Hurricane Maria evictions

© cestes001 - iStock/Getty Images Plus

Court Temporarily Halts Hurricane Maria Evictions

July 6, 2018

A judge granted a temporary extension to prevent the evictions of Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland following Hurricane Maria. About 1,700 Puerto Ricans evacuees were granted a 20-day extension, a federal judge ruled this week. Originally, the families were set to be evicted June 30, before U.S. District Judge Timothy Hillman of Massachusetts extended FEMA’s Temporary Shelter Assistance to last until July 23.

However, the 20-day extension is hardly enough time to find replacement housing, advocates say.

Many families are struggling to get into permanent housing due to the rising costs of apartments and crowded shelters. LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national civil rights group, filed the restraining order to stop FEMA from ending the temporary housing program on Saturday.

“We don’t understand why officials from the federal government didn’t come together and acknowledge that there’s a real crisis here,” Kira Romero Craft, one of the attorneys in the case, told NBC News.

Judge Hillman said that more information was needed in the case and requested both parties address their positions in writing prior to July 18. The judge intends to issue a final order by July 23 to determine whether there will be further extensions granted or if a formal hearing is needed to make a final decision.

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, leaving the island in ruins and destroying countless homes and businesses. Many of the families who have left Puerto Rico for the mainland have been living in hotels in New York, Massachusetts, Florida, and other states.

Before the court stepped in, FEMA had decided to end the program June 30, but advocates say there was no plan to transition the families into long-term housing.

Peter Gudaitis, executive director of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, says he welcomed the recent ruling but that it still doesn’t resolve the problem of what to do with the families who lack permanent housing options.

“It helps, but it’s kicking the can down the road,” Gudaitis told NBC. “These are not chronically homeless families. They want a home, jobs. They shouldn’t be treated this way.”

FEMA announced last week that it was ending its Transitional Sheltering Assistance for victims of Hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey on June 30. FEMA says it has spent more than $432 million on lodging as part of the program. The agency has provided rental assistance to more than 25,000 families under the program.