Fighting FEMA: Urban Informality and Disaster Response in Rio Grande Valley Colonias

Started Oct 16, 2019


Full course description

This case study examines the legal case LUPE, et al. v. FEMA, B:08-cv-487 [2008], which discusses the issue of informal housing repairs in post-disaster situations. On July 23, 2008, Hurricane Dolly made landfall in the Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, one of the poorest regions of the United States. In the following months, community members noticed a high rejection rate in post-disaster funding, specifically from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individuals and Households Program (IHP). This high rejection rate was particularly striking in the valley’s poorest communities—the colonias—which suffer from inadequate housing, utilities, and infrastructure. As a result, organizers from the colonia-based group La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) assembled a legal team from the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) to contest FEMA’s characterization of the community, which led to an abnormally-high rejection rate in relief funding. Ultimately, almost ten years after the disaster, LUPE finally settled their case against FEMA in August 2017. While the settlement represented an organizational victory for LUPE and its constituents, much of the damage from FEMA’s inaction had already been done, and FEMA was not compelled to make important policy changes.

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