Stories of eleven Texas families document FEMA’s illegal and systemic discrimination against the poor

It has become abundantly clear that FEMA does not treat low-income disaster survivors right.

Consider the stories included in a lawsuit filed against FEMA in Federal District Court in Brownsville today by attorneys with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA). The lawsuit cites the tragic stories of eleven low-income hurricane survivor households denied assistance by FEMA.

Hurricane Dolly hit the South Texas Coast on July 23, 2008. FEMA admits that its home repair denial rate is unusually high for Hurricane Dolly. Many of the families who were denied assistance are among the poorest families in the US and live in the colonias along the Texas-Mexico border.

A FEMA official explained the high denial rate as follows: “A lot of the homes built were built from second hand materials. So the damage was, in most cases, caused from the faulty building of the house, and not the storm.”

This a curious and apparently illegal standard that FEMA is applying. It may be true that the homes of these families were not in good shape before Hurricane Dolly. But their homes were providing them shelter and as a result of the hurricane their homes are now uninhabitable.

The FEMA program is intended to help people regain a place to live. It has systemically failed low income families because of the illegal decisions by FEMA to deny assistance to these families, in essence, because of their pre-existing shelter poverty.

This is the little understood outrage of the failed federal response to disasters and it is way past time that something be done to remedy it. The legal aid lawyers have taken the matter to court. Thank God for their work. But a lawsuit will take time and may not address the core problem at FEMA.

Congress must take immediate action to fix this tragic injustice.

The lawsuit alleges that FEMA collects, maintains, and uses information concerning a category of home repair applications that FEMA labels “deferred maintenance,” but publicly available legal standards do not mention “deferred maintenance” or explain how FEMA ascertains this information or uses it in its housing repair assistance decisions.
It also claims FEMA has applied unascertainable legal standards to deny housing repair assistance to somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley since Hurricane Dolly struck, roughly half of all applicants.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to compel FEMA to comply with its non-discretionary duties under 42 U.S.C. §§ 5151(a) and 5174(j) to:

(a) publicly disclose the standards that it uses to decide applications for housing repair assistance; and

(b) decide these applications in an equitable and impartial manner, without using hidden internal rules that discriminate against the poor.

The individual plaintiffs reside in Cameron and Hidalgo counties. After their primary residences were damaged by Hurricane Dolly, they applied for housing repair assistance. FEMA denied their applications, in nearly all cases due to “insufficient damage,” without telling them what legal standard was applied or what facts were relied upon to deny them assistance.

I will paraphrase the TRLA complaint as it explains what happened to a dozen low-income hurricane survivor households when they sought help from FEMA. I have redacted the families’ last names for this story to protect their privacy.

Family #1: Francisca A’s roof leaks and there is mold growing on her ceiling and walls, which will probably cost around $1500 to repair or replace, but she was denied any housing assistance benefits due to insufficient damage.

Francisca A, age 74, lives alone in Edcouch, Hidalgo County, Texas. Ms. Adame has lived in this home for over 18 years. Ms. A lives in extreme poverty. Her annual income is only $6,756, comprised of social security disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Hurricane Dolly damaged Ms. A’s roof, loosening shingles and blowing some off entirely. As a result, the roof leaks when it rains. Ms. A tries to prevent damage where she can, putting out buckets to collect the water that leaks through. However, portions of the ceiling are now rotting and mold has developed on some interior walls. She has been advised that repairs will cost close to $1500. Ms. A does not have insurance or any other means to make the repairs.

A FEMA inspector came to Ms. A’s home around August 8, 2008. He was unable to communicate directly with Ms. A because he did not speak Spanish. Ms. A’s son acted as a translator. The inspector remained on the ground when he took photographs of the property even though Ms. A told the inspector she did not think it was possible for him to adequately inspect the damaged roof from the ground.

FEMA sent Ms. A a letter denying housing assistance and other assistance on August 12, 2008, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

On October 1, 2008, Ms. A appealed the denial of benefits and requested a second inspection of her home. Although she would like to obtain a written estimate of the repair costs in order to include that with a FEMA appeal, Ms. A cannot afford to pay for such an estimate. A contractor told her orally that he would charge $600 for labor, but this free estimate did not include the cost of materials. Ms. A has not received any written decision following her October 1, 2008 appeal.

On November 3, 2008, a TRLA advocate called FEMA about the appeal. A FEMA representative informed Ms. A’s advocate that assistance had been denied because the damages to Ms. A’s pre-disaster home were not caused by the disaster. Rather, FEMA claims the damages resulted from a lack of maintenance prior to the disaster.

Family #2: Alejandro A and Elizabeth A must repair or replace a leaking roof, cracked walls and ceilings, a flooded and uninhabitable bedroom, and molding carpet, but they were denied housing repair assistance due to “insufficient damage.”

Alejandro A has but one home, where he has lived for 38 years with his family. The home is located in Lozano, Cameron County, Texas. The As live in extreme poverty, with an annual income of about $20,000 to support a household of five, including Alejandro’s wife Herminia (age 57), his daughter Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s two children, ages 14 and 2. Elizabeth and her children have lived in the A home for their entire lives.

Hurricane Dolly caused structural and roofing damage to the A’ home. Dolly’s winds damaged the roof, blowing off shingles and boards creating holes in the roof and in the sides of the house through which water enters. Dolly also shook the house and caused large cracks to appear in the walls and ceiling. Water began to stream down the interior walls during Hurricane Dolly, and one of the house’s two bedrooms was flooded. Large leaks remain throughout the house whenever it rains. Pungent mold continues to grow in the house with rain and heat. The As fear for the health of their family because of the mold. To this day the mold remains in the carpet of the home.

A contractor estimated that it would cost $3,300 just to repair the As’ roof. The As do not have insurance or any other means to make the repairs.

The As applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2). FEMA sent an inspector to the As’ home, who listened to the As’ description of the damage caused by Dolly.

FEMA sent the As a letter denying home repair assistance on August 12, 2008, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

The As appealed and provided a contractor statement. As far as they know, their appeal remains pending at this time.

Family #3: Manuel B’s roof leaked, pouring water into his kitchen, living room, dining room and laundry room, but he was denied any housing assistance benefits due to “insufficient damage.”

Manuel B, 67, and his wife, 70, have lived for about 30 years in El Charro, an informal subdivision or “colonia” located near San Juan, Texas.  Mr. B and his wife live in extreme poverty. Mr. B receives Social Security benefits of about $590 a month. His wife receives Social Security benefits of about $374 a month. They also receive Food Stamps in the amount of about $34 a month.

When Hurricane Dolly struck the Texas coast, the torrential rain from the hurricane caused severe damage to Mr. B’s roof. The weight of the rainwater on the roof caused beams and/or flashings under the roof, and/or the roof itself, to warp and buckle, so that water poured down the kitchen wall, the living room wall, part of the dining room wall and into the laundry room.

Ever since the hurricane, water has come into the house when it rains through the leaks caused when the roof buckled in Hurricane Dolly. Also, ever since the hurricane, insects enter the house through the places where Hurricane Dolly caused the house to leak. Mr. B has been spraying insecticide on the pests but this does not stop them from coming. He did not have this infestation before Dolly.

Mr. B does not have any insurance to cover the repairs he needs to make due to the damage caused by Hurricane Dolly, or any other means to make the repairs that are needed.

On or about August 6, 2008 Mr. B applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2). FEMA sent an inspector to Mr. B’s house to inspect the damage. Mr. B told the inspector that the damage was to the roof, and offered the inspector a ladder to go up and look at the roof. The inspector declined to go up on the ladder and look at the damaged roof. She told Mr. B that she didn’t need to do that, that her camera “could do miracles” and she just took pictures from inside the house and at ground level. She did not take pictures of the part of the roof that was seriously damaged by the hurricane. She only took pictures of the areas that were not seriously damaged.

On or about August 13, FEMA sent Mr. B a letter denying housing assistance, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

In September 2008, Mr. B submitted an appeal to FEMA, together with a contractor’s estimate regarding the damage to the house and the estimated cost to repair it.

On or about November 3, 2008, a representative from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. called FEMA on Mr. B’s behalf, and spoke to a FEMA representative. The representative stated that on October 15, 2008, Mr. B’s appeal was denied, due to “deferred maintenance.” On or about November 11, 2008, FEMA sent Mr. B a letter denying his appeal and denying his request for repair assistance.

Family #4: Maria G’s roof lost shingles, destroying her daughter’s bedroom and causing water to stream into the home and mold to grow on the sheetrock and carpet, but she was denied housing repair assistance due to “insufficient damage.”

Maria G has but one home, located in San Juan, Hidalgo County, Texas. Ms. G has lived there for over twenty years with her family, which at the time Hurricane Dolly struck included her husband, Rafael, her adult daughter Belinda, and Belinda’s three children, ages 6, 4, and 11 months.

The Gs live in extreme poverty, with an annual income of about $7,800. Rafael suffered a stroke and has partial paralysis on one side of his body and impaired vision as a result.

During Hurricane Dolly, the roof of the Gs’ home was damaged. Shingles were torn off the roof by the wind, causing the roof to leak. The sheetrock in the ceiling and walls was soaked. The carpet got wet, and has begun rotting and growing mold and mildew. The bedroom where Belinda lived with her children was destroyed. Whenever it rains, water streams down the interior walls. There is a pungent odor of mold and mildew in the home.

The Gs do not have insurance or any other means to make the repairs.

The Gs applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2). FEMA sent an inspector to the Gs’ home. The inspector did not speak Spanish, and Ms. G does not speak English, so Ms. G’s daughter Belinda translated the conversation. The inspector told Ms. G, as translated by Belinda, that the home was unsafe to continue to live in.

On or about September 2, FEMA sent Ms. G a letter denying housing assistance, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

The Gs appealed FEMA’s decision on September 24, 2008. Ms. G appealed FEMA’s decision because of the statements the FEMA inspector made about her home being unsafe to live in and the reason listed in her denial letter from FEMA are a contradiction. Ms. G provided FEMA a contactor estimate for repairs included in the appeal.

Upon receiving FEMA’s denial letter for housing assistance, Belinda and her children were forced to relocate to Iowa to because of the serious health concerns associated with constant exposure to mold and mildew in children and infants. Belinda reasoned that without financial assistance from FEMA to make necessary repairs, her mother’s home would not be safe and habitable for her young children. However, she hopes to be able to return to Texas to live with her mother, because the family relied on sharing income and expenses to make ends meet.

According to the contractor estimate Ms. G obtained, it will cost approximately $5,910.00 to make the necessary repairs to the G’s home.

On October 18, 2008, FEMA sent Ms. G a letter denying her appeal and denying her request for repair assistance.

Family #5: Jose G was denied any housing assistance benefits to repair over $7800.00 in damage to his recently refurbished, disability-accessible home, due to “insufficient damage.”

Jose G’s only home is located in Harlingen, Cameron County, Texas.
75. Mr. G is 50 years old and is quadriplegic. He and his wife Marcelina struggle to meet their needs using their annual food stamp allotment of $756 and the $7,644 of supplemental security income that Mr. G receives annually as a result of his total disability.

Prior to Hurricane Dolly, Mr. G had received assistance from a non-profit agency for various modifications that made his home more accommodating to a person with a wheelchair. Those modifications included a ramp, increasing the size of the bathroom, and widening of some of the home’s doors. The agency that assisted Mr. G with these modifications provided them for free, because he could not afford to pay for them.

Hurricane Dolly caused extensive structural and roofing damage to the G home. Dolly’s winds blew shingles off three quarters of his roof and caused it to warp. The roof then leaked, causing damage to some interior walls of the home interior walls of the home and the growth of mildew and mold.

A licensed contractor has estimated that it will cost $7,829.81 to repair the disaster-related damage.

The Gs family does not have any insurance to cover the repairs, or other means to make the repairs. Mr. G applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c) (2).

FEMA sent an inspector to the G home. The inspector took pictures of the home and told Mr. G that he should await a decision by FEMA. FEMA sent Mr. Gonzales a letter denying home repair assistance on August 5, 2008.

Mr. G went to the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Harlingen and asked a FEMA worker why he had been denied. The worker told him that his damages were not caused by the hurricane but rather were due to deferred maintenance, and that he should already be used to living in a home in these conditions.

Mr. G received a form letter with the identical language quoted in Paragraph 28 above as FEMA’s only written explanation for his denial. Mr. G submitted appeals on August 21, 2008, and on September 5, 2008, and provided a contractor statement.

FEMA denied Mr. G’s appeals on October 14, 2008.

Family #6: Agustina I’s damaged roof and sheetrock have made her daughter sick, but she was sent an unintelligible demand for documentation of her damages and has been denied housing assistance benefits.

Plaintiff Agustina I’s home is located in San Benito, Cameron County, Texas. Ms. I, 44, is a single mother and the head of a household that includes five of her 91. Ms. I supports a family of six on approximately $20,000 annually. She is a temporary worker and will take any job she can find to pay her bills. She has worked as a health care provider and in packaging frozen food. She currently is working as a roofer’s assistant.

Hurricane Dolly caused extensive damages to Ms. I’s home. Shingles came off the roof and water flowed in through the ceiling, causing sheetrock to break off the ceiling throughout the house. Additionally, at least one wall of her home has fallen down. Ms. I cannot afford to fix her home and does not have any insurance to cover the necessary repairs.

Ms. I and her five children have no other home to live in, nor any friends or relatives with whom they can stay, and are forced to remain in their damaged house. One of Ms. I’s daughters suffers from severe allergies, which have been aggravated because of the condition of the home. Her eyes are constantly watery and she is frequently sent home from school because of the severity of her reactions.

Ms. I applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2). On August 19, 2008, FEMA sent Ms. I an award letter that did not address her request for home repair assistance and awarded her only $406.63 for damaged personal property.

Subsequently, Ms. I submitted documentation to prove that she owned her home, in an effort to obtain home repair assistance.

On October 24, 2008, FEMA sent Ms. I a letter requesting additional documentation to support her request for home repair assistance. FEMA’s request for documentation was incomplete and confusing. Quoted below is the language requesting additional documentation:

This letter confirms that we have received your correspondence requesting an appeal of our decision in your application for Housing Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In order to evaluate your situation, we need additional documentation. …

ONE ITEMIZED ESTIMATE from a licensed contractor for disaster related
damages to the following items. (Your estimate must include a verifiable
contractor name and telephone number.)

TWO ITEMIZED ESTIMATES from licensed contractors for disaster related
damages to the following items. (Your estimates must include verifiable
contractor names and telephone numbers.)

Heating systems
(N/A)

As far as Ms. I knows, her appeal remains pending at this time.

Family #7: A tree fell on Noe and Veronica J’s home, breaking three windows and causing water damage to exposed walls and ceiling, but they were denied any housing assistance benefits due to “insufficient damage.”

Noe and Veronica J, both 68 years old, are an elderly married couple supporting their two grandchildren. The Js live in extreme poverty, with an annual income of about $11,760 to support a household of four, including themselves and their two grandchildren, ages 15 and 11.

The J’s only home is located in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas. Mr. J inherited the home from his grandparents, and has lived there with his wife since 1977.

Hurricane Dolly caused damage to the J’s home. Dolly’s winds caused a tree to fall on the roof, and winds damaged the siding on one side of the house and destroyed three windows. Water entered and damaged the exposed walls and ceiling. A contractor estimated that it would cost $1,980 to repair the home. The Js do not have any insurance to cover the repairs, or other means to make the repairs.

The Js applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2). FEMA sent an inspector to the J’s home, who listened to the J’s description of the damage caused by Dolly.

On or about August 4, FEMA sent the Js a letter denying housing assistance, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

The Js appealed and provided a contractor statement. Their appeal remains pending. They seek to fairly resolve their claim for housing assistance as promptly as possible to minimize threats to their shelter, safety, and health.

Family #8: Ernesto and Norma L saw their entire house flooded, the whole roof and a bedroom destroyed, and find their home uninhabitable due to mold, but they were denied housing repair assistance because of allegedly “insufficient damage.”

Ernesto and Norma L live in poverty, with an annual income of about $20,000 to support a household of four, including themselves and their two adult sons, Carlos and Leo. Carlos is a policeman injured in the line of duty when a teenager shot him in the head. The L’s only home is located in Harlingen, Cameron County, Texas.

Hurricane Dolly caused damage to the L’s home. Hurricane Dolly caused flooding of the entire house, and destroyed the entire roof and one of the bedrooms. Sheetrock is falling from the ceiling. There is mold growing throughout the house. The house is so damaged that the family suffered with respiratory problems and cannot live there, so they have moved into Ms. L’s mother’s home.

The Ls do not have any insurance or other means to make the repairs. The Ls applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2).

FEMA sent an inspector to the L’s home, who listened to the L’s description of the damage caused by Dolly. The inspector asked Mr. L if he wanted to “relocate.” Mr. L thought he meant to move permanently. It was not clear that the inspector was offering rental assistance.

FEMA sent the Ls a letter denying repair assistance due to insufficient damage. The Ls appealed the FEMA denial on August 20, 2008, and made clear that they needed rental assistance because they have had to move out of the home until it is repaired.

In response to the appeal, FEMA sent a home repair grant of $100.59. A contractor estimated it will cost $15,620.00 to repair the home. The Ls appealed this amount based on the damage incurred and provided a contractor statement and pictures of the damage. Their appeal remains pending.

Family #9: Francisca P’s home was flooded with two inches of water and then with the contents of her septic tank for several days, but she was denied any housing assistance benefits due to “insufficient damage.”

Francisca P is the head of a household which includes her husband Enrique S and Ms. P’s three teenage children. The five people in Ms. P’s household struggle to meet their needs with an annual food stamp allotment of about $8300 and the approximately $7600 in supplemental security income that Mr. S receives each year as a result of his disability. He suffers from several serious ailments that cause him to be disabled including arthritis and an ulcer.

Ms. P’s only home is located in Elsa, Texas. She has lived there since 1994.

Ms. P’s home suffered extensive damage as a result of Hurricane Dolly. Roof shingles were loosened and otherwise damaged and as a result, the roof leaked. The home was flooded with about two inches of water for two or three days. Portions of the floor warped and tiles loosened. Mold and mildew developed on her windows and portions of the ceiling and walls. Plumbing problems rendered Ms. P’s bathtub and toilet unusable for over two weeks. Waste water would back up out of the toilet and bathtub because the septic tank was overflowing with rain water.

Ms. P and her husband do not have insurance to cover the repairs, or other means to make the repairs. She had to clean the restroom three times a day for two weeks with bleach and other cleaning agents because the smell was unbearable. There was waste everywhere.

Ms. P’s daughter, who suffers from asthma, had to go to the hospital because of the foul air near her home.

Ms. P applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2).

FEMA sent an inspector to inspect her home. The inspector ignored Ms. P’s attempts to point out the disaster-related damages, walking away from her as she was speaking. He altogether neglected to inspect the bathroom with the non-functioning toilet and bathtub.

On August 12, FEMA sent Ms. P a letter denying housing assistance, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

Ms. P appealed on August 22, 2008, and provided a contractor statement, which was costly for her to obtain. Most contractors were too expensive and were charging between $200 and $250 to provide an estimate. Finally she found someone who said he would do it for a more reasonable price. A licensed contractor estimated that $6,650.00 would be needed for the
disaster-related home repairs. He charged her about $50.00 for his estimate.

Mrs. P took it upon herself to purchase a water pump and empty some of the septic tank water into her own backyard. It took two days to pump the waste out of the septic tank and into the yard. She expects rain to cause the problem to return.

FEMA denied her appeal on November 1, 2008.

Since Ms. P received her denial letter, her husband has been diagnosed with bronchitis. Other members of her family are also suffering with respiratory problems, and some are using nebulizers up to four times a day to alleviate their symptoms.

Family #10: Rosa Elia V’s roof blew off her home and landed in her yard, and her grandchildren have required emergency medical treatment for mold-related illness because of the mildew in their home, but she was denied housing repair assistance.

Rosa Elia V is the head of a household which includes her two daughters and three grandchildren, ages 5, 4, and 1. Ms. V and her family live in extreme poverty. Ms. V works and earns an annual income of about $4,800 and her daughter works and earns an annual income of $10,400. Both incomes support a household of three adults and three children.

Ms. V’s only home is located in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas.

Hurricane Dolly caused extensive structural and roofing damage to the V’s home. Dolly’s winds damaged the laminate roof, blowing it off and into the yard. Her house has no laminate roof at this time. Because there is no roof, rainwater is leaking into the home and has caused damage to the walls and the ceiling. Mold is spreading throughout the house. Dolly also shook the house so that cracks appeared in the walls and ceiling.

Ms. V and her family lost personal property such as mattresses, furniture, and clothing in the home during the disaster.

Ms. V’s grandchildren have had to be taken to Edinburg Children’s Hospital emergency room several times for treatment for allergies due to the mold.

A contractor estimated that the repairs to the home will cost $5300.00 for labor and $4701.98 for materials.

Ms. V does not have insurance or other means to make the repairs. Ms. V applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2).

FEMA sent an inspector to Ms. V’s home. The inspector did not inspect all of the damage. The inspector did not climb up to see the roof damage and did not enter the damaged parts of the home. The inspector did not speak Spanish.

FEMA sent Ms. V a letter denying home repair assistance on August 18, 2008.

Quoted below is the complete and only explanation that FEMA provided for its denial of home repair assistance:

We recognize how difficult a time this is for you and your family and we
understand that may people need help following a disaster. We are committed to providing you any help we can, including important information to begin your recovery.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and State of Texas have
carefully considered all available information regarding your request for
assistance. Our decision(s) about your request is listed below:

CATEGORIES DETERMINATION
Housing Assistance INR- Ineligible – No Relocation
Medical IID – Ineligible – Insufficient Damage
Personal Property IID – Ineligible – Insufficient Damage
================ ===========
Total Grant Amount: $0.00

INR – Ineligible – Will Not Relocate

Based on our records, you told the FEMA inspector that you were not
going to move from your damaged home while repairs are being made.
Since you do not plan to move, you are not eligible for FEMA rental
assistance at this time.

If you do need to move while repairs are being made, please contact the
FEMA helpline.

Ms. V appealed and provided a contractor statement.

FEMA sent Ms. V another letter on November 11, 2008, but it awarded her only rental assistance and did not mention decisions on any other form of FEMA assistance. She is not certain whether FEMA is still considering her application for housing repair assistance.

Family #11: Cruz Alejandro “Alex” Z’s house moved on its foundation and was rendered structurally unstable, forcing his family to move into a credit-card financed travel trailer for safety, but he was denied any housing assistance benefits due to “insufficient damage.”

Cruz Alejandro “Alex” Z is a disabled U.S. Army veteran whose only home is located in Harlingen, Cameron County, Texas. He has lived there since October 2001.

Mr. Z is the head of a household of five, which includes his wife, Leticia Z, and their three children, ages 14, 12, and 9. Mr. Z and his family live close to the poverty line. As a partially disabled U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Z receives $471 a month in U.S. Veterans Administration benefits. He also works as a computer information-technology consultant for a company called “____,” although work there is only available to him sporadically. He has earned approximately $20,000 from this work in 2008 to date.

Hurricane Dolly caused extensive structural damage to the Z’s home. The family took shelter in their house during the storm. The winds shook the house so hard that the family heard a cracking, popping noise, and felt the house move on its foundation.

Afterward, the house was so unstable that an adult stepping on the floor would cause the walls to tremble. The house was structurally stable until it moved on its foundation during the hurricane. Due to the damage from the hurricane, one wall of the house has bent inward, and there are cracks in the sheetrock of the house. Dolly’s winds also damaged the roof of the house, blowing off shingles and boards so that water entered the house and caused damage.

The Zs do not have any insurance to cover the repairs, or other means to make the repairs that are needed. On or about August 5, 2008, the Zs applied for FEMA home repair assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 5174(c)(2).

FEMA sent an inspector to the Z’s home. Mr. Z explained what happened, and tried to show the inspector the damage. The inspector was rude to the Zs and did not allow them to say anything or point out any of the damages.

On August 12, FEMA sent Mr. Z a letter denying housing assistance, listing the reason for denial as “IID-Ineligible – Insufficient Damage”.

Mr. Z and his family did not feel safe living in a house that was no longer structurally sound because the hurricane had damaged it so much that the walls trembled when a person walked on the floor. Since FEMA had denied them aid to repair the house, on or about August 22, 2008, Mr. Z and his wife bought a used, 1987 Skylark travel trailer, advertised by the seller as “Sleeps 4,” in order to have a safe place to live.

The Zs moved into the trailer, and are living there now because it is not safe for them to live in their house, due to the damage caused by the hurricane.

Because the Zs did not have the money to pay upfront for the $3,000 cost of the travel trailer, they had to use a credit card to finance the purchase. The Zs would not have spent $3,000 to buy this trailer if their house was safe to live in. The trailer that the Zs bought, which is designed as a travel trailer big enough to sleep up to 4 people, is not really large enough for a 5-member family to live in, but the Zs did not have money to buy a bigger trailer.

The five-member Z family, including the three school-age children, is now living in overcrowded conditions in this trailer, because without FEMA assistance they cannot restore their house to a condition that would be safe to live in. On top of the other expenses that the Zs have incurred because FEMA has not provided aid to repair their house, they also now have to pay $110 a month to rent a space for the travel trailer in a mobile home park.

Mr. Z appealed from FEMA’s denial, submitting his appeal by facsimile to FEMA on September 25, 2008.

Since September 25, 2008, FEMA has neither granted nor denied the appeal, or even acknowledged receiving it.

One thought on “Stories of eleven Texas families document FEMA’s illegal and systemic discrimination against the poor

Comments are closed.