Posts Tagged ‘FEMA’

FEMA Housing Proposals Should Motivate You

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

It started with a plan for transition to those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. It ended with a proposal for temporary housing for disaster victims that should motivate people to put their own plans in place. The federal government plans to donate approximately 1,800 mobile homes to 3,400 families living in those homes since they were displaced by Katrina. The government also plans to distribute $50 million in rental vouchers to low-income trailer residents to move into targeted housing projects and will assume from the State of Louisiana the responsibility of helping those people secure permanent housing. Excess trailer homes from FEMA’s inventory (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) will be donated to state and local governments and nonprofit groups.

These actions are motivated by a desire to provide a more humane transition to more vulnerable populations that were facing FEMA’s threatened eviction action after the trailer program ended on May 1, 2009. FEMA’s housing assistance program typically provides support for 18 months. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA extended assistance for 45 months. Since many local jurisdictions in the Gulf Coast will not change their zoning ordinances to allow trailer homes, this initiative may be of limited benefit.

Meanwhile, FEMA officials told the Associated Press that they are evaluating options to house Florida hurricane evacuees in foreclosed homes should a severe storm exhaust the availability of all other housing options. This proposal is motivated by concern to stabilize disaster-affected communities rather than having evacuees disperse across the country and possibly not return, which was the experience of Louisiana in the aftermath of Katrina. Given the legal issues involved in determining ownership and rights to a foreclosed property and the uncertainty around the condition of the properties, this seems an unattractive option. Foreclosed homes are generally not maintained and lacking basic utilities. Residents of hurricane-exposed communities should begin to put their own plans in place.

The Clock is Ticking

Friday, February 27th, 2009
No time like the present

No time like the present

USA Today reported this month that close to $4.0 billion in federal government rebuilding aid committed in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has not been spent more than three years after the disaster. The result is that thousands of projects across the Gulf Coast remain incomplete. The aid, part of a massive recovery effort funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was intended to repair or replace public works destroyed by the hurricanes. Congress has called FEMA to account for the unspent funds, but the lesson bears repeating: don’t depend on the government for disaster aid. You will be disappointed. Focus your efforts on what is within the scope of your control, such as savings and insurance.

Residents Affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike to Benefit from FEMA Housing Assistance

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008
FEMA and HUD promise housing assistance

FEMA and HUD promise housing assistance

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has joined with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to announce a housing assistance program for residents affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. For more information about this program, click here to see the FEMA press release. The program appears to have much in common with FEMA’s Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program that was in effect during the 9/11 disaster, although it differs in some key respects to the assistance offered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here are two tips from the experience of 9/11:

1. As I recommended in Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (Wiley, second edition, 2008), always use a Certificate of Mailing for any correspondence with your insurance company or any relief agency. This is different from sending a letter via registered or certified mail in which the recipient must sign to acknowledge receipt of the letter or package. With a Certificate of Mailing, the recipient’s signature is unnecessary; it is the post office that provides certification of the date and time of the mailing. Why is this distinction important? Consider what happened in the aftermath of 9/11 to Lower Manhattan residents who were directed to mail their applications for the FEMA Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program to a designated post office box address for processing. Applications were not accepted through other channels. Weeks and months passed and residents wondered what had happened with their applications. As it turns out, FEMA had not paid the rent on its post office box. If the post office would have returned the undeliverable applications to the senders, the problem could have been detected earlier. But one error compounded another and the post office staff simply piled up the undeliverable applications in a back room. The Certificate of Mailing would have proved that the applicants met their deadlines irrespective of the problems on the recipient’s end, that is one of the reasons that I recommend its use. By the way, the book incorrectly states that the cost of the Certificate of Mailing is $0.60. It was $0.60 at the time I submitted the manuscript for the book, but it has since risen to $1.10, which is still a good value.

2. The information that FEMA and HUD have released indicates that benefits will be paid three months at a time. If they will process the benefits for this program as they did for the Mortgage and Rental Assistance Program, they will electronically deposit the funds in the recipient’s bank account. Given the economic difficulties and credit pressure, it is very likely that there are applicants in the Gulf Coast who may have judgments against them. In such a case, it would be better to set up a separate account for receipt of the electronic funds from which the rent or mortgage expense could be paid. An attorney with the 9/11 Project of the New York Legal Aid Society had informed me of an instance in which one of her clients had commingled his FEMA housing assistance money with other funds in his account and the FEMA money was garnished by a creditor. If you may be facing this risk, it is better not to take a chance. Use a separate account.

Housing Needs for Those Displaced by Ike

Sunday, September 14th, 2008
KTRH News Radio in Houston Helping the Community

KTRH News Radio in Houston Helping the Community

This photograph shows the volunteer efforts of Houston Radio Station KTRH 740 AM News Radio to distribute ice and water to those in need before FEMA’s efforts have begun. I was a guest on their news radio program this afternoon to offer tips to their listeners about their urgent recovery needs. One of the issues that many callers had concerned the needs for immediate housing. FEMA has announced a program for offering hotel rooms but, according to the host of the radio program, FEMA’s website has not been updated for Texas since Hurricane Dolly. The callers reported frustration that they could not get information about this hotel program and which hotels are participating.

Here is how it works: Texas residents who have been displaced from their homes by Hurricane Ike can report to a participating hotel that is open and benefit from free temporary housing. These hotels have arrangements with FEMA to house displaced residents without requiring payment on check-in. It is similar to what the airlines do for you when you are bumped from a flight and they put you up overnight in a hotel. They have pre-negotiated rates with local hotels and you claim the room with a voucher. It is the same for the FEMA program, except that you don’t need a paper voucher.

The callers to the radio program expressed a great deal of confusion because they don’t know which hotels are participating and they cannot get through to FEMA. This is common in the aftermath of a major disaster: communications with relief agencies will be difficult. Here is the hotel list for Hurricane Gustav, but I am told that it applies for Ike as well. Be sure to call and confirm that the hotel is open for business and accepting guests before heading to any property. (By the way, for future reference, if you find yourself in a disaster and you don’t have Internet access, try calling the airlines. The FEMA hotel list in most cities substantially overlaps with the hotels that airlines have negotiated rates for passengers who have been bumped.)

Of course, once you secure temporary emergency housing for the next few nights, you will then have to deal with your longer-term housing needs. I will talk about that on tomorrow’s radio program. I will be a guest again on KTRH News Radio 740 AM in Houston at 7:00 a.m. CST and will also post some additional information on this blog.