The Evolving Use of Disaster Housing Assistance and the Roles of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and the Individuals and Households Program (IHP)

For nearly one year following Hurricane Maria in 2017, some disaster survivors from Puerto Rico were housed in hotels/motels through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program. This was due to multiple program extensions (including by court order), although TSA was intended to provide short-term (i.e., 5-14 days, extendable for up to 6 months) accommodations. As TSA was ending, some disaster survivors still lacked longer-term housing, causing housing advocacy organizations and Members of Congress (also here and here) to call upon FEMA to work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to implement the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), as was done following past catastrophic incidents.

Although identified in the National Disaster Housing Strategy (Strategy) as a promising interim housing strategy and potential solution to the challenge of meeting long-term housing needs, FEMA stated that DHAP would not be implemented, in response to the Governor of Puerto Rico's request. The justification was that FEMA and HUD "offered multiple housing solutions...better able to meet the current housing needs...." Despite recent legislative changes that may also resolve some gaps addressed by previous DHAP implementations, the push for DHAP has persisted.

This Insight provides a brief overview of DHAP and other FEMA temporary housing assistance programs in the context of FEMA's authority to provide such assistance, as well as potential considerations for Congress.

Program Comparison

After the President issues an emergency or major disaster declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act; P.L. 93-288, as amended; 42 U.S.C. §§5121 et seq.), various housing assistance programs may be available to disaster survivors, including programs provided by FEMA. FEMA-provided housing assistance may include short-term, emergency sheltering accommodations under Section 403—Essential Assistance—of the Stafford Act (42 U.S.C. §5170b) (e.g., the TSA program). Interim housing needs may be met through FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP) under Section 408—Federal Assistance to Individuals and Households—of the Stafford Act (42 U.S.C. §5174), which provides financial (e.g., assistance to rent alternate housing accommodations) and/or direct assistance (e.g., Multi-Family Lease and Repair, Transportable Temporary Housing Units, or Direct Lease) to eligible individuals and households. Although IHP provides various assistance options, limitations exist on their receipt and use. For example, there is a cap on the maximum amount of financial assistance an individual or household is eligible to receive, and IHP assistance is generally limited to a period of 18 months following the date of the declaration.

In 2007, to address such limitations and the need for prolonged assistance to support the transition of disaster survivors from temporary to long-term housing after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), FEMA executed an Interagency Agreement (IAA) with HUD to administer rental assistance and case management services, as authorized under Section 408 of the Stafford Act. This was known as DHAP-Katrina. DHAP was also implemented through IAAs in 2008 following Hurricanes Ike and Gustav (2008)—DHAP-Ike—and 2013 following Hurricane Sandy (2012)—DHAP-Sandy.

Although DHAP was authorized under Section 408 of the Stafford Act and funded through the Disaster Relief Fund, it was not subject to some of IHP's standard limitations. This may have allowed families to receive more assistance for longer time periods than they may have received under IHP. For instance, DHAP assistance was not subject to the IHP funding cap, which totaled $26,200 per individual/household at the time of Hurricane Katrina, $28,800 at the time of Hurricane Ike, and $31,900 at the time of Hurricane Sandy.

Also, the timing of DHAP implementation varied and the provision of assistance extended beyond the standard IHP assistance period of 18 months following the declaration. DHAP-Katrina was implemented nearly two years after the disaster and terminated more than two years later; DHAP-Ike was implemented within two months of the disaster and continued for more than three years; and DHAP-Sandy was implemented within approximately five months of, and terminated just over two years following, the disaster. Additional distinguishing features included that:

Recent Changes

Since DHAP was last implemented, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (DRRA; Division D of P.L. 115-254) amended the Stafford Act to separate the cap on the maximum amount of financial assistance eligible individuals and households may receive for housing assistance and other needs assistance. Also, financial assistance to rent alternate housing accommodations is no longer subject to the cap. Additionally, following Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (Division B of P.L. 113-2) formalized FEMA's Multi-family Lease and Repair program, and FEMA developed its Direct Lease program, which FEMA claims "provides the same housing DHAP in a more efficient and cost-effective manner." Still, not all of DHAP's unique characteristics are duplicated by the IHP housing assistance programs.

Potential Considerations

Congress may wish to evaluate DHAP to: