Community Associations Institute (CAI) supports a legislative or regulatory change to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act so that community associations are eligible for federal assistance following a disaster, including, but not limited to, debris removal and cleanup.
When disasters strike and the President declares a region to be a disaster area, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) enters to provide assistance, which may include debris cleanup and financial aid to eligible individuals and communities. However, existing FEMA policy specifically excludes community association roads from receiving federal assistance for debris cleanup. Moreover, there has never been a thorough vetting by legislators or regulators on how to classify community association roads.
At the core of this issue is the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the "Stafford Act", 42 U.S.C. 5121-5206 and Related Authorities), which governs FEMA. The Stafford Act allows for financial assistance to states, counties, municipalities, as well as eligible "private nonprofit facilities," which are defined as entities that "provide essential services of a government nature to the general public." Currently, community association roads do not meet the requirements to be deemed "essential" and, therefore, are not included on FEMA’s list of eligible private nonprofit facilities.
It should be noted that the Stafford Act actually gives the President the discretion to 1) use Federal departments, agencies and instrumentalities to clear debris and wreckage resulting from a major disaster from publicly and privately owned lands and waters; and 2) make grants to any state or local government or owner or operator of a private nonprofit facility for the purpose of removing debris or wreckage resulting from a major disaster from publicly or privately owned lands and waters. But, in practice, assistance is not extended to community associations.
This policy has cost community associations millions of dollars over the years, despite the fact that, a) community association residents pay the same federal taxes as non-association residents and are equally in need of help as any other community after a disaster strikes, and b) most association roads, like any other municipal or county roads, are used by the local police, fire department, paramedics, school buses, and may be open to the public.
The Stafford Act was passed to "alleviate the suffering and damage which result from disasters" by "providing Federal assistance programs for both public and private losses sustained in disasters." Regardless of whether community associations are viewed as public or private, the government has a duty not to exclude assistance in their time of need to the 62 million homeowners who live in common interest communities.
CAI, in conjunction with the state Legislative Action Committees, is urged to continue to advocate that community associations should be eligible and entitled to federal assistance in the wake of a disaster. This can be accomplished by classifying community association roads as essential under FEMA or, alternatively, implementing regular policies that would direct the President’s authority under the Stafford Act to provide relief to communities suffering a disaster.