Congressional and National Updates
The Florida Housing Coalition will host a webinar to discuss a new disaster dashboard created in partnership with Texas Appleseed. Register for the webinar here.
Recovery agencies at the local, state, and federal levels should proactively plan for community relocation due to climate disasters, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Community input, equitable decision-making, and concern for well-being should drive the planning process. The report focuses on the Gulf Coast region but emphasizes that its conclusions and recommendations are applicable to other regions.
A bipartisan $78 billion tax package was overwhelmingly approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means on Jan 20. As well as expanding the Child Tax Credit and incentivizing research and development for companies, the proposed changes promote the construction of affordable rental units and provide disaster relief support to help respond to the impacts of wildfires and train derailments that occurred last year.
Climate change is perpetuating inequalities in the housing market, as upper-income households are more insulated from damage than lower-income families, who tend to pay a higher proportion of their incomes in rent and for recovery.
State and Local Updates
As a new legislative session begins, Hawaii lawmakers face urgent decisions concerning Maui’s recovery from a deadly fire and the island’s broken housing market. A package of bipartisan bills has been generated to help Hawaii react to emergencies, prepare for climate change, prevent wildfires, and rebuild. Housing will be a long-term focus of legislative efforts, with lawmakers introducing a bill to give counties the authority to phase out some vacation rentals. Meanwhile, the top priority in Republicans’ package is a proposal to increase the contribution limits for state Individual Housing Accounts, which currently allow residents to contribute up to $5,000 per year before taxes as savings for a down payment on a home. Other agenda items address employment applications, state income tax, and wildfire prevention/response programs.
The site of a large 2018 volcanic eruption in the eastern part of Hawaii’s Big Island is the state’s fastest-growing region thanks to the promise of attainable homeownership.
Kentucky’s Department of Local Government received significant criticism for its draft plan for federal long-term recovery funds allocated following the severe floods in eastern Kentucky in 2022. Despite criticism from housing groups in the area and offers to coordinate housing recovery efforts with the Kentucky Housing Corporation, the final plan submitted to HUD was largely the same plan submitted before the public comment period. The plan seeks to funnel the HUD money into the establishment of high-ground sites around the impacted area. Heavily impacted Breathitt County did not receive a high-ground site.
Governor Maura Healey proposed establishing a permanent Disaster Relief Resiliency Fund for Massachusetts. Governor Healey also pledged to increase funding to help municipalities reinforce riverbanks, failing dams, and drainage systems to promote future resilience.
Angela Gladwell, director of the FEMA claims office handling the distribution of nearly $4 billion in compensation to victims of New Mexico’s 2022 Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire (which was sparked accidentally by a controlled burn by the U.S. Forest Service), has stepped down. Distribution of resources from the fund has been slow and plagued by challenges related to burdensome paperwork and title documentation issues that have prevented disaster survivors from accessing the assistance for which they are eligible. FEMA hopes to restructure the fund’s approach to distribution.
Though insurance rates have already been rising for Buncombe County homeowners, the North Carolina Rate Bureau asked the state’s Department of Insurance earlier this month to increase homeowners’ insurance rates by an average of 42.2%. In coastal areas, requested increases have been as high as 99.4%. The adjustments to insurance pricing are largely attributable to inflation and climate change.
Ever since September flooding in Rhode Island triggered a major disaster declaration, FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) have been establishing Disaster Recovery Centers to assist residents, businesses, and nonprofits in filing damage claims and seeking aid. FEMA grants, capped at $42,500, and low-interest SBA loans are available, and renters can request reimbursement for temporary housing. The SBA offers loans with terms including zero interest on payments for the first 12 months and maximum 30-year terms. Loans can bridge the gap between insurance coverage and repair costs, subject to demonstration of repayment capability by borrowers.
The Vermont Community Foundation’s VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund has dedicated $12.3 million in grants and awards to support the state’s recovery from last summer’s devastating flooding. This financial support has assisted farmers, communities, renters, homeowners, and businesses affected by the catastrophic floods. With contributions totaling $12.7 million from generous individuals in Vermont and beyond, the Flood Fund has made $7 million in distributions and committed an additional $5.3 million. With six months having passed since the disaster, the fund will now focus on supporting longer-term initiatives aimed at supporting the people and communities of Vermont and promoting mitigation efforts in preparation for future floods.