As Facing South reported yesterday, a report released Thursday by the Senate Natural Disaster Recovery subcommittee says that the Federal Emergency Management Authority doesn't have a comprehensive disaster housing plan and is still not prepared to handle the housing needs of millions if another disaster like Hurricane Katrina hits the United States. The subcommittee concluded that the new administration needs to look at overhauling the agency.
The subcommittee found "eight fundamental problems" with FEMA's post-Katrina housing response:
FEMA had no operational catastrophic disaster plan, FEMA's programs were insufficient to meet housing needs in post-catastrophic events, FEMA decisions to reject other options resulted in heavy reliance on costly trailers and mobile homes, legal interpretations eliminated housing options, FEMA's programs were marked by frequent changes and errors, FEMA had insufficient and poorly trained staff, the needs of renters were not met and flawed FEMA public assistance programs blocked state and local governments from restoring public services needed for housing recovery.
The report also details the the important work of public interest law teams, such as the Loyola Law Clinic, New Orleans Legal Assistance and the Mississippi Center for Justice in representing people in their claims regarding deficiencies in the FEMA housing program. These organizations underscored that their clients rarely received a "swift response" from FEMA to remedy housing problems, such as issues with the FEMA trailers. The Mississippi Center for Justice informed the subcommittee that the inadequate supply of rental housing and the denial of benefits to eligible storms victims rendered people homeless and forced them "into substandard temporary living arrangements."
The senate report offers ten pages of recommendations for reform, including calls to establish a standing rental repair program and corresponding Stafford Act authority; for HUD to prepare a national post-disaster housing stock plan; and for institutional and administrative reform of FEMA.