Letter to FEMA on Denial of Reasonable Accommodation. 12-27-13

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Joint Field Office / Hurricane Sandy
Federal Coordinating Officer / Disaster Recovery Manager

RE: Reasonable Accommodation in Temporary Housing

December 27, 2013

Dear Federal Coordinating Officer:

As you are aware, FEMA stopped paying for my temporary housing, despite Stafford Act Protections for disabled individuals, on September 15, 2013, when they removed all able-bodied individuals from Hotels, ending the Temporary Housing Assistance Program.

As you know, xxxxxxx xxxxx, your predecessor, repeatedly committed to keeping me at this hotel, renting this room under a Direct Lease Program, if the TSA Program ended, until I could return home. I had personal conversations with Xxxxxxx and Xxxxx xxxxxx on this: he designated a “team” specifically to work on my case. They were the only FEMA allowed to speak with me: he removed all my personal information from the system. I was not contacted again until xxxxxxx xxxxx was leaving FEMA in June 2013 for a job with a different agency.

I am still in a hotel solely and exclusively because FEMA missed Substantial Damage in their Inspection of my house and gave me an unreasonable repair grant of $5,035 for my substantially damaged, and now toxic, house.

You have read my medical files, documenting medical limitations and hazards: why I require special options and consideration in housing. Let us be clear, my home accommodated all my needs: my home is not available to me now! I am adjudicated permanently totally disabled for 36 years and the grave implications of my unusual condition are voluminously documented. Despite this information, FEMA removed me from Temporary Housing Assistance at the Best Western Hotel: and, against my will, forced me to the DHAP/HUD Program. DHAP/HUD claims I am not their responsibility: I am FEMA’s responsibility, repeatedly refusing to help me in any way whatsoever. DHAP/HUD, like FEMA, is completely unprepared, unwilling and it would seem unable to deal with special needs, special circumstances, or disabled individuals: dismissing, denying, placing a whole class of people in terrifying jeopardy.

I filed two housing Appeals: to FEMA. The first was filed exactly as FEMA Agents told me to do, on 12-29-12. It has been posted on the internet since 2012 and repeatedly discussed with FEMA. An Appeal was filed by my attorney on August 22, 2013: a 504 Request for Reasonable Accommodation. Neither Appeal was answered. After assuring me the proper people were working on it for months, FEMA finally told me of the first appeal, “We do not answer Appeals. A non-answer was received on the 504 Appeal, saying if I attended DHAP Orientation FEMA “might” consider it. I did so. There has been no response from FEMA. However, I was told that FEMA flipped the 504 responsibility over to HUD. HUD is ignoring me.

BE Advised:

-FEMA has extensive medical documentation that it is hazardous to my health to relocate me to an apartment.
-I paid the hotel bill for the past seven weeks. I am out of money.
-The Rental Assistance/Transient Accommodations grant issued on 11-30-12, in the amount of $4,695.34 (which I tried to return to FEMA Agents at Cedar Creek Park 4 times and was rejected with. “We know you have related expenses. That is your money.”) Was exhausted on Temporary Housing. You have that documentation in your hands.
-I am participating in the BuyOut/Acquisition Program of NY Recreate. I was told several months ago that Resolution would take 2 to 6 months. I have no control of their timeline. The alternative to a BuyOut of my Substantially Damaged, Toxic house would be NY Rising Rebuild Program, which would be a hardship for me to begin after 14 months of futile repair attempts on a home that floated off its foundation and must now be bulldozed and elevated 12 feet.
-I was told by your legal department through Mr. Xxxxxxxx, by Xxxxx Xxxxx and Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx, that there is $8,600 in my FEMA file (because you miscalculated repairs on my totaled house), available to me, that can be used for housing and has been provided to others for this purpose. I request this money to pay my Hotel bill now, committed to and implemented by Xxxxxxx Xxxxx and his Disability Team as Reasonable Accommodation from January until June of 2013, when he left FEMA for employment at a different Agency.
-I have sent Hotel receipts. I expect those bills (in excess of the initial $4,695.34 grant I exhausted at FEMA’s direction) to be reimbursed in a timely manner and my housing at the hotel to be paid from the $8600 withheld by FEMA on my totaled house, pending NY Recreate Buy Out.
-Note: Under the Stafford Act you are not supposed to charge the disabled person for temporary housing.

Please do not compound this horrific sequelae by again putting the blame on me, for still being in a hotel. I am here solely because FEMA failed to identify substantial damage, validate and deal with disability compliance, follow protocol, answer voluminous, properly directed complaints, or to act in a timely manner. I have been injured and scarred by FEMA’s lack of response. I am asking you now to demonstrate good faith: to cease and desist distributing outlandish letters with a litany of falsehoods to officials, falsehoods that can be expeditiously disproven. You have wasted so many people’s valuable time and effort with this frivolous, cavalier tactic. I am reluctant to believe that FEMA is that incompetent.

When we make grave mistakes, it is most facilitative to admit them and try to mitigate the consequences in an equitable solution. Without a doubt, FEMA, DHAP//HUD are making a mockery of disability and literally killing disabled people, because they don’t know what to do with us. I have seen too many of my disabled friends die because of the way they were treated in this disaster system. Don’t make my beneficiaries litigate this case!! Be assured that I have tried, and will continue to attempt, to settle this matter amicably.

Let us work together to rectify the devastating consequences that the Disaster systems have visited upon myself and the disabled community. Disabled people should have been the first population sent back home, not the last.

Sincerely,
Wendy Wagner

cc:
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Charles J. Fuschillo
Congressman Peter King
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy
Assemblyman Brian Curran
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg
Legislator David Denenberg

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

It is eleven months tomorrow, since my house went down in SuperStorm Sandy, since everything that was my life ended, and life became one dark hotel room that most days I cannot leave because I have become too sick without my medical equipment. Today, I am awaiting answers for new-found, soon to be broken, promises. Brand new requirements and emerging rules are being shoved down our throats, as helpers back off once more, intimidated by bureaucratic intervention aimed at rectifying the initial disaster management mistakes: all this at the expense of the last homeowners still standing un-renovated.

Municipalities and building departments that closed their eyes immediately after the SuperStorm, and let homeowners patch together houses with substantial damage, and inhabit them, are now redefining the rules, erecting insurmountable barriers, and preventing unfinished homeowners from restoring their homes as others were originally allowed, preventing return to home. Agencies are now demanding outrageous expense of homeowners and unprecedented structural modifications: proposing turning our scenic coastline into a grotesque collage of towering cement and staircases. We are told that officials want every house on the south shore of Long Island elevated.

Governmental agencies and hastily-formed committees plan permanent modifications to our land and communities, overreacting, instead of analyzing, evaluating, misunderstanding our environment and Long Islander’s relationship with the land, and the sea. Federal, state, local agencies and charities are conducting chat meetings to discuss the failures of the disaster/restoration process and results, untrained in the task at hand, receiving huge salaries, coffering millions in allocated and donated funds.

The Concert money, donated by well-meaning ordinary people to help their neighbors, is withheld from the neediest, by charities facilitating slow-moving non-programs helping a paltry handful of people. Federal, state and donated monies are eaten by administrative costs/salaries, not filtered to the people, failing recovery.

Gloom moves over the restoration process, as prejudicial treatment of homeowners located on newly drawn flood plains, spreads panic, and threatens destitution, bankruptcy and permanent homelessness. Families inhabiting the wetlands for generations are forced from land their great great grandparents were born on, not by fear or inability to cope, but by new prohibitive government financial barriers, rules and regulations proposed to prevent this from happening next time. Can one really predict how high the tides of the next freak event will rise?.

New York State set up the NY Rising “Grant” Program, that is bankrupting, the neediest. Applying to that Program has become the criteria “charities” are using to give people assistance. The “charities” are demanding to be paid by NY Rising for providing “free help.” People who do not apply to NYRising are summarily refused “free help” and/or materials by charities. NY Rising funds, are charged to the homeowner for five years, before they become a grant. Also, the five-year clause requires that the homeowner not only own the house, but also live in it, for five years after receipt of funds. This way, the State proposes to repopulate neighborhoods and ensure that communities continue to exist. However, the Program is hurting homeowners: because it takes choice away from the homeowner, who cannot freely choose to stay in his home or leave, it allows for no special circumstances, and because no charity will help him if he does not pay them with NY Rising Funds: it excludes him from help from almost every other program. Also, NY Rising is “recommending every home that applies elevate the house,” at a price tag of almost $100,000. Houses on flood plains and low elevation that do not follow the recommendation and elevate, face astronomical flood insurance rates next year.

Programs are staffed by hastily-trained people, operating with cell phones disconnected. Programs are failing the neediest. Charities are stockpiling money and supplies. Everyone gives a different answer: nobody knows nothing. The system is making it impossible for those left standing, withholding Certificates of Occupancy so that people cannot live in their homes or sell them, unless they elevate them. New rules and regulations penalize homeowners on flood plains, and those who have not yet restored their homes. Destitute homeowners are forced to take out outrageous loans to elevate homes they cannot even live in, or walk away from their homes penniless. The Federal government, off nation-building, ignores the financial burden to the Survivors of SuperStorm Sandy, providing little help filtering down to the people of America.

The media has hurt Sandy Survivors . They report that survivors are receiving lots of money from agencies, charities, donations. Most people have received a pathetic pittance: many nothing. The media spotlights a few individuals as enduring glaring hardship. The truth is, some people recovered quickly, because they used their bank accounts, erroneously believing they would be reimbursed. But most people are still living in substandard, hazardous conditions. Everyone is enduring glaring hardship. There is no help for Sandy Survivors!! Survivors need assistance, answers, results and resolution, now, when their children are breathing mold, sleeping in closets and eating ramen noodles off paper plates resting on cardboard boxes, standing up in back yards.

I remember the 1950’s, when there was a cycle of hurricanes in our area. At that time, we had a flood above the windows every two years. We were prepared. We understood our environment and weather patterns, and functioned within its perimeters. We helped each other. Neighborhoods came together.

During Sandy, no one warned communities in time. All the way up the coast, the media and officials told the public, the winds were only 75 mph. They didn’t warn of significant danger until the last few hours. We had so little time to prepare. The public was misled by officials. Officials and government were not prepared. Well into it, they could not even decide how to categorize this storm. The indecision and confusion of officials compromised the public’s ability to respond, react and protect themselves in the havoc.

Given the progressively emerging insurmountable barriers and negatives bombarding Sandy Survivors and persecuting the suffering middle-class homeless, I am second-guessing myself. A shrill voice inside of me scolds, “Who gave you the right to spend a year of your life like this? What were you thinking!”

My only defense is, I thought I could save my home. I thought it would be a month, maybe two. I believed hard work, government assistance, charity, support of community and country, were paths to success. After all, I lived through floods as a child. But that was a different time of community and official co-operative effort. I never imagined that when nature draws a line of demarcation, people do not cross it, and America only helps other countries in need, not her own people. We were all so naive.

When my house went down, my son said to me, “Bulldoze the house! Walk away! You cannot save it!”

I cried. I needed to fight for my home: otherwise, I would be a.victim, victim of a freak natural event. I did not know how to be a victim. I was a survivor of serious injury, cancer, and tragedy. Nothing could defeat me. My house was heavily insured. I paid off my house. I did not know how to be destitute. I did all the right things. I did not know how to surrender. I always won the battles.

Walking out of my stinking, gutted home recently, I said to my son, “You were right. I should have bulldozed the house.” When options deteriorate, choice narrows. Men lose hope: because hope is a bird whose wings fell off.

If I knew what I know now about the disaster recovery/restoration process, if asked to make a recommendation to another in this situation, without reservation, I would say, “Bulldoze the house. You have no idea how bad it can get, progressively, over time. Save yourself!!!”