Help for Home Owners in Texas
The winter storm Uri devastated the Lone Star State two weeks ago – as did the millions of houses in it.
Fortunately, there are utilities out there that can help.
President Biden declared a natural disaster for Texas last week, and this opened the doors to FEMA funding and other federal aid programs for residents.
Property tax exemptions, shelters, and other types of assistance are also available.
Are you struggling with the state's recent winter storms? Here are the programs that can potentially help.
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FEMA Disaster Relief
Since the winter storm Uri was declared a natural disaster, funds from the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) were made available to help those affected.
FEMA grants can be used for a variety of needs.
If your home has become unsafe or uninhabitable, these funds can be used for temporary housing or hotel expenses. They can also be used for home repairs or to replace personal property (even vehicles) that has been damaged in a storm.
To apply for a FEMA relief, you will need:
Photos of the damage A list of lost or damaged personal items Your address Your social security number Your home insurance information (if the home is insured)
You can then apply online at DisasterAssistance.gov, through the FEMA mobile app, or by calling 1-800-621-3362.
There are also in-person FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers that can help. You can also find this at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Disaster relief from the HUD
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also offers various forms of assistance to Texans.
Here's how you can help homeowners:
Foreclosure protection: HUD put in place a 90-day foreclosure ban on FHA-funded homes in Texas. So if your mortgage is an FHA loan and you are unable to make payments, you have at least three months before your loan service provider can begin foreclosureReconstruction Loans: If your home has been badly damaged and needs reconstruction or redevelopment, HUD provides FHA 203 (h) loans. These loans can be used to buy a new home or to rebuild a damaged home. Borrowers do not have to make a down payment and can finance all closing costsHousing advice: HUD also has free housing counselors ready to help. They can guide you through the various disaster relief opportunities that you may be eligible for and provide financial advice if you are having trouble making your home payments
If you need help with your FHA supported home, you can use this HUD resource center as a starting point.
Help with utility bills
Many Texans were hit by rising energy costs after the storm. While no specific program of assistance has been announced for these issues, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said state officials are investigating the charges.
"It is intolerable that Texans, who have suffered for days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat, are now hit by skyrocketing energy bills," Abbott said.
"To protect families, I am actively working with the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, and members of the Legislature to develop solutions to ensure Texans do not rely on undue spikes in their energy bills."
Governor Abbott has also ordered companies to suspend electricity and gas shutdowns for the time being.
If you have been issued an expensive energy bill due to the storm, your provider cannot interrupt your electricity or gas service until the investigation is complete.
Other relief options for homeowners
If your home was damaged in a storm, you can also qualify for a temporary property tax exemption, which only lowers your property taxes for 2021.
These exceptions vary depending on the district and the level of damage. So far, however, all of the following counties have announced temporary tax cuts for affected homeowners:
Harris County (Houston) Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Collin County (north of Dallas)
Check with your county's assessment district to find out which exceptions you may be entitled to.
There are also shelters that you can go to if you cannot stay in your home.
You can find shelters near you in the FEMA app or by sending your SHELTER plus your zip code (for example: SHELTER 90210) to 43362.
Homeowner insurance claims
If you have homeowners insurance, make sure you file a claim with your insurer before applying for FEMA funding.
According to FEMA, federal funds can only be used for uncovered losses. Therefore, your insurance company must cover their portion of the damage before federal funds can be used.
In many cases, home insurance covers burst pipes, as well as flooding and other damage that they can cause to your property.
Your insurance may also cover moving expenses and living expenses if you have to move away from the location while the damage is being repaired.
If you are planning to make a claim, be sure to photograph any visible damage and make a list of the items that you know may have been affected, including a rough estimate of their cost / value. Your insurer needs this information to determine damage.
Finally, call your insurance company as soon as possible if you want to make a claim. Many businesses are being backed up due to the storm, as are plumbers and other repair professionals. It is therefore important that you make your claim as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about filing your claim or any other insurance-related issue, contact the Texas Department of Insurance for help.
Who Qualifies for Disaster Relief in Texas?
Federal aid funds are reserved for Texans in the 77 counties listed here.
You will need a Social Security number and proof that you own your home in order to be eligible.
You also don't need to be insured or underinsured, which means your home insurance won't cover the full extent of the damage your property has suffered.
If you have home insurance, you will need to provide documentation of the claim you submitted and any funds received before you can receive any state aid.
The final result
If you have been hit by last month's winter storms, you are not without options. FEMA, HUD and various communities are ready to help.
For more information, visit DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.