At the beginning of February, HUD announced that $1.5 billion in aid was being allocated toward Puerto Rico’s recovery from a brutal hurricane season, designed to “support long-term recovery of seriously damaged housing and local businesses in Puerto Rico,” according to HUD’s media statement. But for Puerto Ricans displaced in the aftermath of the disaster, long-term HUD funds aren’t going to address more immediate needs. Thus far, shelter for many Puerto Rico evacuees in areas such as Florida has been provided by FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance program, which pays for hotel and motel accommodations while those affected by a disaster search for long-term housing. However, while FEMA had previously extended the end date for these services to March 20, The New York Times reports that the program will begin to expire for some of the affected families this week.
The Times reports that nearly 4,000 families currently remain in hotels courtesy of the FEMA program, with around 1,500 of those families in Florida. Finding alternate housing in the Sunshine State likely won’t be easy, either—like many parts of the country, Florida is in the grip of an affordable housing shortage, one which has only been exacerbated by the influx of Puerto Rico natives fleeing to the mainland after Hurricane Maria.
According to a National Low Income Housing Coalition study cited by cited by the Orlando Weekly, the Orlando metropolitan area ranks third in the U.S. when it comes to affordable rental homes, with only 18 affordable rental units available per 100 low-income families. With nearly 300,000 Puerto Ricans having arrived in Florida (per the state’s Division of Emergency Management), the situation is only getting worse.
Democratic Congressman Darren Soto, a Puerto Rican whose district is located in central Florida, is petitioning FEMA to extend the program for the affected families through the end of the school year, and earlier this week he sent FEMA a letter to that effect, co-signed by Representatives from both parties. Rep. Soto told the Times, “With the program ending, we then have to argue for individual cases, and it becomes more cumbersome and people fall through the cracks.”
When DS News originally reported on the then-looming original FEMA deadline, a FEMA representative said, “FEMA reviews each case for continuing eligibility every thirty days, depending on the need of each survivor the period under the TSA program will be extended and we will work to find permanent housing solutions."
According to the Times, "Most of the stays have been extended until March 20, but about 200 households have been alerted that FEMA would stop paying for their rooms as of Wednesday. The agency had already cut off assistance last month for some households after federal officials determined that their homes in Puerto Rico were habitable and had functioning utilities."
FEMA spokesman William Booher told the Times, “This is a bridge to other longer-term solutions. Survivors are responsible for their own recovery and to actively look for permanent housing solutions.”
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is on the cusp of a foreclosure epidemic, with data firm Black Knight Inc. in December reporting that almost one-third of Puerto Rican homeowners were behind on their mortgage, and 90,000 had become delinquent due to Hurricane Maria. There are currently foreclosure moratoriums in place for affected Puerto Rico homeowners, however those moratoriums are set to expire on March 19.