The following is a review of additional disaster housing recovery developments since the last edition of Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in the previous Memo, see 01/27).
Federal Action & National News
For the first time, select federally supported construction projects will be required to adhere to several International Building Codes (I-Codes). The I-Codes are an addition to the current consensus-based codes and standards that aim to support infrastructure resilience during disasters.
Some of America’s first climate change refugees are members of indigenous communities. Faced with losing what land they have left to the sea, four coastal tribes and an Alaskan village filed a complaint with the UN challenging federal inaction.
Puerto Rico Earthquakes
Puerto Rico banks are coming under criticism as the need for housing grows. One bank, Banco Popular, currently owns 824 vacant homes, the result of a recent uptick in foreclosures. The recent earthquakes in Puerto destroyed 800 homes.
Tropical Storm Imelda & Hurricane Harvey
Harris County Commissioners Court has replaced the head of its Community Services Department, expressing frustration at the slow pace at which aid has been disbursed. Josh Stuckey, deputy executive director of the county's budget management office, will oversee the recovery program until a permanent replacement is named.
The Texas General Land Office (GLO) approved over $31 million for infrastructure projects that will “protect lives, homes, and businesses from future storms” in Harvey-affected areas according to Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Grant funds from the Bob Woodruff Foundation have been awarded to connect veterans negatively impacted by Hurricane Harvey to rebuilding services. Grantees Lone Star Legal Aid (a Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition [DHRC] member), Combined Arms, and SPA USA will be hosting a live-stream panel discussion to kick start their work.
About $1 billion in Low Income Housing Tax Credits were approved for disaster-impacted areas of California in January. California officials are seeking to utilize the tax credits for housing projects for people experiencing homelessness in other areas of the state. Local officials and advocates in Northern California and other impacted areas argue the money is desperately needed to replace housing lost to recent wildfires.
Rural California seeks to respond to its desperate need for disaster-recovery housing without creating new conditions that would be ripe for destruction by future wildfires.
Ken Lawson, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) attempted to “set the record straight” about disaster recovery funding in Florida. Mr. Lawson stated the DEO will be ready to act as soon as government funds are received.
Florida is sitting on $900 million in Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds as the recovery from Hurricane Michael progresses slowly. The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” passed by the House of Representatives in November 2019, could help move those funds more quickly, while also ensuring that accountability and oversight mechanisms are improved. “Without any laws on the books, HUD has been hesitant to enforce accountability standards,” Sarah Saadian, NLIHC vice president for public policy, told Politico. “There have been some cases where the money that was supposed to go to people with low-to-moderate incomes, but it went somewhere else.”
Hurricane Florence and Dorian
If North Carolina’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency State Action Plan is approved, $542 million in federal aid will be released to assist with the Hurricane Florence rebuilding efforts. DHRC members in North Carolina submitted public comments on the plan, which was finalized in January.
Myrtle Beach city leaders work to create a recovery plan for intense natural disasters. Currently no plan is in place, but city leaders hope to receive funding to change that.
2016, 2017, and Older Disasters
Hurricane Irma: U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) Governor Albert Bryan Jr. had initially celebrated that the islands “were successful in not being lumped in with Puerto Rico” (to which HUD has delayed the release of disaster recovery and mitigation funds and on which the agency has imposed strict spending requirements) and signed a grant agreement to access recovery funding. Territorial officials seemed to have been taken by surprise, however, by the news that the financial recovery monitor appointed by HUD for Puerto Rico’s recovery would also monitor recovery activities in the USVI.