As Puerto Rico continues to recover from the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it will review claims that the White House interfered with hurricane relief funding on the island. The Washington Post reports that Jeremy Kirkland, Counsel to the HUD Inspector General’s Office, told a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee that the Inspector General is meeting congressional lawmakers’ request to investigate whether the Trump administration has slowed the flow of aid to the island.
“We are in the process of looking into whether there has been any interference and do plan to report back to Congress on what we find‚” Kirkland said in response to questions from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California), the committee’s chairwoman, later adding that a team of agents and lawyers is looking into the matter. “I know our folks are out there right now doing that.”
Here are some other disaster-related stories that have been breaking this week.
Building Better Disaster Relief in Puerto Rico
On Tuesday, the Committee on Financial Services held a hearing entitled “The Administration of Disaster Recovery Funds in the Wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria” in order to discuss the impact of the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and the allocation of funds following recent hurricanes to hit the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico.
In his statement, Secretary Gil Enseñat noted how Puerto Rico has utilized the CDBG funds, discussing the new Homebuyer Assistance Program in Puerto Rico.
“We’re creating a Homebuyer Assistance Program by investing $350,000,000 to help citizens purchase homes through a variety of support mechanisms, thereby increasing the level of homeownership in impacted communities and contributing to long-term sustainability and viability of communities across the island,” Enseñat stated.
Reevaluating the NFIP
Lower-income homeowners are especially impacted by flood damage after a major storm. In a hearing entitled “Preparing for the Storm: Reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program,” Mabél Guzmán, speaking on behalf of the National Association of Realtors, noted that many homeowners are underinsured, and coastal areas are not the only areas at risk of flooding.
“By every measure, floods are getting worse,” Guzmán said in her statement. She stated that many homeowners are unaware of the risk, and a restructuring of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) may be necessary. Collin O’Mara confirmed Guzmán’s statements, noting that the increasing number of natural disasters requires a different approach.
The ongoing flooding happening across the midwest, for example, caused by a deadly combination of heavy rains and large accumulations of snowmelt overwhelming rivers, is likely to continue into May, Realtor.com reports.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts told reporters on Monday the flooding was "clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history."
Realtor.com notes that repair costs associated with flood damage can top $100,000, and the value of homes in flooded areas drops even after the repairs are done.
What Can Be Done?
The mortgage industry needs to be more proactive in its approach in dealing with the new reality of natural disasters. In an interview with CNBC, Five Star Global President & CEO Ed Delgado said that he did not believe that mortgage market was prepared for the risk of increasingly severe weather.
“It could come close to exposing lenders to uncontrollable risk,” Delgado warned.
He added: “When you have more than a trillion dollars worth of real estate at risk in coastal markets, it’s about time you start paying attention to that.”