Congressional and National Updates
Hello Alice and DoorDash are accepting applications for the Restaurant Disaster Relief Fund, which offers $10,000 grants for businesses affected by state/tribal or federally declared natural disasters in the past 12 months. Grant funds are intended to cover expenses not covered by insurance, including those for mortgage payments, rent, utilities, maintenance, supplies, inventory, supplier costs, and operations costs. To be eligible, a business must be an independently owned, for-profit restaurant, gastropub, or bakery with a brick-and-mortar location in the U.S. or Puerto Rico that generated $3 million or less in revenue per location in 2020.
HUD has introduced Housing Central Command, an emergency management structure to streamline homeless housing turnover. The system alerts case workers when a unit becomes available and aims to connect renters with landlords within 17 days. The approach has already been implemented in some cities, such as Los Angeles, but complications have been shown to slow unit availability.
An article released by Energy News Network emphasizes the importance of resilient homes in preparing for climate disasters, citing the unpreparedness of Texans during Storm Uri. The article encourages the use of weatherization processes and heat pumps, particularly for renters living in poorly insulated homes, as well as support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Home Energy Rebates (HER) program, which funds energy efficiency and electrification projects. The authors urge states and local governments to prioritize low-income renters and recommend actions to ensure tenant protections, center expertise from environmental justice groups, compensate community-based organizations, and integrate HER rebates with other relevant policies.
With millions of homes built in disaster-prone areas in the U.S., retrofitting and innovative design are crucial. Aging homes and traditional building materials, like spray foam, pose challenges that require updated technologies and building codes. Climate-resilient work is underway in some areas, such as efforts to fortify seawalls and improve roofs. However, such efforts do little else than buy more time when it comes to future climate impacts. Vulnerable populations, particularly in expensive property markets like those in Florida and California, face increased challenges due to climate-related disasters, which have already impacted insurance coverage. Innovators in building and construction are exploring ways to enhance climate resilience, but structural challenges hinder climate resiliency for low-income and Indigenous populations, and federal funds have not been equitably allocated.
Extreme weather is already costing the U.S. around $150 billion annually by way of water stress, agricultural loss, tourism impacts, falling real estate values, and property and infrastructure damage. The economic impact is projected to grow and may lead to the displacement of millions of people due to extreme weather events and associated costs related to transportation, lodging, and employment. Consumers can prepare by reviewing insurance policies, ensuring they are not underinsured, and considering climate risk assessments when buying property. Investors should support green industries and companies focused on renewable energy sources.
Research from Ohio State University shows that after a hurricane, the number of rental units usually decreases, which leads to higher rent prices. Both eviction filings and threats of eviction increase, exacerbating housing instability and gentrification. Rebuilding multifamily rental housing takes more time than rebuilding single family properties, which leaves many renters in limbo. In the wake of a disaster, management agencies and local governments should earmark funds for renters and adopt policies like eviction moratoriums and rent relief similar to those implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, long-term efforts to enhance housing availability and affordability are essential amid the growing impact of climate-related disasters.
State and Local
Homeowners and renters in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties who have lost their homes due to natural disasters such as floods, fires, and storms are often left to their own devices when dealing with the aftermath of disaster, including contacting insurance companies, filling out paperwork, and finding temporary housing. Renters can feel helpless when facing FEMA denials and a lack of long-term support and often become “climate refugees” until their resettlement. Solutions implemented in other regions – like temporary mobile home parks – face obstacles in the Monterey Bay region, due to unwilling landowners and ineffective management. Other options include utilizing public and church-owned land for temporary housing, but many landowners remain reluctant to forgo potential profits.
During a community meeting, Planada residents expressed frustration after expectations for a draft spending plan for $20 million in state flood relief were not met. Residents expressed dissatisfaction with proposals, including spending on environmental reviews and limitations on aid for lost wages and completed home repairs. An application for funding is expected to open in early 2024, with officials hoping to distribute funds by spring.
High insurance premiums are driving an exodus from Florida, with nearly 276,000 people leaving in 2022. The state’s insurance industry is grappling with increased hurricane frequency and severity, leading to rising claims costs. Florida’s premiums have surged by 300% in the last five years, averaging over $4,200 annually compared to the national average of $1,700. Insurers are exiting the state, leaving the state-run Citizen’s Property Insurance Corporation as the major provider. The unexpected burden on the state is threatening additional financial risks, prompting many residents, including retirees on fixed incomes, to leave Florida.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen is proposing a bill to incentivize short-term rental owners to use their units as temporary housing for those displaced by the August 8 wildfires. The bill would exempt eligible properties from real property taxes between February 20, 2024, and June 30, 2025, if they provide housing to those in need. Property owners with assessed values over $1 million who choose not to participate may face increased property taxes. The bill, set to be discussed on December 5, aims to address the impact of the wildfires in Maui County on an existing housing crisis, as well as the displacement of thousands of residents amid challenges like high housing costs and a shortage of affordable units.
Community members in Maui staged a "fish-in" at Kaanapali Beach to demand dignified long-term housing solutions for victims displaced by fires. Around 30 participants remained on the beach as of November 13, three days after a news conference about the event, which was organized by the group Lahaina Strong. The group is urging authorities to convert short-term rental properties into long-term housing, extend renter protections, and offer mortgage deferrals for fire-affected homes. The state government is reported to be working to secure additional long-term housing following the wildfires. The Department of Land and Natural Resources stated it has no objection to the fish-in.
County of Maui Disaster Area Restrictions have been lifted for owners and residents with vehicle passes in Zones 5G, 6D, 7B, 7C, 7D, 7E, 7F, 7G, 11C, and 12B. The following documents may be used to verify property ownership or residency to receive a re-entry vehicle pass: property deeds or tax records, utility bills, rental agreements or receipts, driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, voter registration records, financial statements, insurance documents, formal mail, or notarized affidavits from property owners or landlords confirming residency or ownership.
The deadline for individuals and businesses affected by the deadly Maui wildfires to apply for federal assistance from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is December 11. Disaster loans are available for homeowners, renters, and businesses for physical property damage. As of last week, over $285 million in federal assistance had been approved for 6,731 households, including over $248 million in SBA disaster loans, over $17 million for housing assistance, and over $19 million for other needs. More than 6,600 survivors are currently housed in 33 hotels on Maui and Oahu, with efforts to relocate them into more permanent housing underway by the state, Maui County, FEMA, and the American Red Cross.
Officials in Maui are exploring measures to address the housing shortage for individuals displaced by the August 8 wildfires with a focus on short-term rentals. Despite increased payments, FEMA has faced challenges securing long-term rental options. Mayor Richard Bissen has expressed concern that a moratorium on vacation rentals would lead to legal challenges. Tax incentives and the phasing out of short-term rentals are being explored as potential solutions after a proposed bill to regulate short-term rentals failed in the 2023 legislative session. The council is also considering tax relief for owners who lease to displaced residents, despite a $31.2 million budget shortfall.
Catholic organizations, including the Diocese of Honolulu and Catholic Charities Hawai'i, have established funds to assist victims of Maui wildfires with impending mortgage and utility payments. The efforts toward the recovery of historic Lahaina are undergirded by two separate funds set up by its Diocese of Honolulu and the nonprofit Catholic Charities Hawai'i. Applicants were not required to be members of any church to receive assistance from the two funds. The money and additional community donations will go toward temporary housing, financial assistance, counseling, essential needs, and rebuilding homes. Catholic Charities USA also has a partnership with AirBnb to place families temporarily at no cost to the local chapter.
The Fifth National Climate Assessment, released on November 14, warns that Louisiana faces severe climate change threats if global greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced by 2050. The risks include rising sea levels, intense hurricanes, prolonged droughts, extreme heat, and inland flooding. Black and Hispanic residents of low-economic status living in rural areas will be disproportionately affected. Despite ongoing climate change planning by outgoing Governor John Bel Edwards, his successor, Jeff Landry, has so far demonstrated less desire to tackle climate-related risks.
The Massachusetts State Senate approved a $2.81 billion supplemental budget, which includes $250 million for emergency housing and $15 million for disaster relief for municipalities impacted by storms and naturals disasters that occurred in 2023.
Hurricane Ida exposed New York’s vulnerability to extreme rainfall and inland flooding when it struck the region in early September 2021. The storm inflicted extensive damage on housing, especially low-lying units. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York conducted an analysis to assess the storm’s effects on basement housing, with a specific emphasis on more vulnerable populations. The study revealed that basements in specific census tracts are at a heightened risk of flooding, impacting approximately 10% of low-income and immigrant residents in New York.
The state released a report on the $150 million wildfire recovery program established to aid households affected by the 2020 Labor Day fires. Managed by the Oregon Housing & Community Services agency, the program has assisted over 1,100 households in obtaining temporary housing, new homes, or affordable housing. The report highlights the allocation of $35.3 million for helping 1,146 households with temporary assistance, a full recovery, or both. Of that cohort, 867 households were able to access full recovery through either construction or purchase of a new home, while 450 households received temporary housing assistance. The remaining $114.7 million is designated for affordable housing projects in the most impacted counties. Despite these gains, unmet needs amount to nearly $1.9 billion. State-funded projects, independent programs, and future allocations of disaster recovery funds are also underway.
Vermont Governor Phil Scott has initiated a six-week campaign to raise an additional $1 million for individuals still recovering from July floods. The funds will be generated through sales of Vermont Strong license plates, with the goal of supporting housing needs, food security, individual and family assistance, mental health services, and business recovery. The campaign aims to address ongoing challenges faced by individuals and businesses affected by the historic floods, encouraging residents to support each other during the holiday season and contribute to the recovery efforts. The funds will be distributed through the Vermont Community Foundation and the state’s Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program.