The Housing Situation

Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s building infrastructure; the situation only got worse as power outages and lack of resources made it difficult to address the damage. Many buildings were not originally constructed according to regulation, and later repairs also were not up to code. Houses destroyed by storms––especially for low income households––cannot be rebuilt to industry standards, because contractors are in short supply and lack the funding and incentive to rebuild at the rate and quality the island needs to prepare for the next storm.

FEMA’s Response

In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) projected damage funding may not be enough to cover the necessary resources to rebuild the damaged houses. FEMA has dedicated about $564 million towards essential home repairs, and $90 million towards home replacement. [1] The Puerto Rican government estimated that it would need $33 billion to rebuild and repair all homes damaged by the storm, an estimate that the assistance from FEMA is not nearly matching. [2]

FEMA has primarily used Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) to house families. The TSA program gives direct funding to hotels and motels to provide temporary housing for families whose homes are severely damaged, or who are living in unsafe conditions. The program is meant to last for 1 to 2 weeks but has been extended twice by month-long increments. Eligibility for the program is regularly reviewed and many families lost their eligibility status and struggled to find other housing. [3] Many survivors have had to resort to desperate measures: living with up to two other families in one overcrowded home; living in their previous homes, risking their health and safety in unstable, molding structures; or paying for rents that occupy at least half their income, “putting them at increased risk of evictions and, in the worst cases, homelessness.” [4]


FEMA has been criticized for not employing the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). DHAP is a program managed by the Department for Housing and Urban Development that must be approved by FEMA. By providing temporary rental assistance and individual case management, the program has helped people find employment, long-term housing, and access to government benefits after storms, including after Hurricanes Sandy, Rita, Gustav and Ike. [4]

“DHAP is far more cost-effective than reimbursing hotels under FEMA’s TSA program. In 2017, the average annual cost to provide direct rental assistance was $8,223 per household, or $685 per month. In contrast, the typical annual cost to provide hotel accommodations under government contracted rates was $43,8001, or $3,650 a month. The federal government could have saved an estimated $142 million by providing DHAP to more than 6,000 families who have been living in TSA hotels for eight months. These savings could have been used to provide DHAP to more than 3,200 additional families in need of a stable home while they rebuild their lives.” [5]

Our proposal would be to further petition FEMA to enact the Disaster Housing Assistance Program. It is more economically favorable and provides housing to more low-income families who need it. Enacting this solution would not require more funding, but it would require pressuring US politicians through petitions, meetings, and possibly protests to get Puerto Rico Access to this program.