State Sen. Victor Torres is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more housing relief programs in Florida for Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island Hurricane Maria refugees to afford housing in Florida.
Torres’s request follows a similar call earlier this week from the Central Florida Heart of Florida United Way, seeking federal assistance to help tens of thousands of people fleeing storm-ravaged Puerto Rico to come to Florida, when many arrive finding dire options on where to live.
Torres said he’s pushing for FEMA to provide Temporary Stabilization Assistance grants, which would allow Puerto Rico evacuees to use FEMA money immediately to rent hotel or motel rooms for up to 14 days while they find a longer-term place to stay. FEMA also has programs that could provide vouchers for longer term rentals, and set up temporary housing in mobile homes — provided the local governments assist in identifying places to put them.
As of a week ago, more than 60,000 Puerto Ricans had arrived in Florida. Some estimates suggest the number will climb over 100,000. The two primary places they are arriving, Miami and Orlando, already have housing shortages, especially for affordable housing.
“The impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria are placing huge demands on our public services,” Torres said in a news release. “We need to focus on building and expanding more housing options for Floridians and evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico who are seeking refuge in our great state.”
Torres gave impassioned testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday when he called on members to increase funds for state education, healthcare and housing needs to accommodate the refugee migration.
Earlier this week, Central Florida Heart of Florida United Way Executive Director Jeff Hayward called on the federal government, through FEMA, to engage in providing support for additional housing options in central Florida.
Torres’ district includes parts of both Orange and Osceola counties which contain the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans living in Florida.
FEMA has designated Florida as a go-to state for evacuees from the islands and approved costs could be eligible for 100 percent reimbursement by the federal government. Torres said he is working with local and state officials for FEMA approval of both the deployment of mobile housing units and authorization of TSA for evacuees to receive rental housing funds.