FEMA Offers Full Reimbursement for Pandemic Shelter Costs—But Cities Are Still Jittery

Cities and counties have been slow to take advantage of the promise of full and retroactive FEMA reimbursement to expand emergency housing programs, frustrating housing advocates. What’s getting in the way?

2 minute read

May 16, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By LM_Ortiz


Over the last year, thousands of unhoused and vulnerable people have moved from the streets or congregate spaces into hotel and motel rooms thanks to a bevy of emergency housing programs aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Shelterforce recently wrote about how these programs worked, and why some local governments were now purchasing hotels for long-term housing.

Though the need is still great, some of these emergency housing programs are winding down due to funding issues.

FEMA had been reimbursing cities, counties, and states 75 percent of the cost for COVID-related non-congregate shelter, but once other sources of funding ran out—like those provided by the federal CARES Act—local governments opted to shutter their hotel and motel lease programs.

There was cause for celebration earlier this year when the Biden administration announced that FEMA would provide 100 percent reimbursement for non-congregate shelter, retroactive to the start of the pandemic and through Sept. 30, 2021. Advocates said the move would make a major difference in the availability of COVID-safe shelter. “It will enable states and communities to address the urgent health and housing needs of people experiencing homelessness and other residents of congregate facilities during the pandemic,” the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in a statement after the announcement.

But cities and counties have so far been slow to take advantage of the promise of full and retroactive reimbursement to expand these emergency programs, frustrating many housing advocates. According to an investigation by Grist, only 23 local governments have submitted funding requests as of early April. What’s getting in the way?     

FEMA Fears

It turns out several things are, among them the fact that ... 

Friday, May 7, 2021 in Shelterforce Magazine

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

View of 110 freeway with downtown Los Angeles buildings in background.

LA Freeway Ramp ‘Quietly Canceled’

A 2018 lawsuit forced Metro and Caltrans to do full environmental reviews of the project, leading to its cancellation.

February 29, 2024 - Streetsblog LA

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Grey concrete curb ramp with small bumps for the visually impaired.

Understanding Accessibility in the Public Right-of-Way

A ‘best practices’ manual guides accessibility on streets and sidewalks, but remains legally unenforceable.

22 minutes ago - Streetsblog USA

Aerial view of mid-density neighborhod in Newark, New Jersey.

Newark Kicks Off $1 Home Sale Program

The city sold seven properties as part of an effort to revive blighted sites and encourage housing production.

1 hour ago - Smart Cities Dive

Blue and white Pittsburgh bike share bikes lined up at a station with a red city bus on street in background.

Micromobility Operators Call for Better Links to Transit

For shared mobility to succeed, systems must tap into the connectivity and funding potential offered by closer collaboration with public transit.

March 4 - GovTech

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.