Bill would allow FEMA to consider other documents proving right to property
SAN JUAN – Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González announced the filing of the Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act (HR 5474), which seeks that more documents be added to the list the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) considers when reviewing housing assistance.
Many Puerto Ricans who do not have a legal title to their property are ineligible for post-disaster housing aid, cutting them off from programs that finance rebuilding or major repairs.
“Close to 60,000 people on the island who are now dealing with home damages caused by [Hurricane] Maria have had their claims denied by FEMA due to not having property titles. This bill…augments the likelihood of island residents and other victims of natural disasters receiving housing recovery assistance when it is merited and necessary,” Resident Commissioner González said in a statement.
The bill would direct FEMA to enter a “mission assignment” with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), which has previously been used in the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina and Ike.
According to a release, the measure “would open the door to provide temporary rental assistance to families displaced from their residences by any major disaster declared during 2017.” The bill would also “make individuals who are either renting, or are without land permits, deeds or titles eligible for FEMA funds and prevent them from being turned away from FEMA assistance.”
In the long term, the act would allow for disaster relief funding under the Stafford Act to be used for land surveys, land titles “and any other tax or fees associated with the transfer of property,” as well.
“Since last September, I have pushed a legislative agenda that would call for emergency federal hearings and provide emergency financial assistance to residents, including this latest joint effort with my colleague, Rep. Jenniffer González Colón, that would specifically address the critical needs and ongoing challenges that residents who have lost their homes continue to face nearly half of a year later,” Espaillat, the first Dominican-American and first formerly undocumented immigrant elected to Congress, adds in the joint release.
“It is difficult to fathom the destruction brought by natural disasters until experienced firsthand. That has been the case with every single one of my constituents,” González further stated. “Hurricane Maria blanketed the island and left thousands of U.S. citizens without proper shelter. Now, seven months after the hurricane and with this years’ hurricane season rapidly approaching, it is of paramount importance that we ensure federal funding approved through disaster relief legislation reaches constituents.”
“This 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,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition–of more than 700 local, state and national organizations–when commending the members of Congress for “putting forward critically needed, long-term housing solutions so that in the future, no family recovering from a disaster has to make the impossible choice between paying rent and meeting their other basic needs as they get back on their feet.”