Warren, Espaillat, Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Provide Stable Housing for Survivors of Natural Disasters

Washington, DC, May 22, 2019 United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) today led 10 of their Senate and House colleagues in reintroducing legislation that enables survivors of major natural disasters to receive housing assistance. The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act of 2019 comes after a string of natural disasters that created housing crises, including Hurricanes Maria and Irma, Hurricane Florence, the flooding of the Missouri River Basin and the wildfires in California.

Joining Senator Warren and Representative Espaillat in introducing the bicameral bill are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Representative Jenniffer González-Colón (R-P.R.).

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“Catastrophic natural disasters from Puerto Rico to California have devastated families and left them searching for safe, stable and affordable housing.” said Senator Warren. “The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act would push the Federal government to step up for these families and make it easier for them to access the help they are entitled to and desperately need.”

“What we are witnessing with the delay to rebuild Puerto Rico is unheard of and never would have happened in any other community,” said Representative Espaillat. “The treatment of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico by the Trump administration is a slap in the face and blatant disregard of the lives of thousands of individuals and families in need. The Trump administration’s inability to provide adequate disaster relief, coupled with FEMA’s crippling delay and lack of coordination with housing authorities to issue disaster recovery funding is appalling and outright embarrassing. I am proud to join Senator Warren and our bicameral colleagues to introduce the Housing Survivors of Majors Disasters Act of 2019 to say enough is enough and the people of Puerto Rico deserve better.”

“Hurricane Maria blanketed the island and left thousands of U.S. citizens without proper shelter. With hurricane season beginning next month, it is of vast importance that we ensure that the federal funding gets approved through the disaster relief legislation and reaches our constituents. Eighteen months after hurricanes Irma and María hit Puerto Rico close to 30,000 people are still living under blue tarps and at the anniversary of hurricane María last year 60,000 people with home damages caused by Maria have had their claims denied by FEMA due to not having property titles. This bill increases the list of documentation considered by FEMA when administering housing assistance, and augments in regards to the likelihood of the island residents and other victims of natural disasters receiving housing recovery assistance when it’s merited and necessary. This is part of the discussions we already had during House hearings with FEMA and meetings with HUD officials but making it a direct instruction. I appreciate Rep. Adriano Espaillat’s leadership and commitment to Puerto Rico by addressing this issue which is so important for our people,” said Representative González-Colón.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, many survivors were denied Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aid because the required documentation to prove ownership of a damaged property had been lost in the storm or was never issued in the first place. This bill expands the type of evidence that can be used to establish residency following natural disasters. The bill also allows disaster assistance to be used for activities to establish ownership of property.

The legislation also requires FEMA to work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to immediately set up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for survivors of Hurricane Maria and requires FEMA and HUD to consult about DHAP activation in the event of any future presidential disaster declarations. DHAP is a partnership between the agencies that provides subsidies to help survivors pay rent, put down a security deposit, or pay for utilities. The program was implemented after previous major disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Despite the large-scale damage caused by Hurricanes Maria in Puerto Rico, FEMA has refused to utilize DHAP as part of its recovery efforts.

The legislation is supported by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the Hispanic Federation, and UnidosUS.

“On behalf of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, I applaud Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Adriano Espaillat for introducing legislation to enact critically-needed reforms to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure that the lowest-income survivors – including seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, people experiencing homelessness, and other individuals – receive the housing assistance they need to rebuild their lives,” stated Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Congress should immediately enact this legislation and hold FEMA accountable for its continued failure to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable survivors, which has forced thousands of families to return to uninhabitable homes, sleep in cars or shelters, double or triple up with other low-income families, or pay far too much of their incomes on rent, putting them at higher risk of evictions and, in worst cases, homelessness.”

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here, and the full text of the bill is available here.  The legislation was originally introduced in May 2018 by Senators Warren, Markey, Blumenthal, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Durbin, Sanders, Gillibrand, Harris and Representatives Espaillat, Jeniffer Gonzalez-Colón (R-P.R.), and 16 other House co-sponsors.

As a steadfast champion for Puerto Rico, Senator Warren is fighting to address the inadequate disaster response and slow recovery efforts, and to pass legislation to forgive much of Puerto Rico’s debt. For more information about her extensive work fighting for robust recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, visit www.warren.senate.gov/puertorico.

Bill Text (PDF) | Section-by-Section Summary (PDF)