Help for homeowners in Texas
Winter storm Uri wreaked havoc on the Lone Star State two weeks ago — as well as the millions of homes within it.
Fortunately, there are relief programs that can help.
President Biden declared a natural disaster for Texas last week, and that has opened the doors to FEMA funds and other federal relief programs for its residents.
Property tax exemptions, temporary housing shelters, and other types of assistance are also available.
Are you struggling due to the recent winter storms in the state? Here are the programs that might be able to help.
In this article (Skip to...)
- FEMA disaster relief
- HUD disaster relief (FHA loans)
- Help with utility bills
- Property tax reductions
- Homeowners insurance claims
- Who qualifies for aid?
FEMA disaster relief
Because winter storm Uri was declared a natural disaster, funds from FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) have been made available to help those affected.
FEMA relief funds can be used for a variety of needs.
If your home has been rendered unsafe or unlivable, those funds can go toward temporary housing or hotel costs. They can also be used for home repairs or replacing personal property (even vehicles) that were damaged in the storm.
To apply for FEMA relief, you’ll need:
- Photos of the damage
- A list of any lost or damaged personal items
- Your address
- Your Social Security number
- Your home insurance details (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’ll also find these at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Disaster relief from HUD
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is also offering various forms of relief for Texans.
Here’s what it’s doing to help homeowners:
- Foreclosure protection: HUD has instituted a 90-day ban on foreclosures of FHA-financed homes in Texas. So if your mortgage is an FHA loan and you’re not able to make payments, you have at least three months before your loan servicer can start the foreclosure process
- Reconstruction loans: If your home was severely damaged and must be reconstructed or rehabilitated, HUD is making FHA 203(h) loans available. These loans can be used to purchase a new home or rebuild a damaged home. Borrowers do not need to make a down payment and can finance all closing costs
- Housing counseling: HUD also has free housing counselors ready to help. They can walk you through the various disaster relief options you might be eligible for, as well as provide financial guidance if you’re having trouble making your house payments
If you need help with your FHA-backed home, you can use this HUD resource center as a starting point.
Help with utility bills
Many Texans have been hit with soaring energy bills in the wake of the storm. While no specific relief program has been announced for these issues just yet, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said that state officials are investigating the charges.
“It is unacceptable for Texans who suffered through days in the freezing cold without electricity or heat to now be hit with skyrocketing energy costs,” Abbott said.
“To protect families, I am actively working with the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house, and members of the Legislature to develop solutions to ensure that Texans are not on the hook for unreasonable spikes in their energy bills.”
Gov. Abbott has also ordered companies to halt power and gas shut-offs for the time being.
If you’ve been issued a costly energy bill due to the storm, your provider cannot cut off your power or gas service until the investigation is complete.
Other relief options for homeowners
If your home was damaged in the storm, you might also qualify for a temporary property tax exemption, which reduces your property taxes just for 2021.
These exemptions vary by county and level of damage, but so far, the following counties have all announced temporary tax reductions for affected homeowners:
- Harris County (Houston)
- Tarrant County (Fort Worth)
- Collin County (north of Dallas)
Check with your county’s appraisal district to see what exemptions you might be eligible for.
There are also emergency shelter options you can head to if you’re unable to stay in your home.
You can find shelters in your area on the FEMA app or by texting your SHELTER plus your ZIP code (for example: SHELTER 90210) to 43362.
Homeowners insurance claims
If you have homeowners insurance, make sure to file a claim with your insurer before applying for FEMA funds.
According to FEMA, federal funds can only be used for uncovered losses, so your insurance company will need to cover its portion of the damages before federal funds can be used.
In many cases, home insurance will cover burst pipes, as well as the flooding and other damages they can cause on your property.
Your insurance might also cover relocation costs and living expenses if you need to move off-site while the damage is repaired.
If you’re planning to file a claim, make sure to photograph any visible damage and start a list of items you know have been affected, including a rough estimate of their cost/value. Your insurer will need this information when tallying up damages.
Finally, call your insurance company as soon as possible if you plan on filing your claim. Many companies are backed up due to the storm — as are plumbers and other repair professionals — so getting your claim rolling ASAP is critical.
If you have questions about filing your claim or any other insurance-related issue, visit the Texas Department of Insurance for help.
Who qualifies for Texas disaster relief?
Federal relief funds are reserved for Texans in the 77 counties listed here.
You’ll need a Social Security number and proof that you’re the owner-occupant of your home to be eligible.
You also must be uninsured or underinsured, meaning your home insurance does not cover the full extent of the damages your property suffered.
If you do have home insurance, you’ll need to provide documentation of the claim you filed and any funds received before you can receive federal aid.
The bottom line
If you were impacted by last month’s winter storms, you’re not without options. FEMA, HUD, and various municipalities are ready to help.
For more information, visit DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362 now.