With recent storms ravaging homes across the nation, many homeowners are taking a closer look at the laws and regulations put in place to help rebuild after a natural disaster. For most concerned homeowners, one of the main questions is whether or not the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) will offer assistance to community association members in order to rebuild after a major storm. With communities devastated across several southern states, this is a topic that deserves further examination.

Should HOA’s Receive FEMA Funds?

One of the strongest arguments for FEMA to provide assistance to community association members is that just like any other homeowner, community association members are responsible for paying taxes that help fund emergency services and disaster relief efforts. However, unlike other homeowners, community association members do not qualify for FEMA assistance and have to carry the financial and practical burdens that come along with rebuilding after such tragedies. This  often results in uneven disaster recovery in cities across the US and stands out as a particularly unfair policy.

Does FEMA Discriminate Against Association Homeowners?

At first glance, it seems very easy to identify a difference in the availability of disaster relief funds to those who are HOA members and those who are not. But if you look closely at FEMA’s guidelines you will gain a better understanding of the type of assistance they are able to provide disaster-stricken areas.

FEMA is only able to provide assistance in areas that have been federally declared a disaster zone. The total amount of assistance that they can offer then depends on how much Congress allocates. The final amount of assistance available is then split up into two categories: Individual Assistance and Public Assistance.

Individual Assistance

The available funds outlined here are designed to help individuals and households cover the cost of housing and recovery expenses that are not already covered under their insurance policies. This means that FEMA is able to assist certain homeowners and tenants inside of a disaster-designated home even if their home is located within a community association. This level of assistance is intended to provide individuals and households with safe housing. However, there are no guarantees that FEMA will be able to place disaster victims in the same housing that was damaged by the natural disaster.

Public Assistance

According to FEMA, public assistance is disaster relief available for communities so that they may quickly respond and recover from major emergencies and disasters. The funds are available to certain eligible applicants that include:

  • State Government Agencies
  • Certain Private Non-Profits
  • Local Governments and Special Districts
  • Native American Tribal Governments and Villages.

FEMA also specifies that any private non-profit that is eligible to receive funds must operate or own facilities that are open to the general public and provide certain services that may be otherwise performed by a government agency. Under these guidelines, FEMA has determined that community associations do not fit the criteria to be classified as a non-profit organization because they are not open to the general public.  This is why FEMA does not help fund removal of storm debris from property within private communities unless they go through a time-consuming process to try to receive a waiver from FEMA.

Support H.R. 3238 – Disaster Assistance Equity Act of 2017

When it comes down to it, natural disasters result in devastation and crippling costs to homeowners regardless of whether or not they are members of a homeowners association, housing cooperative or a condominium association. This is especially true for areas that are affected by frequent natural disasters and similar emergency events. And while public buildings, municipal governments and individual homeowners are offered relief to help recover following a natural disaster, community associations are unfairly left out of the process.

H.R. 3238 – Disaster Assistance Equity Act of 2017 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by South Carolina Rep. Mark Stanford, to redefine what FEMA considers an eligible private non-profit facility so community associations can get FEMA assistance easier.  All property owners living in and business partners working with community associations should contact their representatives to urge them to support this important legislation.