Data Show FEMA Has a Fairness Problem

Citing fairness issues, three civil rights groups are calling for revisions of how the Federal Emergency Management Agency delivers housing assistance.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., National Fair Housing Alliance and Poverty & Race Research Action Council are calling on legislators to review how “federal aid is falling short for people of color and low-income families” trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The reason, they say, is because many federal emergency assistance programs are designed for families living in single-family homes, not multi-unit housing that make up most of the housing stock damaged in the New York City area and parts of New Jersey.

Source: Fotolia

Data collected by FEMA show low-income households and a large number of families of color were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and most likely face the toughest recovery challenges.

Enterprise Community Partners and NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy analyzed the data to assess the whereabouts of more than 500,000 households that registered for FEMA assistance of which 43% have annual household incomes of less than $30,000.

Up to 68% of the renters who registered for FEMA assistance were low-income people, of which 55% reported "major" or "substantial" damages to their dwellings.

These data, along with the finding that 52% of renters affected in New York City are people of color, while in New Jersey the percentage is even higher at 56%, indicate that many of these families are likely still struggling to recover.

"Given that low-income families in the NY-NJ region, who are more likely to be people of color, were already facing severe affordable housing shortages,” said president and director-counsel of LDF, Sherrilyn Ifill. “FEMA and other federal aid for Sandy recovery must prioritize aid to these families and help them find housing that they can afford."

Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of NFHA, called on jurisdictions that are receiving about $16 billion in disaster Community Development Block Grant funds appropriated by Congress to aid in the recovery from Sandy to “make sure that their rebuilding plans address the needs of families with children, people with disabilities, and people of color and strike a fair balance between the needs of renters and homeowners.”