Warren, Markey Press FEMA on Providing Stable Housing for Hurricane Maria Victims and Reconsidering Denied Applications
Request List of HUD Housing Assistance Programs in Massachusetts to Help Struggling Survivors
Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey today sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long, requesting that FEMA establish the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to provide stable housing solutions for evacuees from Hurricane Maria and asking that it reconsider denied applications for benefits after new reporting revealed significantly higher proportions of Hurricane Maria applications are denied, compared to other disasters. In a recent phone call with Senator Warren, Administrator Long again refused to stand up DHAP to address the medium- and longer-term housing needs of Hurricane Maria survivors - neglecting the repeated requests from Senators Warren and Markey, dozens of Members of Congress, and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Instead, FEMA has launched a campaign attacking DHAP with false claims about the effectiveness of the program. After the expiration of the Transitional Shelter Assistance on June 30th, hundreds of hurricane survivors - including 145 families in Massachusetts - are at risk of homelessness because of FEMA's failure to take action.
"The federal government has a responsibility to make sure that these evacuees have access to the most effective housing options available," wrote the senators. "To fulfill this responsibility, we again urge FEMA immediately enter into an agreement with HUD to establish the DHAP program and urge FEMA engage in another review of the evacuees who have been deemed ineligible for continued assistance."
Administrator Long has provided three excuses for why FEMA will not work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish DHAP. He suggested DHAP was unnecessary because eligible evacuees are being served by FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP). The IHP rental assistance program provides limited rental assistance to evacuees, but then they are left on their own to find affordable, stable housing. It does not include support from housing personnel who are familiar with the area and equipped to help evacuees navigate their new communities. Because of this special expertise, a George W. Bush era report concluded that HUD should lead the effort to plan for temporary and long-term housing needs of disaster evacuees. The 2009 National Disaster Housing Strategy had the same recommendation.
Administrator Long has also suggested that more than half of the evacuees still living in Massachusetts are not eligible DHAP. But it appears that FEMA may be improperly denying assistance to evacuees who are eligible. Administrator Long has also said that DHAP is costly but points to a 2011 Inspector General report that is silent on whether DHAP is more or less cost-effective than other viable option for these families. Research suggests that stable housing - as is provided through DHAP - is the most cost-effective way to keep a family from homelessness.
To ensure that FEMA is undertaking the task of establishing DHAP with the necessary urgency, Senators Warren and Markey requested a staff briefing by June 26th on the agency's progress in standing up the program. The senators today also sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Pam Patenaude asking for a list of available HUD housing assistance or homelessness prevention programs for which Hurricane Maria evacuees may be eligible, whether the programs have a waiting list, what the eligibility requirements are, and a description of their application processes. This letter is in response to FEMA's suggestion that existing affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs are adequate to meet the needs of Hurricane Maria survivors.
Senators Warren and Markey have introduced legislation that would activate DHAP to provide stable housing for survivors of Hurricane Maria and future major hurricanes. They are also co-sponsors of Senator Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) legislation to require FEMA to activate DHAP to continue providing housing assistance to thousands of families still displaced after last year's hurricanes.