Affordable Housing Online is monitoring the federal government's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. As of March 13, 2020, Public Housing Agencies across the nation are closing their doors to the public. Most offices are still running and will communicate by phone, email, or mail. Some offices have drop boxes installed outside, so documents can still be hand-delivered. Visit the housing authority's website for the latest on its current operations, if one is available. If there is no information online, contact the housing authority directly. Due to a high volume of calls and modified office hours in most areas, expect a long wait time (days or weeks) for a response. To find your local PHA's contact info, browse by state here.
As soon as possible, apply for disaster assistance. To apply online, go to DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1 (800) 621-3362. Here, you can fill out a form to find out what kind of assistance is available to you, and apply directly for disaster assistance. Please be patient while your government works to help all who have been affected.
FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers are facilities that provide information about disaster assistance programs. You can search for the closest Disaster Recover Center to you here.
HUD has also established a page specifically for hurricane recovery that includes notices, links for disaster assistance registration with FEMA, guides and other helpful information.
When disaster survivors apply for FEMA assistance, FEMA determines what types of assistance the household is eligible for based on its circumstances. FEMA’s primary assistance program is the Individuals and Households Program (IHP). IHP can provide renters with Housing Assistance or Other Needs Assistance.
IHP housing assistance can provide Financial Housing Assistance, which includes rental assistance to rent a house, apartment, manufactured home or similar dwellings. This housing can be where you live while waiting for repairs on your old apartment or transitioning to a permanent residence elsewhere. FEMA can also provide Lodging Expense Reimbursement for hotel or motel stays while your household is displaced. FEMA’s preference is to move families from temporary lodging like motels and provide rental assistance for for moves to more stable housing like apartments. IHP assistance has maximum limits set by FEMA based on household composition and the circumstances of the households losses. IHP assistance has a time limit of 18 months. You can read FEMA’s Fact Sheet on the Individuals and Households Program here.
FEMA also provides Direct Housing Assistance when survivors are unable to use rental assistance due to a lack of suitable housing in the area. Direct Temporary Housing Assistance may include lodging in FEMA-owned manufactured housing units or FEMA-leased apartments. FEMA’s preference is to move households from these temporary arrangements into more permanent housing through IHP rental assistance. Direct Housing Assistance does not count against a household’s IHP assistance limit. FEMA provides more information about IHP Financial Assistance and Direct Housing Assistance in this Fact Sheet.
In cases where people in shelters are unable to return to their homes for an extended period because they are uninhabitable, FEMA may provide Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA). TSA pays lodging providers directly for short-term accommodations. Stays are up to 14 days but can be renewed up to a maximum of 60 days. Once families are eligible for FEMA rental assistance and suitable units identified, the move off of TSA. FEMA’s Fact Sheet on Transitional Shelter Assistance provides more information.
FEMA’s IHP program also provides Other Needs Assistance. This assistance covers such things as medical and dental expenses, funeral costs, repair and replacement of household and personal items, repair or replacement of damaged vehicles or moving and storage expenses.
Households receiving HUD assistance, such as those living in Public Housing or receiving Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance, cannot also receive FEMA housing assistance at the same time. While a family is out of of their damaged unit, they would use FEMA rental assistance. Once they return to the repaired unit, the FEMA assistance is terminated and the HUD assistance renews. HUD-assisted households should still apply to FEMA for disaster recovery assistance because the IHP program can help with Other Needs Assistance while the family is dislocated and rebuilding.
If you lived in Public Housing before the disaster, the housing authority will work with your household and coordinate with FEMA to provide housing assistance. Most often, FEMA rental assistance will help families until they can return to their repaired public housing units. In cases where Public Housing units are too damaged to be repaired for an extended time, the housing authority may provide Relocation Vouchers.
If you lived in an apartment with Project-Based Section 8 Rental Assistance, the property’s owner has the option of renting a temporary apartment for your household and continuing to collect payments from HUD. The tenant still pays the same rent to the landlord. If the owner does not choose this option HUD will not provide the owner with Housing Assistance Payments. The tenant can use FEMA IHP rental assistance for another unit while waiting for the owner to repair the apartment or preparing to move somewhere else. If the tenant moves back into the original apartment their Section 8 assistance begins again.
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers may be used anywhere in the United States. If you decide to permanently relocate to another city or state, you will need to go through the voucher portability process. The process can be complex, but the housing authority you are leaving and the housing authority you wish to move to will both assist you in completing the transfer. Contact your caseworker to get the process started. See our short explanation of voucher portability here or read more detailed information at HUD’s Portability page.
You can find any Public Housing Authority in the country by searching our website here for the name of the housing authority, or your city, county or state. Many Public Housing Authorities have waiting list preferences for survivors of natural disasters. If you qualify for this preference you may move up the waiting list more quickly. Check with the housing authority to see if they have this preference. More information about preferences can be found here.
If you want or need to move to another area, but do not have a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, there may still be housing assistance available to you. Contact your housing provider for help.
Project-Based Section 8 provides rental assistance for apartments in affordable housing communities owned by private landlords. Tenants pay a portion of their monthly income for rent and HUD pays the property owner a rental subsidy. Project-Based Section 8 owners can provide vacant units to households who are not Section 8-eligible. However, the owner does not collect the Section 8 assistance payment from HUD and the tenant would have to pay the full rent. The tenant can use FEMA rental assistance to help pay the rent in these properties. You should contact the owner or property management company to see if they will accept displaced households and FEMA rental assistance.
For more information about how to apply for Project-Based Section 8, see Affordable Housing Online’s Project-Based Section 8 Guide.
Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties can house people displaced by natural disasters. LIHTC provides owners with tax credits so that they can develop apartments with rents affordable to low income households. Properties may include a mix of low-rent and market-rate apartments. The IRS allows LIHTC owners the option to seek authorization from their state Housing Finance Agencies to serve households displaced by disasters even if they do not meet the LIHTC eligibility requirements. The IRS provides the owners with regulatory waivers to make this more attractive for owners, but LIHTC owners are not obligated to accept displaced households as tenants. LIHTC properties anywhere in the country, even outside of the declared disaster areas, can use this option and provide vacant apartments to disaster survivors. You should check with the property owner or property management company to see if they will accept displaced households and FEMA rental assistance.
For more information about how to apply for LIHTC housing, see Affordable Housing Online’s LIHTC Guide.
If you need emotional support, you can talk to a professional at the Disaster Distress Line by calling 1 (800) 985-5990, or text “talkwithus” to 66746. Again, be patient. It might take a few moments to get the chance to speak with someone.
In the wake of a disaster, con artists and scammers will try and profit during the confusion. You will likely see many offers of help online and by phone, often requesting a fee to facilitate processing or registration. You should ignore these kinds of offers. You never need to pay a fee to apply for federal disaster assistance. FEMA will have information on rumors for a specific disaster area on its News Releases page here.