Should HOAs be eligible for FEMA Public Assistance?

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

I have previously written about Community Associations Institute (CAI), an HOA trade group, and its three Federal issues (pet peeves). One of those issues is what CAI calls Disaster Relief Fairness.

You can check out CAI’s brochure on the subject here. See pages 9-10.

CAI laments:

Community association homeowners pay federal taxes to fund emergency services and disaster response, but their communities receive little or no federal support in the wake of a presidentially declared national disaster. Association homeowners bear the financial and practical burdens of disaster recovery in ways that non-association homeowners do not. This leads to uneven disaster recovery in our towns and cities across the country and is fundamentally unfair to association homeowners.

Yes, we all pay taxes, so why should FEMA discriminate against HOAs?

On the surface, who can disagree with that? As readers are well aware by now, owners in Association-Governed Residential Communities are already double taxed. We pay for essential services provided by our Associations through assessments, but also pay for essential services to areas outside HOA boundaries by way of property taxes.

But, not so fast. To understand FEMA’s role in disaster relief, let’s look at the type of relief they are authorized to provide:

FEMA link explaining type of assistance available.

Basically, FEMA may provide assistance with temporary housing, relocation expenses, repair to primary residences, and emergency services that provide for basic needs immediately following the disaster. With regard to repair of a primary residence, assistance is intended to supplement insurance coverage, and, in FEMA’s words, “The goal is to make the damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional.

The fact is, aid is only available if your home’s location is in a federally declared disaster zone. And the total amount of assistance available depends on what is appropriated by Congress. Assistance is divided into two categories: Individual Assistance and Public Assistance.

Individual Assistance dollars are intended to help individuals and households with various housing and disaster recovery expenses that have not been covered by insurance. FEMA will assist homeowners and tenants located in a disaster designated zone, regardless of whether their home is located within some sort of Association or not. The focus is on making sure the individuals involved have safe housing, but not necessarily guaranteeing that the assistance will enable the individuals to return to the same housing that was damaged in the disaster.

Public Assistance is defined by FEMA as follows:

Public Assistance (PA): Disaster grant assistance available for communities to quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies declared by the President

Emergency Work (Categories A-B): Work that must be performed to reduce or eliminate an immediate threat to life, protect public health and safety, and to protect improved property that is significantly threatened due to disasters or emergencies declared by the President

Permanent Work (Categories C-G): Work that is required to restore a damaged facility, through repair or restoration, to its pre-disaster design, function, and capacity in accordance with applicable codes and standards

Public Assistance dollars are earmarked for certain Eligible Applicants:

1.  State Government Agencies

2 . Local Governments and Special Districts

3. Certain Private Non-Profit Organizations

4. Native American Tribal Governments and Villages

As you can see below, HOAs do not fit the criteria for the types of non-profit organizations eligible for FEMA Public Assistance: (because HOAs are not “open to the general public” and do not provide the specific public services specified below)

Private Non-Profit Organizations
Private Nonprofit organizations or institutions that own or operate facilities that are open to the general public and that provide certain services otherwise performed by a government agency.

These services include:
Colleges and universities
Parochial and other private schools

Systems of energy, communication, water supply, sewage collection and treatment, or  other similar public service facilities.

Fire protection, ambulance, rescue, and similar emergency services.

Hospital, outpatient facility, rehabilitation facility, or facility for long-term care for mental or physical injury or disease.

Custodial Care
Homes for the elderly and similar facilities that provide institutional care for persons who require close supervision, but do not require day-to-day medical care.

Other Essential Governmental Services
Museums, zoos, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature. Health and safety services are essential services that are commonly provided by all local governments and directly affect the health and safety of individuals. Low-income housing, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, programs for battered spouses, transportation to medical facilities, and food programs are examples of health services.

As an example, we can take a look at what’s going on in South Carolina now, in the wake of widespread flooding caused by record-breaking rainfall and the failure of dozens of dams, most of which are owned and maintained by private homeowner associations.

Current FEMA appropriations stand as follows:

Individual Assistance dollars obligated: $112.7 million

Public Assistance dollars obligated: $6.3 million, all of it earmarked for Category A and B only. That is, only emergency repairs, and not restoration.


What does this mean for residents, particularly homeowners in HOAs, Condominiums, or Cooperatives?

But remember, even though a single dam repair can cost hundreds of thousands or even more than a million dollars, HOAs will not be receiving any of that assistance, because they are private non-profit organizations that FEMA classifies as business entities. (Where have we heard that before?)

Recall that the original premise behind HOAs was to create new housing and increase the tax base of local governments, but with minimal impact upon that local government’s operating budget. In return, developers were granted dominion over private communities during construction, Association Boards were granted exceptional powers to manage community affairs without government interference, and homeowners were granted the supposed prestige and privilege of living in a more-or-less self-contained housing community.

At the time, when HOAs were still relatively new in America, there was a general discontent with how municipal governments were performing, and so certain stakeholders in the real estate industry decided that Associations could do a better job, and set out to sell that concept to millions of American home buyers.

Except that in South Carolina, homeowner associations did not do a good job of maintaining their dams. And the state’s regulatory agency, DHEC (Dept. of Health & Environmental Control), did not do a good job of regularly inspecting privately owned dams, nor following up on repair recommendations. In fact, SC barely even funded the DHEC, making it next to impossible for timely inspections of dams.

So the federal government and state government are more than happy to take tax revenues – property, sales, and income tax – to create all these agencies, including FEMA and DHEC. And local governments in particular seem more than happy to push privatization of essential services, giving Americans fewer and fewer non-HOA choices.

But then government agencies don’t do what they are supposed to do, and expect “private” HOAs to figure it out for themselves when disaster strikes. And that is definitely not disclosed to buyers or current owners.

News flash: That’s what privatization is all about!

Just for your reference, it seems that there is nothing to stop a homeowner, condo, or cooperative association from applying for a Small Business Administration loan, as an alternative source of FEMA assistance, albeit the kind of assistance that has to be paid back.

Apparently CAI wants Associations to be regarded as a mini-government in this instance. In this case, they want government interference in the form of FEMA grants and emergency assistance to repair common elements in condominiums and cooperatives, and also with debris removal for all homeowner associations.

So I suppose that if FEMA decides that HOAs are “governmental in nature,” and deserving of Public Assistance, then we should soon see major changes in governance policy. Surely, the federal government will require all Association-Governed Residential Communities to provide meetings and official documents that are open to the general public. Free Speech, Due Process, and all the rest of our Constitutional rights will apply, as they do in schools, universities, public housing, and medical facilities.

Bring it on!

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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

8 thoughts on “Should HOAs be eligible for FEMA Public Assistance?

  1. Cynthia

    An excellent blog, Deborah Goonan. I am happy to see you wrote about and clarified the FEMA programs in detail. Individual homeowners in HOAs may apply if their homes are destroyed, or unlivable, but they need to meet the same criteria as any other homeowner, or property owner not in an HOA. For this information, please see: So, the problem appears to be with those elements, structures, or other owned by the HOA nonprofit corporation and are not insured, or are under insured and apparently they do not carry flood insurance. In the case of the recent South Carolina flooding disaster, what is important to note is that it is not just HOAs that are responsible for the costs of their dams, retention ponds, or lakes. Private homeowners and those businesses with dams, retention ponds and lakes are responsible for the repairs as well. A recent article from ABC News points this out: 10.26.15 – “Homeowners Faced With Big Bills to Fix Dams Deemed Unsafe”
    Excerpt from this article:
    “People who live around dozens of lakes in South Carolina are under emergency orders to repair or replace dams that ruptured or were deemed unsafe by inspectors after the historic rains this month, and they face staggering bills ranging from thousands of dollars to perhaps millions.

    Those legally responsible for the dams — mainly homeowner associations and individual families — don’t have a lot to time to develop their plans and face potential fines if they don’t comply. They also don’t have any certainty about how to pay for the projects. Privately owned dams generally aren’t eligible for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and they’re unlikely to be covered by private insurance. How much all of it will cost is still unknown.

    “That’s the magic question,” said Laban Chappell, co-owner of a 40-acre lake in Lexington that emptied when the lake’s dam failed Oct. 4.

    Chappell owns an old mill that has been converted into shops and restaurants near the lake. He’s been told it will take no less than a million dollars to repair the dam, depending on the design. For now, he’s too busy trying to get flooded businesses back up and running to think about how or whether to rebuild the dam.

    He is among dam owners under an Oct. 30 deadline to hire an engineer and figure it out. The directive comes from the Department of Health and Environmental Control, the agency responsible for inspecting the dams but one that has been historically understaffed and underfunded, and in some cases never inspected dams before they breached.”

    Clearly, it is not just HOAs being singled out as non eligible for FEMA funds in these instances. Let’s face it, if an HOA has a private $5 million, or $10 million dollar clubhouse, hall, or other, that has no insurance (which would be clearly irresponsible and just “dumb” in my opinion), and no flood insurance, or other, to protect something of this value, why should federal funds be used to rebuild, or repair it? I am sure there will end up being enough lawsuits and all related to get these water sources repaired and if HOA homeowners are required to pay their portions for what the association owns, well this is another hidden cost that no one can ever anticipate due to “privatization” with no oversight and the many times “hidden” push and requirement for HOAs in many states and locales across the USA!

    1. Deborah Goonan

      Yes, Cynthia. The “HOAs are not being treated equally argument” coming from CAI is kind of ironic. There is absolutely no such thing as equal treatment of HOA homeowners with respect to homeowners outside of HOA land.

      And if you are a tenant living in an HOA, you are a second-class citizen.

      As for those HOA dams — did they not create private lakes? It’s not as if the general public was able to use their boats or go fishing in those lakes, especially if they were on private HOA property.

      I bet that several of these HOAs chose not to rebuild the dams, and simply do without a lake. Same for some of the private owners.

      1. Cynthia

        Deborah, yes I agree some may choose not to rebuild the lakes, ponds, or dams if they are solely for aesthetic, or water sport purposes, but many of these are required and especially, in the southern states, for storm water runoff and management. Every HOA I have seen built, within the last maybe, 20 years, or so years in the south east has some kind of retention pond, lake, or dam that is supposed to deal with, or manage storm water. Some on golf courses may even have pumps underneath that are supposed to drain the ponds, or lakes into other water sources when they are over capacity, but when the electricity fails, so do the pumps. I saw this happen during a hurricane back in the late 1990’s, or early 2000’s. In many HOAs, it appears. in areas across the country, the HOAs are not a part of the county, or municipal water and sewerage systems. Many have their own water systems, or private water companies that operate their water delivery, especially in the south east with the water coming from aquifers. The sewerage is managed by the private companies too, so is the storm water, to the best of my knowledge. This is a big, big problem in many areas and due to the abundance of building in areas, taking up land and foliage that would have absorbed large amounts of rain and water runoff. As a result, the flooding is measurably worse in areas that did not flood before, or where the large volumes of water were managed in the past, but due deforestation for building, there is an abundance of water with no place to go, but to drain to the lowest point, pool and flood!

        1. Deborah Goonan

          You are correct, Cynthia, that many, many “lakes” are actually retention ponds. I believe that many of the SC lakes in the Richland area were recreational as well, since these were older, “original” lake communities from 50 years ago.

          It seems that many of these breached lakes were upstream from areas that experienced widespread flooding from huge volumes of water when the dams were breached. Because these dams had been holding back such huge volumes of water, the damages downstream were more catastrophic.

          Many of the upstream communities have now been ordered to drain or partially drain their lakes, to reduce the volume of water below their unstable dams.

          It’s up to hydrologists and engineers to determine what the next steps need to be. If a lake or pond is required for retention of storm drainage, then any dams or weirs necessary will have to be rebuilt. It will likely take months, if not years, for a full evaluation and creation of a plan to resolve the problem.

          I wonder whether storm drainage ought to be a statewide expense rather than trying to parse it out amongst thousands of small communities. The natural flow of water knows no boundaries!

  2. Cynthia

    Deborah Goonan,
    I should have mentioned in the post above that it seems to be “arbitrary” and “selective” concerning what federal funds will be used for when it comes to HOAs! I was a bit appalled and outraged when I learned a few months back that Treasury Department funds were being used to pay alleged monies due HOAs and their affiliates in North Carolina to stop HOA homeowner foreclosures (fraud closures)!

    Please see the information I sent out on the situation and the links I will post below!

    Just FYI: NC Housing Finance, I believe, even did a call in on TV, WECT, (, and discussed it and told viewers this was the case, and then I telephoned the one Director who confirmed it. Her name is Toni Anderson 919.877.5700, NC Housing Finance!! Two different programs, based upon the reason for the HOAs lien and foreclosure.

    02.17.15 – I have been told NC will be paying off HOA dues, assessments, fines, late fees, and alleged charges, legal charges, alleged legal charges, etc., in one of these two programs for homeowners to prevent foreclosure. An HOA homeowner advocate and victim spoke with one of the Directors last week. I believe this is a slippery slope and I believe attorneys and abusive HOAs may really abuse these funds and innocent homeowners for money. These are treasury department funds, that do not need to be repaid if the homeowner maintains ownership of the home for 10 years following the payoff, I believe. The first program listed below is job loss dependent and the second, for all other issues that have led to the alleged default of the homeowners, lender, or HOA. The Director of the one program, discussed with the HOA advocate and victim, how they were viewing the HOA dues/fees and the “whatever alleged and owed” and their role in the mortgaged property.

    What about all the innocent HOA and other homeowners prior to this, whose homes were STOLEN? The HOA fraud closures, in NC, and elsewhere in the USA, have been horrific; many reportedly illegal, lacking due process, stripping innocent homeowners of their rights, consumer protections, violating state and federal laws and criminal, in my opinion. The actual numbers, in NC and other areas of the USA, during certain time frames, some may have been reported, but who will ever know exactly how many there have been? How can NC discriminate like this and help homeowners now, but not those who came before? Wouldn’t it be better to put the criminals doing this, creating the conflicts, selectively discriminating, targeting, farming, combing, etc., and setting the stage and carrying out the crimes behind bars? Holding them accountable, whether it be HOA board member, HOA attorney, other attorneys, community managers and/or other accomplices like insurance industry personnel, or banksters, etc. I suspect if some were shut down, and their accomplices, too, held accountable, no mater who they are, or who they know, these abuses and property thefts would cease to exist for some time. We need charges and prosecutions with consequences, in many locales, across the USA and not states with Federal funds paying these criminals for their organized criminality. We need “eyes” and investigators to go over what has been done to innocent HOA homeowners, and I believe most times criminally and illegally, and by whom, for what amount of money and property!

    Yes, I am sure there are some, maybe more than some, who fall behind on their HOA dues. This happens and most non abusive HOAs work out plans for homeowners to catch up. I also believe there are terrible HOA homeowners and/or those who bought in to “equity up,” and never had any desire or intention to follow the rules, regulations, pay dues, or other, because in their minds “they are entitled to do what they want to whomever they want and if you don’t like it sue them.” Yes, I believe some who may buy in to create their own conflict to start lawsuits. Some, call these people, these types of HOA homeowners, property predators, because they will drive some from their homes due to abuses, hostility, terrorizing, property damages, etc., and file knowingly fraudulent lawsuits, even against innocent boards, for money and/or property!

    Funds from US Department of the Treasury are funding both! They are self supporting agencies/offices via these funds, but still, Federal Money!


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    The N.C. Foreclosure Prevention Fund is offered by the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, a self-supporting state agency, using funds provided by the U.S. Treasury.

    State Home Foreclosure Prevention Project

    If you have received a 45-day pre-foreclosure notice, the State Home Foreclosure Prevention Project (SHFPP) offers free help, including housing counseling, access to legal services if your income is low, and assistance working with your servicer. You are eligible for assistance whatever the cause of your pending foreclosure – the reason does not need to be related to your employment. There are no credit restrictions for this help.

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  3. Nila Ridings


    Thank you for an excellent evaluation and summary.

    This is why I have always said that whether it’s a fire, flood, hoarder, or tornado, disaster rebuilds come from the bank accounts of the homeowners. Yet, at the time of purchase the buyer has no clue what they are signing up for! Absolutely, NO CLUE!


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