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Address from NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel on Equitable Disaster Housing Recovery

The catastrophic wildfire on the island of Maui in Hawaii constitutes the deadliest disaster in the history of that state and the deadliest wildfire in the modern era. Fanned by the winds of one of the strongest Pacific basin hurricanes in years, it took the flames just minutes to destroy over 80% of the town of Lahaina. With 115 killed, 800 missing, and over 2,000 homes destroyed, the town of Lahaina, the island of Maui, and the state of Hawaii have been forever changed and will need billions of dollars in assistance to recover.

As Hawaii residents continue to grapple with the severity and extent of the devastation, millions of households in California, Nevada, and Arizona faced catastrophic flooding, wind, and landslides caused by Tropical Storm Hilary. In the lead up to the storm, outreach workers, emergency managers, community members, and advocates worked tirelessly to assist their unhoused and unsheltered neighbors, who are among those most at risk of the impacts of disasters. After the record-setting rainfall brought by the storm, households and communities across the region are now assessing the damage. Our thoughts are with all the people impacted by the wildfires and floods, especially people experiencing homelessness, Native communities, and others with extremely low incomes.

Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change, and the lowest-income and most marginalized people and communities are consistently the hardest-hit. People experiencing homelessness, low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and other historically marginalized people are least able to evacuate prior to a disaster, and least likely to have resources to recover afterward. Despite the tremendous need, these populations are consistently left behind by our country’s disaster housing recovery and rebuilding system.

The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) – a group of over 900 local, state, and national organizations working to ensure that all disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to recover – works to right these wrongs and advocates for comprehensive reform to America’s broken disaster housing recovery system. Together, we are calling on Congress to quickly pass an emergency disaster supplemental bill to fund FEMA disaster response in Hawaii and the Southwest, and for Congress to ensure that long-term recovery and rebuilding assistance can quickly and effectively reach those most impacted by disasters by including the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” in the supplemental bill.

We will continue to track the impacts of the Maui wildfire and Tropical Storm Hilary on people with the lowest incomes and work to ensure the availability and accessibility of disaster assistance for those with the greatest needs. Our principles for an equitable recovery will guide our work as we advocate for Congress and the Biden administration to advance our top disaster housing recovery and rebuilding priorities.

Together, we must ensure that the lowest-income and most marginalized survivors have access to safe, stable, accessible housing as they and their communities recover and rebuild. We remain deeply committed to working with our partners in all impacted communities, and with national and other allies, to achieve an equitable and complete housing recovery that prioritizes the needs of the lowest-income and most marginalized people, including renters and people experiencing homelessness.