Disaster Housing Recovery Update – March 15, 2024

Last week, representatives from HUD spoke at the United Nations Buildings and Climate Forum in Paris, France, about the agency’s efforts to decarbonize and increase resiliency within its programs and housing portfolio. In addition to helping tackle the climate crisis, investing in energy efficiency measures makes homes more resilient to climate-fueled disasters and reduces energy expenses. These goals are particularly important for supporting low-income Americans, who face disproportionate energy costs. The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition will continue working to ensure that federal disaster recovery efforts reach all impacted households, including the lowest-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, and members of other at-risk populations, who are often the hardest-hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards.

Additionally, HUD was among those agencies from 70 countries that endorsed the Declaration de Chaillot, an agreement focused on fostering global cooperation to encourage progress toward the rapid, fair, and effective transition of the building industry to zero emissions.

HUD’s participation in the Buildings and Climate Forum reflects the agency’s commitment to build more sustainable, resilient, and efficient communities. To date, HUD has allocated more than $368 million in support of clean energy and climate resilience improvements across 84 multifamily housing properties. These initiatives will benefit over 9,000 homes, targeting very low-income households, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities.

Congressional and National Updates

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs held a hearing, “A Nation on Fire: Responding to the Increasing Wildfire Theat,” on March 14. Members and witnesses discussed gaps in federal resources for responding to and preventing wildfires.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing, “Disaster Readiness: Examining the Propriety of the Expanded Use of FEMA Resources,” on March 12. Witnesses discussed FEMA resources dedicated to combatting the spread of COVID-19 and for use in the US-Mexico border region. 

Representative Jill Tokuda (D-HI) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) have introduced a bill (H.R.7604/S.3896) to provide enhanced disaster unemployment assistance to victims of the Hawaii wildfires of 2023.

State and Local Updates


In 2023, Maricopa County, Arizona, reported a significant and alarming increase in heat-associated deaths, which reached 645 – 50% more heat-related deaths than during the previous year – setting a new record in the area. This surge in deaths, primarily among those aged 50 and older, coincided with Phoenix experiencing its hottest summer on record. Public health officials are calling for a community-wide effort to prevent such deaths, emphasizing the need for enhanced protective measures for vulnerable populations. In response to the escalating issue, Arizona appointed its first statewide heat officer as part of an extreme heat preparedness plan. Efforts to combat the effects of extreme heat include the establishment of cooling stations, increased tree planting, and initiatives to raise awareness about and the accessibility of these resources. The findings underscore the growing impact of climate change and the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate its effects, particularly in regions susceptible to extreme heat.


An early-March flash flood in North Monterey County, triggered by a heavy storm, caused significant damage, particularly on the lower side of Ralph Lane and near the Bolsa Knolls neighborhood. The incident led to the displacement of approximately a dozen families, though no injuries have been reported. First responders carried out water rescues, and several homes have been labeled as unsafe for habitation. To aid those affected, the county established a temporary evacuation point at the Prunedale Library, and the American Red Cross of the Central Coast is assisting with sheltering services and other needs. The flooding, described as bringing water levels near waist height in some areas, was part of a larger pattern of severe weather in the region. Recovery efforts are underway and focusing on finding permanent housing for the displaced, while also providing financial assistance and cleaning supplies. The flooding event occurred in the context of a winter marked by severe weather warnings, including a tornado warning earlier in March.

Nearly three months after a devastating storm and flash floods struck the San Diego area, causing fatalities and displacement, the State of California introduced one-time Disaster CalFresh benefits to support recovery efforts. These benefits are available to those who lived or worked in the affected areas on January 21, the day of the storm, provided they meet certain eligibility criteria, including income limits, loss of food or income, or the incurring of evacuation-related expenses. A family of four could receive up to $973 if their monthly income does not exceed $3,380. However, the application period is short, ending on March 15, with benefits provided through an electronic debit card for those who qualify. Disaster impacted households can apply regardless of their immigration status, but those already receiving CalFresh benefits are ineligible, although they may qualify for supplemental benefits. The program was launched in response to the considerable damage and displacement caused by the storm.


More than 1,000 survivors of the Maui fire plan to sue Kamehameha Schools, state entities, and utility companies in an attempt to hold them responsible for the catastrophic blaze in Lahaina last August. Attorneys Jan Apo and Jon Givens claim the fire started in a gully filled with dry vegetation and was exacerbated when Hawaiian Electric Company re-energized downed power lines amid hurricane-force winds. This led to the destruction of thousands of homes and over 100 deaths. They argue that if the land, owned by Kamehameha Schools, had been properly maintained, the disaster could have been averted. The case, which will be tried in Maui due to a new federal ruling, is expected to grow as more survivors join the lawsuit.

Advocates are highlighting the struggles faced by non-English speakers in accessing emergency services and information. Many residents have encountered barriers due to the lack of interpreters for languages like Tongan, leading to frustrations and a reluctance to seek help. The situation underscores the broader problem of language accessibility in disaster response, as approximately a third of Lahaina’s residents are foreign-born and a significant portion do not speak English at home. Efforts by FEMA and local organizations to address these needs, including the contracting of interpreters and the establishment of multilingual hotlines, revealed the urgent need for better preparedness and a more coordinated response for limited English speakers in future disasters.

A state-backed settlement initiative, the Maui Wildfires Compensation Program, also known as the One Ohana Fund, has garnered attention with its receipt of 17 applications from victims of the devastating Lahaina wildfires. Overseen by retired Judge Ron Ibarra, the fund aims to provide compensation for both loss of life and injuries resulting from the tragic August 8 fire. The program stipulates a maximum of $1.5 million for the estates of deceased victims, contingent upon waiving legal action against various entities, including the state and Hawaiian Electric Industries. While the fund’s administration is claiming transparency, details on public access to information about the fund’s operations and applicants remain somewhat ambiguous. 

The Maui County Council unanimously approved funding for two affordable housing projects in Central Maui after contentious debates over the selection process and location choices. Concerns were raised about the projects being in Kahului and Wailuku instead of fire-affected West Maui. Despite criticisms regarding the selection committee’s transparency and selection criteria, the projects, Hale Pilina and Aikanaha, received grants and loans totaling up to $24 million from the county’s Affordable Housing Fund. The controversy highlighted tensions over geographic priorities and the evaluation process, but ultimately the council moved forward with the funding in an effort to address the housing crisis.


Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey has formally appealed FEMA’s decision not to designate parts of Worcester, Hampden, and Bristol counties as disaster zones following severe rainstorms and flash floods in September. An approval would mean federal funds and emergency aid for affected families, businesses, and governmental bodies. Despite the state releasing $10 million in aid and planning the release of an additional $5 million, Governor Healey has argued that the needs exceed state resources. She criticized FEMA’s assessment for not including certain costs and requested a detailed explanation for the rejection of proposed repair projects in Leominster, a city significantly impacted by the storms. Healey highlighted the ongoing recovery challenges and the broader context of climate change’s escalating impacts. She also pointed out the discrepancy in FEMA’s response compared to its response to Providence County, Rhode Island, which received a disaster declaration for the same event. FEMA’s denial was based on the belief that the damage was within the state and local capabilities to manage. In response to such climate emergencies, Healey proposed creating a disaster relief and resiliency fund for more flexible response to disasters.


Following a severe late-winter blaze that scorched between 1,500 and 1,700 acres in Waseca County, Minnesota, local first responders and fire prevention authorities are reflecting on the incident. The fire, which occurred on March 3, was initially sparked by a smaller man-made brush fire. By 10 pm, the fire was fully contained, with crews remaining on site the next day to monitor and address any remaining hot spots. To combat the blaze, local farmers employed heavy equipment to till the soil, creating barriers that prevented the fire from damaging nearby homes. Despite the fire’s proximity to residential areas, no homes or structures were harmed. In response to the fire and ongoing risk conditions, the Waseca County Sheriff’s Office has declared the county a no-burning zone until further notice.


An op-ed published in The Trinitonian warns against extreme political rhetoric and conspiracy theories, which erupted in the wake of the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in Texas history, which ravaged over 1 million acres in the Texas Panhandle.

Experts from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service emphasize the importance of recognizing signs of mental distress and the need for professional help in coping with the emotional aftermath of disasters. The wildfires that struck the Texas Panhandle in early March resulted in the loss of homes and livestock and have also posed long-term mental health challenges for those affected. The Disaster Assessment and Recovery (DAR) program focuses on both physical and emotional recovery, offering Mental Health First Aid training to support community members. This training helps individuals recognize mental health struggles and provides them with tools to offer first-aid-level care and support, underlining the importance of community and professional support in overcoming the traumatic effects of natural disasters like these wildfires.

The wildfires in Texas’s panhandle region have caused extensive damage, affecting both the state’s agriculture and the cattle industry. Despite hopes that the fires will soon be extinguished, the agricultural community anticipates a long recovery period. The blazes have destroyed thousands of square miles of grasslands, essential for cattle, resulting in the deaths of 3,600 animals, with more expected to be euthanized due to injuries. The recovery of grasslands, crucial for cattle grazing, could take years, and the cost of rebuilding infrastructure like fencing and barns, not covered by insurance, is expected to be substantial. The disaster follows a cycle of flooding and drought in the region, with experts linking such events to global warming and its exacerbation of weather extremes. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, which may become the third-largest wildfire in U.S. history, highlights the challenges of managing land in an era of climate change. Despite the immediate focus on recovery, the region is bracing for possible future fires, driven by expected strong seasonal winds in the coming months, adding to concerns over wind-driven erosion on already damaged lands. Aid and support mechanisms, including a dedicated hotline for farmers and ranchers, are being mobilized to assist those affected as they navigate the challenges of rebuilding and recovery.

Governor Greg Abbott announced that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved disaster declarations for Texas Panhandle communities affected by the Smokehouse Creek and Windy Deuce wildfires, covering a range of counties. This approval, requested by Abbott on March 11 following assessments of the damage, enables affected Texans to access low-interest loans for rebuilding homes and businesses. The SBA will offer Home Disaster Loans, Business Physical Disaster Loans, and Economic Injury Disaster Loans to qualifying individuals and businesses. Applicants can seek assistance online, via phone, or in person at Disaster Loan Outreach Centers in Hemphill County Courthouse and The Dome Civic Center in Borger. The state continues to prepare for critical fire weather conditions, urging residents to practice wildfire prevention measures. This SBA assistance is part of broader efforts to recover from widespread wildfire activity, for which a disaster declaration was issued on February 27, encompassing 60 counties, with the possibility of including more as conditions evolve.


Severe flooding that occurred five years ago in Fond du Lac led to extensive community displacement and damage, but the city and community members responded swiftly with evacuation efforts, utilizing creative means for rescuing residents and pets, and setting up shelters for displaced individuals. The subsequent aftermath saw a unified clean-up and recovery effort, with the Community Church providing shelter and various organizations assisting in the recovery process. Efforts to prevent future occurrences are ongoing and include infrastructure improvements and proactive measures to manage river ice.