Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Monday, February 12, 2018

General Updates

Disaster Aid Passed. Congress passed a disaster relief bill on February 9. While the bill provides $28 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds and other important financial resources, it does not include important housing resources and tools–such as the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP)–or safeguards to ensure federal resources are allocated equitably. The full DHRC/NLIHC press release can be found here. Governors Scott (FL), Abbott (TX), Rosselló (PR), and Mapp (USVI) all issued press releases thanking Congress for the additional federal funding.


Local Perspectives

TSA Causing Uncertainty. Puerto Ricans in hotels face uncertainty as an end to assistance approaches for about 200 families. In total, 4,000 Puerto Rican families are utilizing FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program, but some are losing their assistance before the general March 20 deadline. FEMA is ending assistance for families whose homes in Puerto Rico have been deemed habitable, although those decisions are often appealed.  Puerto Rican families on the mainland struggle to find jobs and long-term housing but know that the situation back on the island will not be much better. Puerto Rico evacuees and local communities are preparing for the end of assistance in Philadelphia, PA, Holyoke, MA, and other cities across the country.

MA Housing Resources for Puerto Rico Evacuees. MassLegal Services has helpful documents for advocates and Puerto Rican families that explain their rights and other resources.


Local Perspectives

Debris Removal in the Florida Keys. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) will assist Monroe County with clean-up and removal of marine debris caused by Hurricane Irma. DEP will provide $6 million and oversight of the cleanup, and FDEM will help Monroe County apply for FEMA reimbursements, which will then go back to the state.

FEMA Basics Webinar. FEMA, the State of Florida, and other partners are hosting a webinar, “FEMA Program Basics Training.” The training is on February 20 from 9 am to 12 pm EST and will include information on FEMA appeals, Small Business Administration, how to request FEMA applicant information, and more.


Local Perspectives

The Texas Comptroller released a special edition of Fiscal Notes that examines the financial impact of Hurricane Harvey. The storm destroyed nearly 200,000 homes, caused $670 million in damage to public infrastructure, and contributed to $200 million in crop and livestock losses. The report demonstrates the positive effects of recovery efforts and increased construction activity on the state’s economy and includes mitigation proposals such as reservoirs, city/regional planning, and updated flood plain maps.

The area around Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange, Texas–also known as the Golden Triangle–continues to struggle with recovery, particularly low-income residents. A quarter of these residents were displaced, and nearly half requested assistance when applying for FEMA. Community leaders and groups are working hard to advocate for the community and ensure that those with the lowest incomes and highest need do not slip through the cracks.

Texas Action Plan Analysis. Texas Housers’ blog has been analyzing the Texas state action plan for spending almost $60 million in federal funding. They discuss the plan’s specific housing proposals, the importance of looking to past disasters for guidance, the prioritization of certain communities, and more. The last day for comments on the State Action Plan is tomorrow. Below are some recent highlights from the blog.

Infrastructure Projects. Texas Housers released a report analyzing the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas’ October Request for Federal Assistance Infrastructure Projects. Its analysis finds that this list of 281 infrastructure projects totaling $61 billion in funding is a “seemingly random list of projects that are nor prioritized” and underrepresents Texas communities with known disaster needs. Texas Housers found major inconsistencies in how projects were selected and ask the General Land Office (GLO), responsible for administering these grants, not to take the Governor’s Commission request at face value.

Buyouts. The GLO proposes using $35 million for buyouts in Harris County (where Houston is located), but buyouts need careful planning and community engagement to avoid high prices or mostly vacant neighborhoods. Buyout programs also need to be transparent, accessible, and holistic to ensure low-income households receive sufficient funding to find a new home. Additionally, the immediate needs of families should supersede mass buyouts.

Fair Housing. Despite major fair housing lawsuits against the State of Texas and local city governments, the GLO makes no concrete plans in its plan for affirmatively furthering fair housing. In its comments, Texas Housers makes several recommendations to GLO on how to better comply with fair housing laws and promote opportunity and equity: collect and share data that can help identify disparities; incorporate provisions from previous conciliation agreements; provide mandatory training to cities and counties; ensure the needs of low-income people are met first; and more.

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

One Boston Family Gets New Opportunities Thanks to the RAFT Program

By Kat Feliciano, Metro Housing|Boston


KAT photo

Kat Feliciano, Housing Supports Operations Administrator at Metro Housing | Boston

People often ask me to describe the typical family that we assist. In truth, no families are alike. Circumstance, personalities, challenges, disabilities, job prospects – all of these lead to very different stories.

After experiencing homelessness and living in her car with her two children, Sharon was grateful to have finally found a place to live in late 2017. That feeling of gratefulness would not last, however. The owner of the building that Sharon and her family were staying failed inspection for code violations. The landlord was given multiple chances to bring the apartment to code but failed to do so. Rather than making the necessary repairs, he told Sharon she needed to move out. 

With Christmas approaching, Sharon struggled to find a safe and decent place to live and was fearful that she would be spending the holiday in her car. When she visited our offices in mid-December, I knew I had to act quickly because she was just weeks away from being evicted.

When families are about to be evicted from their homes, or when they are behind on rent or electricity or heat, or when they need help to move to a place near family to help care for a sick family member – while their stories are different – there is one solution they have in common.

Since 2013, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has funded a homelessness prevention program called RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition). Metro Housing|Boston administers the program for 29 communities in eastern Massachusetts. In 2017, we helped 1,474 families – some like Sharon’s – stay securely in their homes.

I filed an emergency RAFT application and Sharon was approved. I was able to get her moved into a better apartment with her and children before Christmas with an apartment that was habitable for her and didn’t put her at a health risk.  The RAFT funding was able to cover the first and last month rent, plus security deposit.

The help that Sharon and her family needed is among the most common among families since the program’s beginning – first and last month’s rent and security deposits – behind rental arrearages. Statistics suggest that Sharon won’t need RAFT assistance again – fewer than 4% of families who received RAFT last year had received assistance the previous year.

Who qualifies for RAFT?

To qualify, your income should be at or less than 50 percent of the area median income ($46,550 for a family of three in Boston) and have a dependent child under the age of 21 or are pregnant and the head of household.

Reasons can include:

  • Eviction. Have received a court summons or are already involved in the court process.
  • Foreclosure. Notice from mortgage lender stating their intent to foreclose.
  • Doubled-up at a friend or family member’s house and have been asked to leave.
  • Violence or abuse in the household.
  • Utilities are at risk of being shut off or have been shut off.

I was very happy that I was able to get such a quick turnaround for a family that thought they were never going to be able to move because they couldn’t afford first and last month rent plus security, even while saving every last penny.

Read More About Metro Housing|Boston’s Homelessness Prevention Program at: http://nlihc.org/article/field

Florida FEMA Registrations after Hurricane Irma: Renters Disproportionately Affected, Including Racial and Ethnic Minorities and Low Income Households

November 9, 2017

FEMA recently released data about registrations for assistance from its Individuals and Households Program (IHP) after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. IHP provides approved registrants with assistance for rent, home repair (for homeowners), or other serious disaster-related needs, such as medical care, transportation, storage, or essential household items. The data provide a summary of the number and ownership status of registrants, extent of damage, and the dollar amounts approved for assistance. Like NLIHC’s previous analysis of Hurricane Harvey registrants in Texas, the data from Florida show that renters are disproportionately represented among registrants, and racial and ethnic minorities and households with limited financial resources may face greater difficulty in planning for, coping with, and recovering from disaster.

As of October 31, more than 2.5 million registrants in Florida have applied for assistance, 45% of whom are owners and 55% are renters (table 1). The data demonstrate that a disproportionate percentage of renters have registered, as owners comprise 65% of all households in the disaster area and renters comprise 35%.  FEMA will continue to accept applications for individual assistance until November 24, 2017.

Table 1. Tenure Status
Florida Registrants Disaster Area

(All Households in IA-Eligible Counties)

Owners Renters Total Owners Renters Total
1,145,390 1,390,194 2,535,584 4,413,850 2,336,940 6,750,790
% of Total 45.2% 54.8% 100% 65.4% 34.6% 100.0%

Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/31/2017); 2011-2015 American Community Survey. IA = Individual Assistance.

Of the registrants, 287,226 owners and 412,923 renters have been approved for assistance. Some registrants’ approvals are pending, while others have been found ineligible. The causes of ineligibility, which can include non-damage related reasons like inadequate identification or inadequate proof of ownership or occupancy, are not provided in the current data. At the same time, physical damage inspections are completed for only 14% of owner registrants and 17% of renter registrants. We therefore focus on those who have applied for assistance.

The two following graphs show the distribution of renter and owner registrants across neighborhoods categorized by their by poverty rate (figure 1) and racial & ethnic composition (figure 2). To date, nearly half of renter registrants and 35% of owner registrants live in ZIP codes with a poverty rate of at least 20%. In addition, nearly half of renter registrants and 35% of owner registrants live in majority-minority ZIP codes (non-Hispanic White households account for less than 50% of all households).


FEMA’s currently available data do not include the incomes of individual registrants. If we assume that registrants reflect their neighborhoods, then renters are more likely than owners to have low incomes. More than 40% of renter registrants have an annual household income of less than $25,000, while another 31% have incomes between $25,000 and $50,000 (table 2). Twenty percent of owner registrants have incomes below $25,000, and 25% have incomes between $25,000 and $50,000.


Table 2. Income
Florida Registrants

Disaster Area 

(All Households in IA-Eligible Counties)

Income Owners Renters Owners Renters
< $25,000 20.4% 40.5% 19.1% 37.7%
$25,000 to $49,999 25.4% 30.9% 24.3% 30.7%
$50,000 to $74,999 19.6% 15.3% 19.1% 16.2%
$75,000 to $99,999 12.8% 6.8% 12.9% 7.5%
$100,000+ 21.9% 6.5% 24.6% 7.9%

Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/31/2017); 2011-2015 American Community Survey. Income of registrants is imputed using tenure by household income of applicants’ neighborhoods.

The majority of registrants are White because they account for the majority of the population in Florida’s disaster area. Blacks and Hispanics, however, appear to be disproportionately represented among registrants, compared to their share of households in the disaster area. Twenty-seven percent of renter registrants are black and 32% are Hispanic, while 13% of owner registrants are black and 21% are Hispanic (table 3).

Table 3. Race and Ethnicity

Florida Registrants

Disaster Area 

(All Households in IA-Eligible Counties)

Owners Renters Owners Renters
White 80.5% 63.7% 85.2% 69.0%
Black 13.5% 26.8% 9.4% 21.3%
American Indian 0.3% 0.4% 0.3% 0.5%
Asian 1.9% 1.6% 2.0% 1.9%
Other 3.8% 7.5% 3.1% 7.3%
Hispanic 21.4% 31.8% 15.4% 26.7%

Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/31/2017); 2010 Decennial Census. Race/ethnicity of registrants is imputed using tenure by race/ethnicity of applicants’ neighborhoods.

Recovery from disaster can be challenging for any family. The limited resources of low income households make recovery even more difficult. Past housing recovery efforts have included a bias in the allocation of federal funds toward homeownership and a failure to address the needs of low income households. The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition is a group of more than 200 local, state, and national organizations working to ensure that the needs of renters and low income households are met, in part by calling on Congress to provide adequate funding to ensure that all households receive the affordable and accessible housing they need and by playing an active oversight role to ensure resources are allocated fairly to meet the needs of low income people can communities.

Ensuring an Equitable Recovery for Renters Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

October 31, 2017

On August 25, Hurricane Harvey devastated communities in Eastern Texas. Fifty-three counties received a Presidential Disaster Declaration, forty-one of which were designated for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual Assistance (IA) and Individuals and Households Program (IHP). IHP provides approved registrants with rental assistance, home repair assistance (for homeowners), or assistance for other serious disaster-related needs, such as childcare, medical care, transportation, storage, or the repair or replacement of essential household items.

On October 23, FEMA released preliminary summary data for Hurricane Harvey that include ZIP code-level information on the number and housing tenure of IA registrants, extent of damage to inspected housing units, and dollar amounts for approved assistance. These data offer one of the first opportunities to examine the extent of assistance needs and housing damage for both renters and homeowners following Hurricane Harvey.

To date, 872,848 registrants have applied for assistance from the IHP program, 50% of whom are renters and 50% are owners. Given that 38% of households throughout the forty-one counties were renters prior to the hurricane, renters appear to have applied at a greater rate for assistance than owners. While it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions, early IA data suggest that renters may have a disproportionate need for FEMA assistance. FEMA continues to update its data as the agency accepts applications for assistance and completes its damage inspections.


Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/23/2017); 2011-2015 American Community Survey


FEMA IA Registrants by Zip Code in Harvey Disaster Area

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), low socioeconomic status households are at greater risk for being disproportionately impacted by disasters. FEMA’s preliminary data for housing assistance after Hurricane Harvey indicate that 47% of renter registrants live in ZIP codes with a poverty rate of at least 20%, as do nearly 33% of owner registrants. Households in low-poverty rate ZIP codes of less than 10% have been less likely to apply for assistance than those in higher-poverty ones. In addition, 63% of renter registrants live in majority-minority neighborhoods (Non-Hispanic White households < 50% of all households) as do 48% of owner registrants.

IA Registrations by Neighborhood Poverty Hurricane Harvey Texas

IA Registrations by Neighborhood Race Hurricane Harvey TexasLimited financial resources can detrimentally impact a household’s ability to plan for, cope with, and recover from disaster. FEMA’s current housing assistance data do not include incomes for individual registrants, but if they reflect the income composition of their ZIP codes, then 37% of renters and 16% of owners who applied for assistance had household income of less than $25,000. Given their lower incomes, renters were facing a higher housing cost burden prior to Hurricane Harvey. Again, if applicants reflect their neighborhoods, more than 49% of renter registrants compared to 22% of owner registrants were likely housing cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities, prior to the disaster. These households, especially larger families with low incomes, are more likely to have had difficulty paying for other necessities even before the storm and are now facing even greater challenges in absorbing the economic shock of Hurricane Harvey.


Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/23/2017; 2011-2015 American Community Survey).
Income of registrants is computed using tenure by household income of applicants’ neighborhoods.


To date, FEMA has completed property inspections for 58% of owner and 54% of renter registrants. Of these inspections, 74% of owners’ units were damaged compared to 20% of renters’ units. Texas’ housing advocates on the ground, however, believe that Harvey’s damage to rental housing is greater than the damage assessments indicate and question their accuracy. While homeowners have experienced a large share of the damage and need assistance, renters are more likely to be of low socioeconomic status, which underscores their vulnerability and the importance of ensuring an equitable long-term housing recovery. Evidence from recovery efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, however, suggests a bias for homeowners in the allocation of housing assistance for long-term recovery.Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/23/2017; 2011-2015 American Community Survey). Income of registrants is computed using tenure by household income of applicants’ neighborhoods.

Damage Inspections

Source: FEMA Housing Assistance Data (10/23/2017).


According to a 2010 GAO review of ten federal disaster assistance programs in Louisiana and Mississippi, 62% of damaged homeowner units received assistance compared to only 18% of damaged rental units. The GAO faulted inequities in the states’ distribution of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding, which typically provides a significant proportion of total federal funding for long-term recovery, as a significant reason. Louisiana and Mississippi allocated $11 billion of their CDBG-DR funds to homeowner programs and $1 billion to programs for owners of small rental properties. The report was also critical of the length of time states took to process applications and provide assistance. A key recommendation of the report is that Congress should provide more direction to states in how to allocate funds from the CDBG-DR program. The report concludes, “Without specific direction on how to better target disaster-related CDBG funds for the redevelopment of homeowner and rental units after future disasters, states’ allocations of assistance to homeowners and renters may again result in significant differences in the level of assistance provided.”

NLIHC and its partners are committed to ensuring past mistakes are not repeated. In Texas after Hurricanes Dolly and Ike, state housing advocates achieved an agreement with the state that gave direction to include extremely low income households and rental housing in long-term recovery efforts. Better guidance from Congress or HUD regarding the use of CDBG-DR would, for all states, ensure federal funds are allocated proportionately to need.

A Student Message on United for Homes

By Isaiah Fleming-Klink, NLIHC Field Intern

Isaiah Fleming-Klink

Since 2011 the United for Homes (UFH) campaign has been building support for a policy solution that addresses the housing and homelessness crises in America through mortgage interest deduction (MID) reform. Thus far, we have the support of over 2,300 national, state, and local organizations as well as government officials. Moreover, we have the support of thousands of individuals from all over the country, including from all 435 Congressional districts. As we continue to build support from these dedicated advocates of the campaign, we hope to engage with a new source of endorsers: young, college students.

As established and emerging leaders, thinkers, and advocates across the country, we believe engaging with college students is an important avenue for growth in the UFH campaign. More than that, we see endorsing the UFH campaign as another channel for educating and empowering leaders in college to take action on issues surrounding housing, homelessness, and poverty both nationally and in their local communities. Younger voices with fresh ideas and perspectives will inevitably strengthen our work as advocates for housing equality.

As NLIHC’s field intern and a current student at Georgetown University, I’ve been excited to encourage fellow students to join the UFH campaign.  So far, we have the endorsements of several key organizations at my school: the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA) Executive, College Democrats (pending), GUSA Senate (pending), Black Student Alliance, and Georgetown University Women of Color. We’re in the process of reaching out to other schools and organizations in the DMV area—including George Washington University, American University, Howard University, Catholic University, and the University of Maryland—and plan to start branching out nationally in the coming weeks.

If you or someone you know is involved in an organization on a college or university campus across the country that might be interested in endorsing the UFH campaign, please reach out to us at outreach@nlihc.org, outreachintern2@nlihc.org, or jsaucedo@nlihc.org. We’d also encourage folks to check out our recent UFH webinar, Back to School—Campus Activism and the United for Homes Campaign.