Bringing Housing Back to Areas Affected by the Storms

(TFC) – What would you do if you lost your home today? In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, this is the question on the minds of millions affected by the storms in Houston, Florida and especially Puerto Rico. The worst hurricane season in recent history has done more than just damage property — it has left many survivors homeless. Bringing back housing to those displaced by hurricanes and floodwaters will require a tremendous amount of resources, as well as a good deal of time.

The Human Face of Tragedy

Juana Sortre Vasquez is one of many faces of tragedy in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Vasquez and her relatives rode out the storm in a neighbor’s concrete home. Vasquez prayed her home would be spared, but awoke the next morning to find out that the home where she and her family had lived for years had been completely destroyed. To make matters worse, the bridge between their home and the nearby community of San Lazaro was destroyed, stranding her and her family in an area with no home and no electricity. Many of them have resorted to sleeping in cars.

The more fortunate survivors of hurricane destruction can afford to stay in hotels while their property is repaired. However, millions more can’t afford that luxury and are forced to exist in shelters, either government-run or makeshift. Although many homeowners can count on their insurance to pay for at least some of the damage, others — especially those who rent — need to rely on charity and government disaster relief funds to get back on their feet.

Where Can Displaced Families Go?

Julie Rivera was more fortunate than Vasquez. She resides in the same community, but only part of her home was lost. However, as part of the school where she worked is also damaged, she is thinking of abandoning her home and moving to the mainland.

Rivera is not alone. Every single day, over 2,000 Puerto Ricans flee to central Florida. So many people from Puerto Rico are coming to Florida in Hurricane Maria’s wake, seeking to rebuild their lives. While jobs here are plentiful, housing is not. Even before the hurricane hit, the area was 7,800 homes short for its population. Now, with an influx of those with nowhere else to go, local officials fear a humanitarian crisis may soon occur.

There are hotels in the area, but even they fall short of the amount of housing needed. Local authorities have pleaded with FEMA to send trailers. However, the decision to do so remains in the hands of the federal government.

It isn’t only central Florida that lacks adequate housing for those displaced by hurricanes. In Houston, FEMA struggles to develop a solution to what will be a long-term problem. The first priority is moving people out of emergency shelters and into temporary housing near where they work before obtaining permanent housing. However, given that an estimated 30,000 Houston residents are displaced, moving them into permanent housing will be a lengthy process.

In the meantime, there is an immediate need for more shelters, both in Houston and in Florida. In lieu of dangerous trailers, one solution being considered by FEMA is the use of prefabricated buildings to house those displaced. These buildings are economical and can help stretch the recovery budget, especially in places hardest hit, such as Puerto Rico.

Government Aid in the Hurricanes’ Wake

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed a bill that included $22 billion for FEMA’s emergency response. Coming just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit, residents of Houston who were displaced by the storms saw the most benefit from these additional funds.

However, survivors of Hurricane Maria saw less of a benefit from these additional funds. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz pleaded with President Trump to send more aid. Indeed, while over 31,000 FEMA officials and National Guard members have been dispatched to Houston in Harvey’s wake, only 10,000 have been deployed to Puerto Rico. As of Oct. 9, 85 percent of Puerto Rico remained without power and 40 percent remained without potable water.

How You Can Help

While those displaced by storms can turn to FEMA for short-term housing subsidies, such as government-funded hotel rooms and loans to help rebuild, these funds only stretch so far. Much more is needed to help survivors rebuild after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Those wishing to help displaced survivors can best do so through donations to reputable agencies. Fondos Unidos, founded by Puerto Rico’s first lady Beatriz Rosello, is one such fund. ConPRmetidos is another organization dedicated to helping survivors struggling from the devastation Hurricane Maria wrought.

Puerto Rico is in dire need of aid as contributions to its recovery funds have failed to match those for survivors of Hurricane Harvey. However, those wishing to donate to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts can do so by donating to the United Way of Texas.

The Bottom Line

Image Source: Wikimedia, Public Domain

Recovery from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria will be a long-term effort requiring help from the federal government and charitable organizations. In the end, whether survivors decide to stay and rebuild their homes or move on for a fresh start, they will need help finding housing. While survivors are urged to visit FEMA’s website for information on their legal rights to aid in the hurricanes’ wake, only a combined effort from the government and caring citizens will allow hurricane survivors to move on, heal and find a place to once again call home.