Today (July 2), a federal judge will decide if approximately 1,800 Puerto Ricans forced to evacuate their homes following Hurricane Maria will be evicted from their hotels and motels after 10 months.
After the storm hit Puerto Rico on September 20—completely knocking out the electrical grid, disrupting water service for half of the island and causing nearly 5,000 deaths—thousands of residents moved to the United States mainland. The majority relocated to Florida and New York. Under a program called Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) that is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Assoccation (FEMA), many were able to use vouchers to live in hotels and motels. FEMA announced last week that it was ending TSA for survivors of Maria, and that they must move out of their housing by last Saturday (June 30).
On Saturday, national civil rights organization LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed a lawsuit and a request for a nationwide injunction in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts to halt the eviction process.
Per NBC News:
U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin of Massachusetts ordered that the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot end its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program until at least midnight Tuesday, meaning those depending on the aid to pay for hotel and motel rooms should be able to stay at least until check-out time Wednesday, according to online court records.
The judge also scheduled a telephone hearing for today (July 2) to decide if the program can be halted for the thousands who lack alternatives to affordable housing.
In response to the ruling on Saturday, FEMA said it would extend the program through Thursday (July 5). The agency also said it would give a 60-day extension to a program that provides airfare, luggage and pet fees for Puerto Ricans returning to the island. NBC News reports that 145 families booked tickets back to Puerto Rico as of June 27. FEMA said it will also assist those who want to access the shelter system in the state where they are currently living.
Survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina (both of which happened in 2005) were given temporary housing vouchers for 44 months, almost three times as long as Puerto Ricans. According to a statement issued by LatinoJustice, “In addition, FEMA continues to refuse to enter into an Inter-Agency Agreement with [Department of Housing and Urban Development], which would allow the Disaster Housing Assistance Program to be implemented, providing evacuees with longer term housing solutions and helping them resettle. FEMA’s actions are shameful and continues to expose a community that has already suffered greatly to potentially greater harm.”
Evacuees who choose to return to Puerto Rico will arrive during the 2018 hurricane season.