Stalling FEMA

Attorneys file class-action lawsuit in Houston to derail FEMA from cutting tens of thousands of low-income hurricane evacuees off from federal rent and utility assistance

A group of attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit last Friday (May 19) in U.S. District Court in Houston in an effort to derail the Federal Emergency Management Agency from cutting tens of thousands of low-income hurricane evacuees nationwide off from federal rent and utility assistance on May 31. According to a press release from Houston-based Caddell & Chapman, the lead firm in Watson v. FEMA, attorneys asked for a temporary restraining order against FEMA to ensure continued housing support until June 30. The suit, filed on behalf of six named plaintiffs, pertains to more than 17,000 families across the country, according to Caddell & Chapman; in Austin, 215 Katrina evacuee households are slated to lose at the end of the month the federal rent and utility assistance they have been receiving through the city.

"FEMA's arbitrary and inequitable decision to eliminate Section 403 housing payments at the end of this month with no adequate notice, with no clear standards for determining eligibility or for making an appeal, and with no timely transition to its temporary housing assistance program (Section 408) is a complete failure of FEMA's statutory obligation to assist our hurricane evacuees," said Michael Caddell in the press release. The complaint – jointly filed by attorneys with Caddell & Chapman, public interest law center Texas Appleseed, the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland, Calif., and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice Inc. in New York – asks the court to stop FEMA from cutting off assistance until "federally mandated requirements for the program's administration are met and a hearing is held," according to the release.

Watson v. FEMA is the third housing aid-related suit brought against FEMA in the wake of Katrina and Rita. "In McWaters v. FEMA, FEMA was ordered to extend hotel stays for tens of thousands of evacuees who were about to be evicted with no other housing options. In Brau v. FEMA, the class action complainants have sought benefits useable by people with disabilities," explains a National Low Income Housing Coalition press release. For more on FEMA-related legal issues, see www.femaanswers.org.

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