Advocates working with survivors of Hurricane Ida want FEMA to immediately provide more housing assistance to displaced residents in New Jersey.
Nine groups sent a letter to FEMA representatives this month, expressing concerns that fewer than 200 New Jersey residents had received housing aid beyond an initial two months of rental assistance.
FEMA also offers another 18 months of housing help to storm victims whose homes were destroyed and who need longer to fix up their properties. But last month Gothamist found that even though 10,700 people received the initial rental assistance, only 1.5% went on to receive additional aid.
Since then, FEMA said this week, just another two individuals received extended assistance, bumping the total to 174.
“Despite the clear need, FEMA and its disaster housing programs often fail to address the housing needs of disaster survivors, exacerbating housing insecurity,” the groups say in the letter, signed by New Jersey Working Families, the New Jersey Resource Project and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, among others.
“Without the affordable and accessible homes survivors need, many return to uninhabitable homes, sleep in cars or tents, stay at shelters, double- or triple-up with other low-income families, or pay more than half of their limited incomes on rent, putting them at increased risk of foreclosure or eviction,” the letter states.
Spokespeople for FEMA’s main office hadn’t commented on the letter, sent Dec. 2, as of Friday morning. A spokesman for Region 2, which oversees New York and New Jersey, previously said the small number of rental assistance recipients could be due to survivors no longer needing help or being able to move back into their primary homes.
Meghan Mertyris, the Hurricane Ida recovery representative for the New Jersey Organizing Project, who sent the letter, said she hoped it would pressure FEMA to help storm victims still struggling to pay off their debts.
“Obviously, something went wrong on FEMA’s end, if only that small amount of people were able to access the rental assistance,” she said.
Some advocates have said few if any storm victims that they’ve worked with were even aware of the option for extended assistance. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and Sen. Bob Menendez, both Democrats from New Jersey, have also said they want answers.
“FEMA needs to get to work. They need to do what they’re … here to do,” Mertyris said.
According to FEMA, anyone who received the initial assistance, but whose primary home was still uninhabitable, who wasn’t receiving other aid for housing and who couldn’t afford housing without help would have been eligible for additional aid.
A decade ago, FEMA offered the same two-tier housing assistance process after Hurricane Sandy. But FEMA’s own numbers show a significantly higher percentage of Sandy recipients received extended housing help than after Ida. More than 44,000 New Jersey residents received initial rental assistance for two months, and about 4,600 of them — more than 10% — got additional aid for another 18 months.
In the letter, the nonprofits call on FEMA to provide retroactive assistance to residents who were “unjustly denied” help and assign case managers to make sure survivors can receive all the aid for which they are eligible. They also want FEMA to extend the 18-month housing assistance period beyond the existing end date of March 2023, and to streamline the process for future storm victims.
FEMA said those who applied for initial aid have until March 2023 to request continued rental assistance.
The form to apply for continued rental assistance can be found here. Residents can also call 1-800-621-3362 or mail FEMA a request at P.O. Box 10055, Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055.