With many families displaced by Hurricane Maria facing potential homelessness when federal aid runs out on June 30, Massachusetts lawmakers again urged the Trump administration this week to provide long-term housing assistance to Puerto Rico evacuees.
All 11 members of the state’s congressional delegation signed a letter calling on Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long to reconsider the decision to not utilize support available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help the hundreds of families still living in mainland hotels months after the September storm.
The Massachusetts Democrats, who recently met with 100 people displaced by Hurricane Maria, said many evacuees have raised concerns about returning to Puerto Rico, which is still rebuilding its infrastructure in the midst of the 2018 hurricane season.
They urged Long to initiate HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program to help Puerto Rican residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged last fall, arguing that it has played critical roles in helping those impacted by Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Rita.
“People living on Puerto Rico, and those hoping to return, deserve housing opportunities as they continue to rebuild their lives. … We request your agency to initiate the process just as the governor of Puerto Rico did in December 2017,” they wrote.
The Democrats stressed that the island “needs support to continue recovery, but also build sustainable infrastructure for the future.”
Initiating the HUD program, which provides subsidies to help families pay rent, put down security deposits or pay utilities, “will be another tool for the Puerto Rican community for these undertakings,” they added.
Hurricane evacuees living in hotels through FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program have until June 30 to find new lodgings. They may also access federal support to return to Puerto Rico, officials announced in May.
Some hurricane survivors, who relocated to Western Massachusetts after the storm, said they will likely become homeless if the federal government fails to step in, as efforts to connect them with long-term, stable housing have largely stalled due to waiting lists and landlords refusing to accept rent vouchers from charitable groups, among other things.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, urged FEMA and HUD officials in late-April to immediately enter an agreement “to stand up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program and address the medium- and longer-term housing needs” of Puerto Rican evacuees.
The senators, in response to FEMA’s decision, announced legislation to require officials to activate DHAP to help hurricane evacuees transition into stable living situations.
Warren and Markey signed onto the newest letter to FEMA and HUD officials — an effort reportedly led by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield.
Also lending their signatures to the request were: U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester; Michael Capuano, D-Somerville; Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston; Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell; Bill Keating, D-Bourne; Joe Kennedy III, D-Brookline; Katherine Clark, D-Melrose; and Seth Moulton, D-Salem.