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.

When Academics Meets Real-Life

By Lindsey Otto, Communications & Graphic Design Intern


From left to right: Katherine Randall, Research Intern; Aubrey Kearney, Policy Intern; and Lindsey Otto, Communications/Graphic Design Intern

When I started as the Communications/Graphic Design intern at NLIHC, I had no idea what to expect. Finishing my first year at the University of Arizona, I decided to jump right in and spend my summer getting some real world experience in my field of study. I am currently a Communications and Studio Art student and while I have many years of graphic design experience, I had barely dipped my toes into the world of communications. I am originally from northern Virginia so my search for summer positions started in D.C. When I came across NLIHC I thought, what better way to cultivate these skills than by working towards social justice in the heart of the nation’s capital? The more I researched the organization, the easier it was to see how absolutely dedicated they are to something that was worth fighting for (doesn’t everyone deserve a safe and affordable place to call home?). Needless to say, I was eager for the chance to see the concepts I’d learned in my courses come to life and I am so grateful for the opportunity that NLIHC gave me to do so.

I began my nine-week position in the midst of the 2017 Out of Reach launch, their largest annual research report. I was tasked with making various infographics from this research and the statistics I was provided with from the report, quite frankly, shocked me. I had little knowledge of the struggle that average Americans go through just to pay rent, let alone the magnitude of that struggle. It’s a heartbreaking reality for hardworking people all over the country. So while I had initially expected to learn about color swatches and media correspondence, I learned a lot about the crisis that persists in this country as well. Working at NLIHC has not only provided me with insight into potential career directions but also with a fresh perspective on the immense importance of being socially aware and active.

From the very beginning, I absorbed all I could about the nuances of communications and design. I was welcomed by a spirited office full of people passionate about what they do. Every day was something new, from creating promotional posters to updating various websites to scheduling social media posts. It is a dynamic atmosphere and what I’ve enjoyed most is working collaboratively with members of the team, specifically in preparation for the Our Homes, Our Voices campaign promoting the National Housing Week of Action. For this effort, I was able to create promotional posters, rally posters, graphics, and other images to promote the various events, which aided more organizations from across the country to jump on board with the campaign. It was incredibly exciting to see so many different people from so many different places come together (as well as reusing/retweeting my designs to do so!).

In sum, I am eager to delve back into my studies with such a valuable experience under my belt. NLIHC has equipped me with so many skills that I fully intend on carrying with me into my future pursuits. Yet as my internship quickly approaches its end, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when a passion for people is met with a dedication to advocacy, monumental change is not too far behind.

Lindsey interned with NLIHC from late June to early August.

My Rewards as an NLIHC Summer Intern

By Bianca Guerrero, NLIHC Field and Communications Intern

My goal this summer was to learn what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the United States and to see what communities and organizations are doing to address it. After three months interning with the Tenant Protection Unit, a New York State agency that protects rent-regulated residents, I knew I wanted to continue working on housing issues. Dipping my feet in advocacy and organizing on a national level after graduating from college seemed like a good next step and an internship with NLIHC offered just that.

Working at an organization that centers around extremely low income communities have been very rewarding, especially in a political climate that jeopardizing very poor communities’ wellbeing. As a communications intern, I got a firm grasp on what the organization is fighting for. I saw our values and messaging spread during, for example, press calls with Rep. Keith Ellison when NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report was released. Incorporating data from our reports in tweets about HUD hearings on the Trump budget and the #OurHomesOurVoices campaign familiarized me with just how pressing the crisis is. I learned that organizing is truly a team effort. Pulling state-specific outlets from media lists, tracking reporter contacts, and reaching out to civic engagement platforms for the communications team was critical to making sure the National Week of Action was a success.

The field team gave me understanding of what it means to organize. Researching issues and writing articles for Memo to Members to highlight the work and success of our state partners in Minnesota, Vermont, Illinois, and Georgia taught me what obstacles other communities were facing, the solutions they devised to address them, and the work it took to achieve said solutions. Diving into the Advocates Guide’s information on housing programs gave me a sense of what resources are at stake in the Trump and Congressional budgets. Cleaning up membership lists, updating contact information, and checking our website links were also part of my internship. The field team always made clear why this less glamorous work was critical to improving its advocacy efforts.

I feel very grateful for the opportunity to work at NLIHC. This experience has equipped me to continue working on affordable housing issues back home in New York City and has also helped me become a better team player. Lisa, Sarah, James, and Joey have served as great examples. I always felt comfortable asking questions and voicing concerns or support for ideas. Their instructions and goals were always clear and they let me know my work was important. NLIHC’s location in Washington, D.C. was great because it gave me access to webinars and information sessions hosted by the Center for American Progress, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Urban Institute. I was able to learn what other organizations are doing to further the fight against homelessness and to protect the LGBTQ community, women, and others in this issue area. I do feel like I accomplished my goal of learning what the affordable housing crisis looks like across the country and what folks are doing to end it. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned back home!

Bianca Guerrero graduated in May from Columbia University as a political science major. Next year she will be an Urban Fellow with New York City government. She is passionate about cities, and more specifically the experiences of low income immigrant communities in urban housing.