How to Help after Hurricane Harvey

Jim SlaughterThese blogs often focus on community association issues, whether hot topics, new appellate cases, or proposed federal or state laws. Today there’s a more pressing issue to address—the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Without question, what’s happened in Texas is also a community association and community association resident disaster. Texas is third among states (only behind Florida and California) in its number of community associations, with more than 19,900 HOA/condo associations and more than 4 million residents. Many of them now face dangerous conditions and uncertain futures. Everyone also likely knows someone who has been personally affected. Houston attorney Mark Markel, who is Fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers with me, has let us know he’s safe. However, he has not been able to reach all his employees. How very scary.

Without getting too preachy, now’s the time to see what we can do to help those in need.

After past disasters my wife and I often wonder how we can help. The possible options are sometimes so many and so confusing, we end up doing nothing. I think that’s called “paralysis by analysis.” In an effort not to let that happen this time, here’s both my plan and some suggestions.

Give Blood

If you’re physically able, the Red Cross always needs blood. That’s especially the case after natural disasters. While giving blood can’t be described as “fun,” it’s fairly quick and will almost certainly save lives. That’s quite a return on investment. If you don’t want to just drop in a blood center, the website at http://www.redcross.org/give-blood or mobile phone apps will allow you to schedule an appointment. Once you are scheduled to give blood, the Red Cross Rapid Pass site will allow you to complete necessary information online, which makes the wait even shorter.

Give Money

This is where we usually have trouble. There are often so many different needs and worthwhile causes that it can be difficult to choose where to give. Shelter? Clothing? Food bank? United Way? How does one decide? How do you even know in what area or region to give?

After asking advice from friends who work with charities, we have decided to donate through the Greater Houston Community Foundation.  This organization is highly respected and will make certain the money is spread equally among different types of needs and in different communities. Also, a link on that site will take you to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.  Are there other worthwhile charities there and elsewhere? Absolutely. Here are other highly recommended ones:

For a fuller list of reputable charities, check out this NPR article on Here’s How You Can Help People Affected By Harvey.

Don’t Ignore Policy Issues

While disaster recovery and philanthropy must be the primary focus, there are national policy aspects that don’t go away. In fact, two federal issues that impact community associations are highlighted by such disasters.

National Flood Insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) provides lower cost flood insurance policies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Standard homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding, and most private insurance companies don’t write flood policies. The NFIP offers insurance to homeowners that insurance companies won’t cover. However, there have been so many claims over the last decade that the financial future of NFIP is uncertain. Even for those who have flood insurance, the plan is about to run out of money. At present the NFIP is only authorized through September 30, 2017, and congressional action is required to extend that date.

Without question the NFIP is controversial. Insurance is all about options, and flood insurance is no different. Those who don’t live in flood areas wonder why the federal government helps those who do. But without such coverage, the likelihood of even greater future irreparable damages from such storms only increases. I don’t know what the solution, but Congress must act on the NFIP almost immediately.

The Disaster Equity Act. FEMA treats properties that belong to community associations differently than properties not in a homeowners association, condominium, or cooperative. Specifically, community associations affected by natural disasters do NOT qualify for FEMA assistance. The inequity of treating community associations as “businesses” not eligible for FEMA assistance became clear after Hurricanes Matthew and Sandy. After all, HOAs and condos are not businesses, but nonprofits without additional funds to deal with the types of issues left by a Hurricane Harvey.  House Resolution 3238, the Disaster Equity Act, is intended to clarify that community associations and their owners—who buy insurance and pay taxes—would be eligible for FEMA funds. For more information, visit this CAI Disaster Relief Fairness page.

Prayers and best wishes to all those affected by this disaster.