A Little Louder Harvey Recovery

Episode 19: Disaster recovery is leaving out renters

When a disaster hits, flooding and fires might not discriminate, but the systems and funding intended to rebuild our communities do, and in fact the plans public officials put in place often create worse versions of the policies and practices that happen all the time that put people of color and people with few resources at a disadvantage.

The route for recovery for low-income families is flawed from the beginning, explained Texas Housers researcher Amelia Adams. Despite renters and homeowners submitting an equal amount of applications for individual assistance to FEMA, the agency overwhelmingly approves homeowner applications and denies renter applications. From the start, renters are not given an equal chance to recover from their losses.

Then, the federal government’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides grants to states to then use to create a long-term recovery plan. The State of Texas uses the FEMA acceptance numbers to determine unmet need. However, if the state disregards all of the renters who applied for assistance, it is disregarding renters as having legitimate need post-Harvey, and therefore not allocating funding or programming to meet the needs of renters.

Instead, the State of Texas is allocating millions of dollars to landlords and developers who will rebuild apartments – with no guarantee that renters who were displaced and need help will live in those apartments or be able to afford to live in those apartments.

Recently, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid filed a lawsuit on behalf of renters who have struggled financially because of the lack of timely response after Hurricane Havey. With many of the renters being people of color who are unable to recover, TRLA is claiming this disparate recovery is a fair housing issue. The plaintiffs are calling on the state to directly address this inequality with direct assistance.

In episode 19, Texas Housers talks to Amelia Adams, who discusses patterns that put renters at a disadvantage in hurricane recovery compared with homeowners. We also talk to Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Rachel Zummo about the lawsuit and plaintiff Brenda Jones from Aransas Pass about her experience after Hurricane Harvey.

Listen to the full episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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