Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
PR Reconstruction plan. The Puerto Rican government submitted a recovery plan to Congress on August 8 that estimated the cost for reconstruction at $139 billion. This estimate is almost twice as much as the island’s government reported in November. Governor Ricardo Rosselló stated that “all the initiatives have the purpose of making us stronger and resilient, while guaranteeing a long-term economic recovery.”

HUD
Federal Register Notice. HUD published guidelines for states’ use of $10 billion in CDBG-DR funds appropriated in February of this year. NLIHC will prepare a comprehensive description of certain provisions, but has a preliminary analysis posted here. The major components of this notice are:

The public review and comment period is increased to 30 calendar days (up from 14).

For multifamily housing, the required affordability period is changed from 20 years to:
15 years if CDBG-DR is used to rehabilitate or reconstruct a multifamily rental property that has eight or more units.

20 years if CDBG-DR is used to newly construct a multifamily rental property that has five or more units.

There is no reduction in the requirement that 70% of the funds be used for activities that benefit low and moderate-income households, those with income at or less than 80% of the area median income.

Because incomes in Puerto Rico are “unusually low,” HUD will increase the low and moderate-income thresholds for determining whether an activity benefits “low and moderate income” people. HUD will publish the new thresholds on the HUD Exchange website.

FEMA
Disability Integration in PR. FEMA’s Core Advisory Group Disability Integration Team is hosting seven briefings across Puerto Rico to identify issues and barriers for people with disabilities. Meetings will include a variety of stakeholders and take place in various locations. Check here for more information.

THUs in TX. FEMA published a fact sheet for survivors of Hurricane Harvey currently living in FEMA-provided temporary housing units (THUs).

Local Perspectives
Need for DHAP. Hundreds of families displaced by Hurricane Maria still lack viable housing options. This article from the Washington Post shares stories of some of these survivors and why the options FEMA provided did not work for Puerto Ricans.

Free Legal Clinics in TX. The Houston Bar Foundation and Houston Volunteer Lawyers will hold four free legal advice clinics in various locations from 9 AM to 1 PM on Saturday, August 18.

Slow Recovery in Port Arthur, TX. Already one of the poorest communities along the Texas Gulf Coast before Hurricane Harvey, Port Arthur has struggled to recover following the storm. Funding for recovery has been slower to reach the community, particularly since the Texas General Land Office focused initial funding on Houston.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico – Next meeting:  August 21 at 3:00 pm EDT
Homelessness – Next meeting:  August 27 at 3:00 PM EDT
Data Transparency – Next meeting:   September 5 at 3:30 PM EDT
Policy – Next meeting:  August 21, 12:30 PM EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Federal Response

HUD

  • HUD has approved Puerto Rico’s plan for spending the $1.5 billion allocation from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery to assist in long-term recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The grant includes $1 billion for housing, with $10 million earmarked for rental assistance for the elderly and other vulnerable households. The plan also includes $145 million for economic revitalization and $100 million for infrastructure.

FEMA

  • FEMA has approved an alternative document to verify home ownership in Puerto Rico for applications for disaster assistance by those without formal legal title. The DHRC’s Puerto Rico Working Group worked with FEMA’s Office of Chief Counsel to develop this alternative to substitute the notarized statement previously required by FEMA.  FEMA has also agreed to reconsider applications for disaster assistance from owners of property who lack a formal title or the documents to verify ownership.  A press release issued by Ayuda Legal Huracán María provides more detail.
  • The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies CCD emergency Management Task Force has extended the deadline for a sign-on letter to the US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. This letter is in response to FEMA’s announcement that the number of disability integration advisors deployed to states in federally declared disasters will be reduced from 60 to 5. Sign on to the letter here by August 3.
  • FEMA has released a fact sheet titled “Tips that Might Change a FEMA Eligibility Determination” that outlines how survivors can best appeal their ineligibility status.

State Action

  • The Texas General Land Office (GLO) received a “no findings” rating in a recent audit of its Hurricane Harvey direct housing response. The housing response, which was executed through a partnership between the Texas GLO and FEMA, was found to be in compliance with federal financial guidelines.

Local Perspectives

  • Democracy Forward Foundation, on behalf of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico and LatinoJustice, filed a lawsuit against FEMA for failing to release records with information about its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This case hinges on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted over six months ago to which FEMA failed to respond.

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

  • After months of collaboration, this WG secured FEMA’s approval for an affidavit to verify home ownership in Puerto Rico for applications for disaster assistance by those without formal legal title.
  • Next meeting: August 21 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness

  • Next meeting: August 27 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency

  • The WG is developing an outline for an Independent Commission on Disaster Housing Recovery to be finalized with House Homeland Security subcommittee staff.
  • Next meeting: September 5 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy

  • Next meeting: August 7, 12:30 PM EDT

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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Federal Response

Congress
Senators Warren (D-MA), Sanders (I-VT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Markey (D-MA), Harris (D-CA), and Representative Velazquez (D-NY) introduced The U.S. Territorial Relief Act of 2018 to terminate certain debt obligations for survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The bill provides territorial relief for debt, creates a PR debt restructuring compensation fund, and creates an audit commission in Puerto Rico.

HUD
HUD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its final review of whether the Office of Block Grant Assistance (OBGA) should codify the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program.  Although OBGA had managed billions in Disaster Recovery funds since 2002, it had not codified CDBG-DR because it believed it did not have the authority.   The OIG recommends that the Acting Director of OBGA work with its Office of General Counsel to codify the CDBG Disaster Recovery program.

HUD released its “Housing Damage Assessment and Recovery Strategies Report Puerto Rico.”

Local Perspectives
An article in the Orlando Sentinel argues that victims of Hurricane Maria should receive the same assistance that survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy received. This includes standing up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP).

Current and displaced tenants of Arbor Court Apartments in Houston, Texas have filed a suit against HUD and the apartment owner over years of flooded apartments and dangerous and unsanitary conditions. The tenants are represented by Lone Star Legal Aid and Daniel and Beshara.  The lawsuit seeks to end Arbor Court’s partnership with HUD and provide tenants with Housing Choice Vouchers and assistance in obtaining affordable, safe, and decent housing. 

Resources
The Association of Pro Bono Counsel has partnered with the legal education company TalksOnLaw, the NY State Chief Judge’s Task Force on Hurricane Relief, New York Legal Assistance Group, and celebrity spokesperson, Adrienne Houghton, to create a YouTube video, entitled “5 Common FEMA Mistakes to Avoid.”  

The Disaster Legal Aid 2018 Roundtable Series will feature Introduction to Federal Disaster Benefits and the ABA Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program on Thursday, July 26, at 4:00 pm EDT.  Go here to register.


Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico
Members of this WG in Puerto Rico are hosting NLIHC CEO Diane Yentel at several meetings this week, including a collective discussion with Puerto Rico’s Housing Secretary Fernando Gil-Ensenat.
Next meeting:  August 21 at 3:00 pm EDT

Homelessness
The WG is working with two 2017 disaster survivors to post their first-person stories on an upcoming blog.
Next meeting:  August 27 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency
The WG’s pro bono counsel met with the Office of Chief Counsel at FEMA this week to discuss specific questions around the quality of FEMA’s data and collection protocols.
Next meeting:   August 1 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
Next meeting:  July 31, 12:30 PM EDT


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Federal Response

FEMA
FEMA has released a report titled the “2017 Hurricane Season FEMA After-Action Report.” The report details the response to hurricanes in 2017, including instances of FEMA’s being underprepared for the size and scope of these storms. The report also includes recommendations for disaster response moving forward.

FEMA hosted four Partner Strategy Sessions—the transcripts of which can now be viewed here.

FEMA has denied or not answered 79% of appeals from hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico seeking assistance to rebuild their homes.

State Actions
The Central Recovery and Reconstruction Office of Puerto Rico released the draft of its Economic and Disaster Recovery Plan. The document is open for public comment until July 18.

The Connecticut State government has allocated $1.5 million for Puerto Rico evacuees living in the state. The largest allotment, $600,000, is earmarked specifically for housing. The Connecticut Department of Housing (DOH) will use $300,000 for general assistance for 300 to 600 families, which includes clothing, medical supplies, and other services.  One hundred households will be provided with first month’s rent and a security deposit along with case management.

Local Perspectives
After Hurricane Harvey destroyed his low-income apartment, Maurice Hill, now homeless, went viral on social media and the news when he sang Happy Birthday with his ‘velvet voice.’ 

Resources
NLIHC created a chart explaining the differences between FEMA’s Rental Assistance and DHAP—demonstrating why DHAP is the better program for providing long-term housing assistance for survivors of natural disasters.

The Practising Law Institute has released a webinar that provides an overview of the legal issues facing disaster survivors with a focus on FEMA appeals.

A legal services roundtable discussion will occur on Thursday, July 26th, entitled “Introduction to Federal Disaster Benefits and the ABA-YLD Disaster Legal Services Program.” The discussion will focus on the process of going from a disaster to a Major Disaster Declaration and the federal benefits triggered by the declaration.

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
Members of this WG will be meeting in Washington with the staff overseeing housing legislation for Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner) and with Puerto Rico’s Housing Director Fernando Gil-Ensenat in Puerto Rico.
Next meeting:  August 21 at 3:00 pm EDT

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

Data Transparency
Next meeting:   August 1 at 3:30 PM EDT

Policy
Next meeting:  July 24, 12:30 PM EDT


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

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