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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
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.

GAO
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
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
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

Homelessness
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

Policy
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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Federal Response

Executive
On May 23, President Donald Trump increased disaster assistance funding to Puerto Rico. Federal funding for emergency power restoration was extended for 90 days, and Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) was extended for 120 days. President Trump also offered additional disaster assistance to the US Virgin Islands, which will allow projects to protect the Territory from future storm damage to be entirely federally funded.

FEMA
The Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) deadline for survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas has been extended through June 30 from its previous deadline of May 31.

Congress
House of Representatives Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) released a statement in response to a recently released study by the New England Journal of Medicine. The study estimates that the death toll of Hurricane Maria is at least 4,645, while the official death toll currently stands at 64. Mr. Hoyer urged President Trump to take stronger action in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

State Action Plans
NLIHC submitted comments on Puerto Rico’s CDBG-DR Action Plan and also signed on to a collective letter prepared by leaders in Puerto Rico with over 50 other organizations from the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC). A sample of the individual letters are here:  Enterprise Community Partners and Espacios Abiertos.

Local Perspectives
Recommendations for Recovery. West Street Recovery, a grassroots mutual aid group that supports Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, has released recommendations to improve the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering (PREPS) program. PREPS aims to provide temporary repairs to owner-occupied, single family residences, which allows homeowners to live in their homes while completing permanent repair. These recommendations include improving communication and protocol for repairs, standards for homes and repairs, and bettering the safety of homes.

Website Tracks Recovery Spending. A USVI Hurricane Recovery website managed by the Virgin Islands Public Finance Authority has been launched to track the spending of the nearly $2 billion awarded to the Territory.

Disaster Hits the Poor Hardest. Politico details the struggles low-income and minority residents in Houston face navigating the bureaucracy to receive disaster aid. Those who did secure assistance were awarded an average of $4300, which fails to cover even minimal repairs.

Homelessness in Houston. A January census conducted in Houston found that Hurricane Harvey led to an increase in homelessness in the city.  About 18% of unsheltered homeless individuals reported that they became homeless due to the disaster.

Resources
NeighborWorks America has updated its Navigating the Road to Housing Recovery guide for individuals and families.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
WG leaders are scheduled to meet with FEMA’s Office of the Chief Counsel 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.
Next meeting:  June 19 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
The WG is developing the idea of a guest blog and other social networking strategies to engage more survivors and their advocates in sharing their stories using the web-based, story-collection tool that the WG is promoting.
Next meeting:  June 26 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
Individuals from the WG attended a small-group session of leaders with staff from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to share concerns about FEMA’s disaster response for those disproportionately impacted by the hurricanes in 2017.
Next meeting:   June 6 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
Next meeting:  June 5, 12:30 EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced a bill on May 17 requiring FEMA to stand up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through February 2019.  Two days prior, FEMA had denied the Governor of Puerto Rico’s request to activate DHAP. The bill’s cosponsors include Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Warren (D-MA), Markey (D-MA), Gillibrand (D-NY), and Harris (D-CA).

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) held a press conference in New York City on May 21, where he expressed support for survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and condemned the inadequate financial assistance provided to them by FEMA. Congressman Espaillat has introduced the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act, which would allow FEMA to accept alternative forms of proof of residence besides official documents.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing for stakeholders on May 17 regarding the CDBG-DR.  A recording of the proceedings can be viewed here.

Congressional Members Nydia M Velazquez (D-NY), Luis V Gutierrez (D-IL), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson asking for a 30-day extension for public comment period, public hearings by HUD, and official Spanish translations of the Allocation Notice and all CDBG-DR funding information. They expressed concern for the constraints the two-week, public comment period imposed on input from community leaders.

HUD

HUD has announced on-site, employment opportunities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and one position with a focus in the US Virgin Islands. Two specialist positions are within the Office of Community Planning and Development, Disaster Recovery; and two Financial Analyst positions are in the Special Issues Division in the Office of Block Grant Assistance.

FEMA

FEMA reports Housing Eligibility Determinations for all disaster areas affected by the 2017 hurricanes here.

FEMA has significantly increased funding for DR-4344, California Wildfires, from $189 million to $333 million. This increase allows the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to re-open applications for grants that allow sub-applicants–which includes state agencies, local governments, special districts, and certain private non-profits–to receive funds to institute mitigation efforts.

FEMA denied the request of Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress to extend the restoration power crews that have been repairing the island’s power grid. About 16,000 homes in Puerto Rico still lack power, approximately eight months since Hurricane Maria first made landfall. FEMA did approve a request from the Governor of Puerto Rico to maintain hundreds of emergency generators.

 Local Perspectives

Evictions in Houston. Over six months after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, Texas, and the surrounding area, January Advisors has reviewed eviction data from before and after the hurricane. In September 2017, the month Harvey hit, evictions were down 23% from September 2016. This may be in response to the Mayor of Houston’s pleas to private landlords to be flexible with tenants by suspending late fees for September. Shortly after, eviction rates spiked, and October 2017 saw 7% more evictions than October 2016. While eviction rates are on the rise, judgement in favor of the tenants in eviction cases since Harvey have similarly gone up from 2.46% to 6.19%.

TSA in Chicago. An article in the Chicago Reporter details how FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program is not doing enough to help displaced Puerto Ricans after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Roberto Maldonado, alderman of Chicago’s 26th Ward– home to the largest Puerto Rican neighborhood in the city–expressed concern for the lack of outreach to get additional hotels to join the TSA program. “They make things so complicated,” he said. “It’s not user-friendly at all.”


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico

Working Group (WG) leaders in PR are preparing a list of 10 major concerns and required actions from which collective and individual comments can be submitted by the PR Action Plan deadline of May 25 COB.
Next meeting:  June 19 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
Next meeting:  May 29 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
Next meeting:   June 6 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy

Now that Senator Nelson has introduced legislation (S.2880) to force FEMA to allow DHAP for 2017 disaster survivors, this WG is reaching out to other senators to cosponsor the bill and build support adding this language to the Senate Federal Aviation Authorization bill, which must be enacted by Congress by September 30.
Next meeting:  June 5, 12:30 EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, May 16, 2018

CDBG-DR Action Plans

The Texas General Land Office has released for public comment an amendment to the $57.8 million state action plan. The amendment reallocates $8 million to the Harris County Residential Buyout Program. HUD has already approved the overall action plan, but public comments on the amendment should be submitted by 5 PM CT on May 24.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity submitted the finalized state action plan to HUD on May 15.

Federal Response  

HUD
The HUD Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG) released a report on the Texas General Land Office’s capacity to administer CDBG-DR funding. HUD-OIG recommends the agency expand its capacity to ensure it properly spends the more than $5 billion in disaster recovery funds. The report includes specific recommendations, including increasing staffing and updating procurement and expenditure policies and procedures.

The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) extended the foreclosure moratorium to borrowers with FHA-insured mortgages affected by Hurricane Maria. Foreclosure actions are to be suspended until August 16, 2018.

HUD is holding a webinar for housing counselors about the CDBG-DR program to help them better coordinate with the local CDBG-DR grantee. 

A group of fair housing organizations – including National Fair Housing Alliance, Texas Housers, and Texas Appleseed – have filed suit against HUD over Secretary Carson’s decision earlier this year to suspend the 2015 affirmatively furthering fair housing (AFFH) rule. The AFFH rule could help ensure that disaster recovery efforts are done equitably by holding jurisdictions more accountable to fair housing laws.

Local Perspectives

Evacuated from PR. A Puerto Rican family that evacuated to Philadelphia after Hurricane Maria share the impact having long term housing has made for them. They were one of seven evacuated families to receive an apartment from the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Other families in New York are struggling to find longer-term housing and get on their feet before the Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program expires on June 30. One family has found work but does not earn enough to move out of the FEMA-funded hotel. Others have found that their uncertain housing situation and lack of reliable transportation makes securing employment difficult. With a new hurricane season approaching and power still not fully restored, many of these families are not planning to return to the island. The largest number of evacuees are in Florida, where an overall shortage in affordable housing make leaving hotels difficult.

Affordable Housing in FL Keys. On May 3, Florida Governor Rick Scott granted 1,300 building permits reserved for affordable workforce housing in the Florida Keys. If counties accept the permits, they must ensure that those living in the new homes evacuate within 48 hours of tropical storm winds reaching the Keys’ shore. This provision has caused some controversy, with some groups stating it is “unrealistic and unenforceable.” Some county officials point out that the number of permits is not the problem. Key Largo has 450 permits for affordable housing, but developers are not utilizing them.

Community Land Trust in FL Keys. The Florida Keys Community Land Trust is a new initiative to help create more affordable housing in the area. Property damaged by the storm is placed in a public trust, which allows any newly constructed units to remain affordable. Funding for the trust comes from local groups and donations from seasonal residents.

PR Fundraiser. Naomi Klein, author of the soon to be released The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, is donating 100% of royalties to JunteGente, a local organization in Puerto Rico. More information on the book is here.

Recovery in TX. Residents of Port Arthur, TX are frustrated by the lack of assistance for their recovery process. Some have been waiting since Hurricane Rita for funding to repair their homes. Unfortunately, the local government has decided to forego a Home Repair Program in favor of a program for first-time home buyers.

Migration to/from PR. New maps and data visualizations show the flow of people to and from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
In coordination with probate estate attorneys in Puerto Rico, the WG has finalized and translated two affidavits establishing occupancy/ownership for FEMA to accept in the absence of legal title documents.  WG leaders will present these to FEMA and other related concerns for approval and uniform application across the island.

The WG is also preparing a menu of concerns for use by individual organizations preparing to comment on the PR Action Plan for CDBG-DR funds.  PR leaders are preparing a collective, sign-on comment document as well.  All comments are due on May 25th COB.
Next meeting:  June 19 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
Members in the WG are beginning to share within their individual and national networks the new promotional tools (flyers in Spanish and English and a graphic to use with social media) the DHRC created to encourage the use of a brief, online form for collecting stories that illustrate the unmet housing challenges low income disaster survivors face.  Both National Health Care for the Homeless and National Inclusive Disaster Strategies are promoting these materials at their respective conferences this month.
Next meeting:  May 29 at 3:00 pm EDT

Data Transparency
Members of the WG have divvied up sections of FEMA’s IAP draft to prepare a menu of proposed changes responsive to the concerns raised in the recent disaster recoveries.  These will be combined and shared for the input of individual comments in the Excel form provided for the 45-day public comment period.
Next meeting:   June 6 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
NLIHC and 212 organizations from DHRC sent a letter on May 11 to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO), urging them to include provisions for the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) in the Senate version of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. The recently passed House version of this bill contained several disaster-related provisions but failed to include DHAP.
Next meeting:  May 22 at 12:30 pm EDT


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