Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, May 9, 2018

CDBG-DR Action Plans

  • The U.S. Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) released the territory’s CDBG-DR Action Plan on May 3, 2018. The public comment period is open until May 17. VIHFA is holding three open forum sessions: May 9 in St. John, May 10 in St. Croix, and May 16 in St. Thomas. The Plan provides $72 million for housing (including $30 million for the housing authority) of the approximately $243-million in the first CDBG-DR total allocation.  With a heavier emphasis on infrastructure, economic development, and electrical grid projects, the second tranche is expected to designate more for unmet housing needs–although that is still to be determined.
  • Numerous groups, including NLIHC on behalf of the DHRC, submitted letters with comments and recommendations on Florida’s state action plan for $616 million in CDBG-DR funds. Many of these letters urge the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to make adjustments that ensure the lowest income households receive their fair share of resources. Read letters from 8 organizations and coalitions here.
  • Local groups in Puerto Rico as well as members of the DHRC signed on to a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Puerto Rico’s Department of Housing Secretary Fernando Gil-Enseñat, urging them to extend the public comment period for the CDBG-DR action plan and  hold additional public hearings. Mr. Gil-Enseñat responded with a letter detailing the efforts his agency has taken to include public input thus far, which he states more than fulfill requirements. He asserted that additional time for public comment would only further delay recovery efforts.
  • Forum in PR. Puerto Rico’s Department of Housing held an orientation and discussion session on May 8 regarding the allocation of CDBG-DR funds.
  • Comments on TX State Action Plan. Texas Housers submitted comments to Texas GLO regarding the state action plan for $5 billion in CDBG-DR funds. The recommendations include improving transparency, adjusting FEMA-verified loss thresholds, increasing affordable housing, and providing assistance for all families.
  • HUD Approves TX Plan. HUD has officially approved the Texas General Land Office’s action plan for the allocation of $57.8 million. These funds were part of previous allocations made in 2015 – 2016.

Federal Response

Congress

  • The House Financial Services Committee is expected to hold a hearing on a bill authorizing the CDBG-DR on May 17. Witnesses invited to speak include Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Heather Lagrone from the Texas General Land Office, a representative from the Houston Mayor’s office, Carlos Martin from Urban Institute, Adam Gordon from Fair Share Housing Center (New Jersey), and Marion McFadden from Enterprise Community Partners.
  • Senator Patty Murray introduced the “Rural Disaster Recovery Act of 2018” ( 2767), which includes a provision to create a new program to help communities recover when FEMA does not grant Individual Assistance (IA).  The proposed program would help with shelter, food, and other recovery services.

FEMA

  • FEMA has released a strategic plan for 2018 – 2022. The plan has three main goals: build a culture of preparedness; prepare the country for disasters; and reduce the complexity of FEMA. The public can submit general questions, comments, or feedback.
  • FEMA granted an unconditional extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program for survivors of Hurricane Maria through June 30. FEMA will also offer transportation back to Puerto Rico for interested families participating in TSA on the continental U.S.
  • Landlords interested in renting to hurricane survivors in the U.S. Virgin Islands should sign up with FEMA’s Multi-Family Lease and Repair Program before June 1.
  • FEMA and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources will introduce an updated version of The Stronger Home Guide on May 16. This is the first update since 1996.

IRS

  • The IRS has provided guidance to help taxpayers better prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.

 

Local Perspectives

  • D-SNAP in FL. Thousands of Floridians with disabilities were previously denied access to Hurricane Irma Disaster-SNAP benefits because they were unable to attend an in-person interview. A new settlement will allow these individuals to apply for benefits by participating in phone interviews. FL Department of Children and Families has contacted many of these individuals to alert them of their new eligibility.
  • Flood Maps in PR. The Puerto Rico Planning Board is requesting public comment on new FEMA flood maps. The maps will help Puerto Rico better implement mitigation techniques. The public can provide feedback regarding these maps either by email or in writing.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico

  • Next meeting: May 15 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

  • Next meeting: May 9, 12:30 EDT

In anticipation of the May 17th hearing in the Housing Financial Services Committee on CDBG-DR, the WG is putting together a few sample questions to share with Committee staff and DHRC members that will be testifying.


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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

  • The House passed the FAA Reauthorization Act (R. 4) on April 27 with a vote of 393 – 13. As previously noted, this bill includes the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, which contains several important provisions: authorizes states to administer housing assistance using federal funding; allows greater flexibility for housing following a disaster; allows President to waive duplication of benefit restrictions; emphasizes mitigation; and increases the assistance available to people with disabilities.

FEMA

  • Through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, Puerto Rican agencies and municipalities have received over $2 billion, including a recent grant of $3.1 million to the Puerto Rico Public Housing Administration for congregating sheltering.
  • In response to recent reports revealing flaws in FEMA’s approach to providing shelter and housing following the 2017 hurricanes, the agency posted a fact sheet with “Myths vs. Facts” about the Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program (TSA). This included: “Myth: HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) is necessary to address the housing needs of Puerto Rico survivors.”

Economic Development Administration

  • The EDA has published the FY2018 Disaster Supplemental Notice of Funding Opportunity, announcing $587 million in grant money for communities impacted by the 2017 disasters. Nonprofits and local governments are invited to submit grant applications based on development strategies that foster economic growth and resilience.  These will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Local Perspectives

  • Protests in PR. On May 1, International Workers’ Day, thousands of Puerto Ricans from across the island joined a general strike in opposition to school closings, tuition increases, and potential cuts to benefits. Many demonstrators expressed deep concerns that upcoming austerity measures would only prompt more Puerto Ricans to leave the island–making recovery more difficult. The largest demonstration took place in San Juan and ended with confrontations between police and a group of protestors.
  • Executive Order on Price Gouging in CA. California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that prohibits price gouging in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties until December 4, 2108.
  • FL Data. Florida Housing has created a report, “Impacts to Housing in Florida from the 2017 Hurricanes,” which compiles data from a number of sources.
  • Recovery Concerns in TX. Texas Housers, Texas Appleseed, and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid held a press conference on April 27 to share their concerns about the most recent state action plan from the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The organizations asserted that the plan does not promote an equitable or inclusive recovery. The press conference can be found here.
  • New Grant in TX. The Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation and Enterprise Community Partners are joining together to create the Housing and Economic Assistance to Rebuild Texas program, which provides grants of up to $50,000 to local nonprofits as well as technical assistance. Grants are meant to help organizations provide home repairs and other housing assistance to low income households impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
  • Frontline on PR. With help from NPR, Frontline released a new episode on May 1 that investigates Puerto Rico’s current economic and humanitarian crises. In addition to the film, Frontline and NPR had additional stories on the response compared to other hurricanes and the economic situation prior to the hurricanes.
  • Informal Housing in PR. In an interview with Marketplace, Governor Ricardo Rosselló spoke about his hopes of “eradicating that informal housing component, start pushing folks into safe, formal [home] ownership.”

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico

  • Three affidavits accepted inconsistently by FEMA personnel in Puerto Rico when formal property titles are absent will be reviewed and refined by the WG, translated into English, and submitted to FEMA in Washington for approval and broader, a uniform application on the island.
  • Next meeting: May 15 at 3:00 PM EDT

Homelessness

  • The WG will further develop the Disaster Housing Recovery Stories tool for distribution among its respective organizational networks at upcoming conferences and other platforms.  The goal is to compile a robust set of challenges in recent disaster assistance programs to educate congressional members about the need for placing CDBG-DR in the statute.
  • Next meeting: May 29 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency

  • The WG is preparing its pro bono counsel with specific requests of the FEMA Office of Chief Counsel as well as following up a meeting with FEMA Policy staff to continue the discussion about its wish list for data to be provided on Open FEMA.
  • Next meeting:  June 6 at 3:30 EDT

Policy

  • The WG formulated the letter to Senator Bill Nelson mentioned above.
  • Next meeting: May 8, 12:30 EDT

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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Federal Response

FEMA

  • FEMA granted a blanket extension of the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program for approximately 1,700 survivors who were scheduled to lose their benefits. FEMA had determined that these families were no longer eligible for TSA, but the extension allows them to continue participating. The program is still set to expire for all participants on May 14.
  • FEMA also granted an extension for Hurricane Harvey survivors participating in TSA. Survivors are now expected to check out on June 1.
  • FEMA released a draft Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide that is open for public comment through June 7, 2018. This is a policy resource for all Individual Assistance (IA) programs that FEMA administers.

CMS

Local Perspectives

  • Texans Pushed out of Hotels. Despite granting an extension for the TSA program through May 31, FEMA told about 1,400 people to check out of their hotel rooms by April 24. FEMA determined that certain areas have enough available rental units to reabsorb those who had been renting before the storm. Homeowners were allowed to stay. These households were given less than a week to vacate their hotel rooms
  • Failures in TX. Houston homeowners spoke out about their negative experiences with the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering (PREPS) program. The General Land Office (GLO) runs this FEMA-funded program that provides just enough repairs to make homes livable. Many homeowners were disappointed with the repairs, and both advocates and homeowners are unclear on the GLO’s criteria for the program.
  • Unequal Response in TX. Near Beaumont, TX, two neighborhoods have received different responses following the disaster. In a small, predominately white, middle-class town just outside the city, contractors were busy making repairs on houses. Many families had FEMA trailers, and signs provided helpful information regarding community resources.  On Pine Street, where predominately black residents live among empty lots where homes have been bought out from past floods, destroyed houses sat empty; and only one family had a FEMA trailer. More transparent data is necessary to better understand such discrepancies.
  • Struggling in the FL Keys. While tourism may have recovered in the Florida Keys, many residents have been left behind. Seven months after Hurricane Irma, families are still in improvised living conditions. Tourism is critical to the Keys’ economy, but low income workers are being priced out of the market. Building resilient homes is expensive, and coastal cities often avoid rebuilding affordable homes or public housing.
  • Health Outcomes in PR and USVI. The Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report regarding health care issues in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands six months following Hurricane Maria.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Puerto Rico

  • Next meeting: May 15 at 3:00 PM EDT

Homelessness

  • Next meeting: April 30 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency

  • Next meeting:  First week of May TBA

Policy

  • The House has included several disaster provisions in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 (R. 4)–a must-pass bill. The House is expected to vote on the bill this week. While none of these address disaster housing issues, we are looking for opportunities to include such provisions in the Senate version.
  • Next meeting: May 1, 12:30 EDT

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

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Tuesday, April 10, 2018

General

To increase the responsiveness of federal disaster housing programs, the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition has developed an online tool for capturing the individual stories of disaster survivors. These accounts of unmet need will be collected for use with policymakers and media to illustrate the unique housing challenges low income survivors face after a disaster and to build support for solutions. We are asking legal aid, advocacy, and other organizations serving disaster survivors from the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 to help us collect these stories by filling out the online questionnaire for any client/individual with a compelling need for direct rental assistance.


Federal Response

Congress

A group of seven senators – Bill Nelson (D-FL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Tom Carper (D-DE) – sent a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The letter requests additional hearings on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, particularly relating to power restoration. Many Puerto Ricans on the island still lack power.

HUD

HUD awarded $28 billion in CDBG-DR funds to support long-term disaster recovery—the second and last allocation of what Congress appropriated in the disaster supplemental appropriations. While Congress provided “up to” $16 billion to address unmet needs, HUD allocates only $12 billion for this purpose – the remaining $4 billion was instead diverted by HUD to address mitigation needs, bringing all mitigation dollars to a total of $16 billion. At this time, it is unclear whether this allocation provides sufficient resources to address the unmet needs in disaster-impacted areas. NLIHC will keep you updated as we learn more.

Of the $12 billion allocated for unmet needs, HUD provides $124 million for California; $157.7 million for Florida; $37.9 million for Georgia; $58.5 million for Missouri; $10.15 billion for Puerto Rico; $652 million for Texas; and $846.8 million for USVI.  Awards for unmet needs and mitigation can be reviewed here.

The Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) has compiled a spreadsheet with information on public housing authorities (PHAs) with preferences for households displaced by the 2017 disasters. The spreadsheet is a resource for families, PHAs, and HUD staff. PHAs that wish to supply additional or correct information should contact the disaster preference project team.

USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program, which was authorized by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, will make payments of up to $2.36 billion to farmers and ranchers recovering from the 2017 disasters. Sign-up for the program will begin no later than July 16.

FEMA

FEMA and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced on April 7 that $53 million in Community Disaster Loans were approved for 12 municipalities. An additional 65 municipalities are in different stages of the application process.

Local Perspectives

  • New Texas State Action Plan. Texas General Land Office (GLO) has released today a Hurricane Harvey Action Plan for the allocation of $5.024 billion and is accepting public comments on the plan through April 26, 2018. Texas GLO previously released a State Action Plan for $57.8 million, which it submitted to HUD in early March.
  • Rebuild Texas Fund Update. The Rebuild Texas Fund has raised $93.1 million for economic recovery of communities most affected by Hurricane Harvey. So far, the Fund has invested $18 million in 64 projects. Details of the projects can be found in its recent updates.
  • Upcoming Deadline in Texas. The Texas GLO announced that the agency will soon complete activities for the Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair (DALHR) program. The last date to have an inspection scheduled is April 20, 2018. All applicants notified that they are eligible for DALHR should contact GLO to schedule an inspection.
  • Seniors Hotline. The National Church Residences Hurricane Support for Seniors Hotline is no longer taking new referrals. Disaster case management teams have been deployed to the affected areas to serve seniors in need. The hotline helped over 700 seniors, and staff are ready to re-engage for the 2018 hurricane season if necessary.
  • Lessons from Louisiana. The Data Center, located in New Orleans, LA, released a new report, Rigging the Real Estate Market: Segregation, Inequality, and Disaster Risk. The study explores how various policies–including disaster recovery efforts–created and enforced racial segregation and inequity.
  • Race and Recovery. The Center for American Progress explores the inequities in disaster recovery past and present in this insightful piece.

Working Groups on Disaster Housing Recovery

Policy

  • On behalf of the DHRC, NLIHC sent a letter to House Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) regarding a bill that would authorize the CDBG-DR program. The letter provides recommendations regarding data transparency, efficient use of limited resources, oversight, mitigation and resiliency, and other suggestions to ensure the needs of low income households are addressed. The policy group has been working with committee staff and expects a mark-up on the bill later this month.
  • Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) is expected to introduce a bill this week that would require FEMA and HUD to stand up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) following a disaster. The bill also includes provisions requiring FEMA to accept alternative documents proving home ownership, which has been an issue in Texas and Puerto Rico. Congressman Espaillat’s legislation would ensure that all survivors of the recent hurricanes and wildfires – including those with the lowest incomes – have the resources they need to keep a stable roof over their heads while they rebuild their lives.
  • Next meeting: April 17, 12:30 PM EDT.

Puerto Rico

  • Attorneys in Puerto Rico and Texas along with national support attorneys met to understand PR’s estate laws to determine if affidavits like those recognized by FEMA as proof of ownership in Texas can be developed and applied in the Commonwealth.
  • The PR partners will put together a comprehensive statement and documents suggesting how FEMA can be responsive to jurisdictional law in PR in addressing the absence of title and other documents FEMA recognizes as proof of ownership.  This may include extending application-for-assistance deadlines for those who have started the long process of securing legal ownership.
  • Next meeting: April 17 at 3:00 PM EDT

Homelessness

  • The WG will pursue the policy goal of securing the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program in statute and work to incorporate within it policies that address challenges unique to the broader challenge of homelessness. The focus of its next meeting is the current legislation by Rep. Wagner (R-MO) and a long-term strategy for moving a fuller bill that incorporates the DHRC’s priorities.
  • Next meeting: April 30 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency

  • The WG seeks to make public FEMA’s protocols, questions, and assessments for processing applications for federal assistance. It has also compared the numerous FOIA requests to FEMA for data at a more granular level.   The WG will review the applicant data on OpenFEMA that Fair Share Housing and partners secured from FEMA to determine next steps.
  • Next meeting: TBA

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

 

Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

The House Homeland Security Committee is hosting a field hearing on Hurricane Harvey Lessons. The hearing will be held on April 9 at 10:30 AM CDT at Berry Center, 8877 Barker Cypress, Cypress, TX.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney issued a memo with guidance for agencies regarding the implementation of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 as it relates to emergency supplemental appropriations. Among other issues, the memo calls for agencies to ensure that “grantees expend all awarded disaster relief funds within the 24-month period following the agency’s obligation of those funds unless waived by OMB.”

FEMA

FEMA is seeking landlords in Puerto Rico to participate in the Direct Lease and Multi-Family Lease and Repair programs. FEMA pays participating landlords directly to help provide homes for displaced survivors.

Local Perspectives

Florida Affordable Housing. The Heart of Florida United Way has launched a new housing assistance program for displaced Hurricane Maria survivors. The program is limited to assisting those whose homes in Puerto Rico were declared uninhabitable by FEMA and are working.

Florida Funding for Repairs. Funding from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) program will soon be allocated to local governments hardest hit by Hurricane Irma. The funds will assist income-qualified households in need of repairs to their homes, including evacuees in Florida from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Seniors Struggle in Puerto Rico. Older Puerto Ricans face additional issues as they struggle to find healthy foods and necessary medicine.

Lessons for Texas. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas published a report about the redevelopment of affordable public housing following Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Ten years later, the continuing hardships affected communities still face could offer lessons for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

Lawsuit against Texas GLO. In late March, Texas Housers filed a lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to seek access to data on the agency’s short-term housing programs. Despite repeated requests for data on the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering (PREPS) and Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair (DALHR), GLO maintains they are unable to share that information. Texas Housers asserts this is a violation of the Texas Public Information Act. A judge is expected to make her decision about a temporary injunction next week.

DHRC Working Groups

Policy

Advocates met with staff from the office of Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) to offer recommendations and revisions regarding her bill to authorize the CDBG-DR program. The working group is drafting a formal letter to Rep. Wagner outlining these recommendations.

Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) is expected to introduce a bill that would address the issues arising from survivors’ lack of titles for their properties. The bill also requires FEMA to allow HUD to stand up the DHAP program. NLIHC staff are following up with Senator Harris about a Dear Colleague letter in the Senate.

On behalf of the DHRC, NLIHC has submitted a request to meet with FEMA Administrator Brock Long to discuss the agency’s response to the longer-term housing needs of low income survivors. Specifically, the request asks to discuss FEMA’s refusal to stand up DHAP, the need to collect and make public data, and the necessary steps to address the unique housing needs in Puerto Rico.  

Next meeting:  Every Tuesday afternoon at 12:30 EDT.

Puerto Rico

Focus: After discussing the steps Lone Star Legal Aid took to get FEMA to accept these affidavits in Texas in the absence of ownership title documents, there is interest in pursuing a similar strategy for Puerto Rico, where informal housing arrangements are common.  Many families have been denied FEMA assistance when a family cannot produce legal proof of ownership. Disaster advocates from Katrina and attorneys from Puerto Rico in the Working Group (WG) suggested that Puerto Rico—like Louisiana–conveys ownership automatically upon a death to family heirs, so affidavits might be a strategy that would work in PR.  The Office of Chief Counsel of FEMA said that each state should have equivalent laws which may allow an applicant to be considered the owner.

Next steps:  Attorneys in Puerto Rico and Texas along with national support attorneys will meet to understand PR’s estate laws to determine if affidavits like those recognized by FEMA as proof of ownership in Texas can be developed and applied in the commonwealth. 

Next meeting:  April 17 at 3:00 PM EDT

Homelessness

Focus:  The WG will pursue the policy goal of securing the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program in statute and work to incorporate within it policies that address challenges unique to the broader challenge of homelessness. 

Next step:  Discuss the current legislation by Rep. Wagner (R-MO) and a long-term strategy for moving a fuller bill that incorporates the DHRC’s priorities.

Next meeting:  April 30 at 3:00 PM EDT

Data Transparency

Focus:  The WG has been in ongoing discussions with FEMA’s Deputy IHP Branch Chief in Washington relative to FEMA’s protocols for processing applications for federal assistance.  It has also met to share the numerous FOIA requests to FEMA for data at a more granular level.  

Next step:  The WG will review the applicant data on OpenFEMA that Fair Share Housing and partners secured from FEMA. It will also develop a comprehensive list of data for a letter to FEMA.

Next meeting:  April 6 at 1:00 PM EDT


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