to the injunction in a press release.
  • On July 3, the District Court ordered FEMA to extend the deadline nationwide for its TSA program till July 23 (checkout on July 24). FEMA must file its opposition by July 13; and the plaintiffs–all individuals who evacuated Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria–will reply by July 18.  FEMA announced that it will notify hotels about the extension.  The DHRC released a press statement commending the court’s decision.

HUD

  •  On June 28, HUD approved the Florida disaster recovery plan, which allocates $616 million towards long-term housing recovery from the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. There is $100 million earmarked for affordable rental housing. The largest allocation is $273.3 million for a housing repair program. Governor Rick Scott put out a press release about the allocation.
  • On July 3, Diane Yentel, President and CEO of NLIHC, sent a letter on behalf of DHRC to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude urging them to issue a Federal Register Notice with robust transparency and accountability requirements to help states and local communities administer disaster recovery programs. The letter includes recommendations for more effective and equitable allocation of limited resources along with critical oversight and accountability.

Local Perspectives

  • With TSA anticipated to end on June 30 for nearly 2,000 displaced hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico, multiple media outlets picked up the story in several host states, including Florida where over 600 families fled from Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.  DHRC partner, the Florida Housing Coalition, is quoted in this Miami Herald article; and the NLIHC, in one from the Orlando Sentinel.
  • The Orlando Sentinel featured an op-ed. by Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the NLIHC, admonishing FEMA’s inadequate disaster-recovery response.   Ms. Yentel calls out FEMA on its claim that it is “doing all it can to provide stable housing to these U.S. citizens who have suffered loss and displacement”—citing its refusal to use the Disaster Housing Assistance (DHAP) program after congressional members and the Governor of Puerto Rico have requested it.
  • In New York City, a family struggles to find permanent affordable housing after their last day at a local hotel. The family of four was sent to a group hotel, where they will be living in a one-bedroom apartment and required to sign in and out with a 9:00 p.m. curfew.

YOUR ONLINE TOOL FOR SHARING STORIES OF DISASTER SURVIVORS WITH ELECTED OFFICIALS: Personal stories from disaster survivors can make a compelling case for the development of more responsive federal policies and programs—now and in the future. DHRC is collecting these accounts from survivors of the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and their advocates through a brief online form in both English and Spanish.  Clients can choose to remain anonymous.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
Next meeting:  July 17 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
Next meeting:  July 23 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
Next meeting:   July 11 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy

  • On July 3, the Policy WG’s Recommendations to Improve Transparency, Accountability, and Equitable Allocation of Resources in HUD’s Federal Register Notice were sent with a letter from NLIHC CEO Diane Yentel on behalf of the DHRC to HUD Secretary Carson and Deputy Secretary Patenaude.
  • Next meeting:  July 10, 12:30 PM EDT

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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren (D) and Edward Markey (D) sent a letter on June 21 to FEMA Administrator Brock Long admonishing him for not standing up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for Hurricane Maria survivors. Point-by-point, the senators counter the reasons offered by FEMA for not working with HUD to set up DHAP and state their concerns with FEMA’s repeated dissemination of these “questionable or incorrect assertions.”

HUD
HUD has approved the Texas action plan for its $5 billion allocations from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. Designed to support long-term recovery from Hurricane Harvey.  The largest share of the funds goes to the Single-Family Homeowner Assistance Program ($1.1 billion); buyouts and acquisitions for eligible homeowners to sell their damaged homes to local government ($275 million); and funding for the rehabilitation, reconstruction, and new construction of affordable multi-family rent properties ($250 million).

FEMA
As the June 30 deadline ending the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program for survivors of Hurricanes Maria and Irma approaches, FEMA cites 1,827 households still in hotels and motels as of June 22.  Sixty-nine percent (1,268) are in the continental United States.  June 30 is also the deadline by which eligible survivors can secure FEMA Transportation Assistance to cover their travel costs if they return to Puerto Rico no later than July 1.  FEMA directs those remaining to go to www.fema.gov/disaster/4339 for a list of services around the country that may provide help.

FEMA’s Public Assistance program, which reimburses no less than 75 percent of eligible costs, approved over $69 million for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.  These federal funds will help with recovery expenses from Hurricane Irma– including staff salaries, housing, and equipment–for first responder facilities and Emergency Operation Centers.

Local Perspectives
A rally at an Orlando hotel demanded action from Florida Governor Rick Scott to address the needs of displaced hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico.  The protestors urged the Governor to use the state’s affordable housing fund to help the over 600 families still living in Florida hotels (according to FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program) and facing possible homelessness with TSA’s June 30 deadline imminent.  An estimated 75,000 Puerto Ricans came to Florida after Hurricane Maria, further exacerbating the state’s affordable housing shortage.

The Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus wrote an op-ed. for the Boston Globe supporting passage of legislation in Congress that would force the implementation of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) within 15 days of enactment.   The op. ed. cites the success of DHAP in both Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, resulting in 95 percent of the Katrina participants securing stable housing after the program ended.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid is representing Texas Housers in a complaint filed against the Texas General Land Office (GLO) relative to its CDBG-DR action plan for Hurricane Harvey recovery. The complaint cites the state’s failure to meet its obligations to low and moderate-income people per the federal register, thereby having a disparate impact on African American and Hispanic populations. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid also wrote a letter to HUD affirming that the GLO has not properly fulfilled its affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH) obligations, resulting in the perpetuation of patterns of segregation.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
WG leaders are preparing next steps to follow up recent meetings in Puerto Rico with FEMA Office of Chief Counsel attorneys and 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

Homelessness
Members of this WG are collecting the first-person stories from a list of nonprofits working with survivors of the 2017 disasters for the Disaster Recovery Story Bank, which is also now available in Spanish.
Next meeting:  July 23 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
The WG’s pro bono counsel is preparing to discuss with FEMA Office of Chief Counsel a set of 10 priorities relative to the quality of FEMA’s disaster assistance data and protocols.  The WG has drafted a letter for Ranking Member Bennie Thompson of the House Homeland Securities Committee to address similar concerns in a Government Accountability Office request.
Next meeting:   July 11 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
The WG drafted the letter to leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Transportation and Infrastructure with concerns about the Disaster Recovery Reform Act and its delegation of disaster housing assistance programs to states.
Next meeting:  July 3, 12:30 PM EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Tuesday, June 20, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
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
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.

FEMA
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

Homelessness
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

Policy
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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
Representative Ann Wagner’s (R-MO) bill to permanently authorize CDBG-DR has passed through committee with a vote of 53-3. The bill–including several amendments drafted in consultation with NLIHC and DHRC–will now move to the House floor.  Congressman Al Green (D-TX) acknowledged the support of these groups (at timestamp 1:13:20).

Bills have been introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives to require a study and report on best practices in conducting mortality counts after a major disaster. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the author of the Senate bill, stated, “Whether it be Hurricane Maria or another natural disaster to come, the accuracy of the death toll has a direct impact on an area’s recovery.” These bills come in response to a Harvard study that found the death toll to be over 4600, despite the official death count of 64.

Four U.S. Senators sent a letter to the secretaries of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security requesting a detailed report on each agency’s preparations for the 2018 hurricane season, particularly as it relates to older adults and individuals with disabilities.  The letter cites recommendations from the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, including the prioritization of nursing homes and assisted living facilities for power restoration, greater data interagency data exchange, and giving these populations a seat at the table when planning recovery and response efforts.

FEMA
A Vice News analysis found that FEMA has 3,865 workers able to be deployed–about half of the 6,656 workers available a year ago–if a disaster were to strike.  The position for FEMA’s second-in-command and three of four associate-administrator posts are vacant or only temporarily filled.  The Agency is also without a director of external communications and a head for insurance and mitigation.

The 2018 Annual Hurricane Briefing was held at FEMA headquarters on June 6 to reflect on the 2017 hurricane season and to discuss the 2018 season that officially started on June 1. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were in attendance, and many governors joined the meeting via video chat. President Trump commended FEMA Administrator Brock Long on his response in Puerto Rico. 

State Action
The Texas General Land Office will use $35.4 million in CDBG-DR funds for a buyout program for homes repeatedly flooded in Harris County, Texas. These funds will be used to acquire up to 160 single-family homes and assist families in moving out of high flood-risk areas.

Local Perspectives
Though Houston was awarded $1 billion in long-term housing aid in response to Hurricane Harvey, there will still be an unmet housing need of over $2.3 billion. This disproportionately harms renters and low-income residents.

The New York Times posted a guide explaining discrepancies in the Puerto Rico death count. The government of Puerto Rico has contracted with George Washington University to conduct a more thorough study of the death toll from Hurricane Maria.

New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade focused on the lack of disaster relief from the U.S. government and the extensive casualties and devastation. Many called for the “decolonization” of Puerto Rico and spoke to the need for more support from the federal government.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
WG leaders are hosting two meetings this week in Puerto Rico with federal administrative officials, including one with HUD Deputy Secretary Pam Patenaude.  They are also having a second meeting with FEMA Office of Chief Counsel attorneys to continue work on two affidavits designed by DHRC leaders to address the challenge of FEMA eligibility determinations for survivors without legal title to their property.
Next meeting:  June 19 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
Members of this WG with an expertise in social media are meeting to develop a guest-blog strategy for promoting the survivor stories collection tool.
Next meeting:  June 26 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
This WG developed a menu of comments from which DHRC organizations could pull and adapt for their respective submissions to FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide draft by the June 7 deadline.  The WG also honed its wish list for a possible FOIA request down to 10 items.
Next meeting:   July 11 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
The DHRC Policy WG is promoting the NLIHC call to action in support of H.R. 4557, The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act; S. 2996, The Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act; and S. 2880, The Disaster Housing Assistance Act.
Next meeting:  June 19, 12:30 EDT


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