A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) details how enhanced coordination between HUD and FEMA could improve disaster shelter and housing assistance. The study examines how HUD can improve coordination with FEMA and local housing providers using its existing programs, as well as how FEMA can work more closely with HUD and other housing providers both before and in the aftermath of a disaster.
While there are many federal programs designed to aid during and in the aftermath of a disaster, there are no federal programs specifically designed to address the housing needs of those experiencing homelessness before a disaster. HUD's Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) programs can provide assistance during a disaster. FEMA’s Individual Assistance program also provides Transitional Sheltering Assistance, a form of non-congregate shelter assistance using participating hotels to provide short-term emergency sheltering to eligible displaced disaster survivors.
Individuals who were homeless before a disaster are not eligible for FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program because their need for housing was not caused by the disaster. To be eligible, individuals must apply through FEMA and show that they were displaced from and unable to live in their pre-disaster residence, which excludes those experiencing homelessness prior to a disaster. CoCs, PHAs, and other homeless service providers could provide early access to emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness prior to or in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
The report recommends that FEMA coordinate with HUD on disaster shelter and housing assistance for the homeless population both during and in the aftermath of disasters. This should include disseminating this information to state and local partners as well as the regional HUD Field Office(s). HUD CPD should establish specific time frames for conducting a review of the use of waivers and alternative requirements provided for ESG-CV and use those findings to inform their use during future disasters.
GAO also notes that HUD Field Offices, particularly in disaster-prone regions, could facilitate relationships between PHAs, CoCs, and the FEMA Regional Offices. Existing relationships between the housing providers and FEMA would facilitate better coordination during and in the aftermath of a disaster. FEMA can use these relationships to disseminate information on emergency shelter locations and supply depots to PHAs and CoCs.