LatinoJustice: Temporary Restraining Order Filed to Stop Evictions of Families Displaced by Hurricane Maria

For immediate release

June 30, 2018

 

Contact:

Christiaan Perez, cperez@latinojustice.org

Erin Williams, ewilliams@faithinaction.org

Craig de Recat, CdeRecat@manatt.com

Temporary Restraining Order Filed to Stop Evictions of Families Displaced by Hurricane Maria

 

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national civil rights organization, and Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, LLP and the Law Offices of Hector E. Pineiro filed a lawsuit along with a request for a nationwide injunction in federal court in Massachusetts to halt the eviction process of nearly 2,000 evacuees from Puerto Rico who are currently residing in hotels. After Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm, devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, thousands were forced to flee and have been staying in hotels and motels throughout the United States under the Temporary Shelter Assistance (TSA) program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  

 

FEMA has arbitrarily decided to end the TSA program on June 30, 2018, evicting hundreds of Puerto Rican families this weekend without providing them with alternative housing options. If evacuees – who include young children, the elderly, disabled, and those with serious medical needs – are evicted from their hotels, they will face potential homelessness or placement in shelter systems. FEMA’s actions are not only immoral, they are unlawful and violate the very purpose of their existence: to provide immediate and transitional relief to those impacted by disasters. The lawsuit seeks to detain the immediate evictions of hundreds of evacuees and to require FEMA to extend alternative housing assistance to all eligible individuals.

“If this eviction goes forth, it will do irreparable harm to people who have already suffered so much,” said Denise Collazo, Chief of Staff for Faith In Action, an interfaith group that has been working with evacuees. “Thousands of people lost homes, jobs, cars, places to go to school, and are suffering unnecessarily. FEMA can end this by activating the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) now. Instead, FEMA is offering one-way plane tickets to send people back to a place that is in no way ready to receive them.”

 

The evacuees who were forced to leave Puerto Rico after the hurricane devastated the island continue to live in extremely precarious conditions. One of the hurricane evacuees and plaintiffs in the filed action is Maria Muñoz, who lost everything in the hurricane. “The roof was torn off and everything was destroyed. I have no home to return to,” she said. “I also have pulmonary emphysema and have had 3 strokes. I cannot return to Puerto Rico since the conditions there are so bad.” Originally from San Juan, she and her family of four have been in Massachusetts since November.  If FEMA refuses to provide an extension of the TSA organ, Ms. Muñoz is fearful that she will become homeless. “I don’t know where I will go. I will be on the street,” she said.

 

“The refusal to extend TSA to evacuees, as well as their refusal to provide direct rental assistance to most evacuees, means the eviction of hundreds of Puerto Rican families who have already experienced deep trauma, and who will now likely find themselves homeless or in shelters,” said Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “In addition, FEMA continues to refuse to enter into an Inter-Agency Agreement with HUD, 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.”

“There is no question that FEMA’s response to Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria has been woefully inadequate and unlike responses to other natural disasters experienced in the U.S., said Kira Romero-Craft, Managing attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s Southeast Office.“The level of transitional support care to assist evacuees, many who lost everything, has been predicated on a fiction that too much has been done already. That is false. We must not allow inaction by the federal government to continue to tear communities apart especially after the devastating losses In Puerto Rico due to the hurricane.  We must continue to care for the most vulnerable members of our community to ensure the safety and not further endanger their lives.”

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Faith in Action, formerly known as PICO National Network, is the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations. For more information visit www.faithinaction.org.

 

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, originally established as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) in 1972, is one of the foremost national nonprofit civil rights legal defense and education funds working to advance, promote, and protect the legal rights of Latina/os throughout the nation. Our work is focused on addressing systemic discrimination and ensuring equal access to justice in the advancement of voting rights, housing rights, educational equity, immigrant rights, language access rights, employment rights, workplace justice, and the discriminatory effects of the criminal justice system, seeking to address all forms of discriminatory bias that adversely impact Latina/os. LatinoJustice PRLDEF supports self-determination and a process of decolonization for Puerto Rico.

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