Disaster Housing Recovery Update – March 29, 2024

NLIHC joined the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, Enterprise Community Partners, and 100 additional national, state, and local organizations on March 27 in submitting a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs urging the committee to include the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” (S.1686) in any bipartisan housing package. 

The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” (RDRA) was introduced in the Senate on a firmly bipartisan basis by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Todd Young (R-IN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Alex Padilla (D-CA). The bill was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in both 2019 and 2022. 

Although other federal agencies have standing resources to quickly serve communities when disasters strike, Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds are only made available through special congressional approval. Due to the program’s lack of permanent authorization, HUD must write a new set of regulations to guide state and local grantees each time it appropriates funds. This ad hoc system can delay funding for as long as three years after a disaster occurs. As a result, recovery timelines are lengthened, state and local economies stagnate, and homelessness and out-migration from disaster-impacted areas increase.  

If enacted, the RDRA would permanently authorize HUD’s CDBG-DR program, helping ensure that long-term disaster recovery funds are made quickly available after disasters and that all disaster survivors and their communities can fully and equitably recover. 

Together with the other co-signing organizations, NLIHC reiterates its steadfast commitment to seeing this bipartisan legislation added to any package that advances in the Senate’s Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. 

Congressional and National Updates 

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) took to the Senate floor on March 19 to highlight his disappointment that Congress had failed to support disaster survivors in Maui and across the country. “People on Maui and every other disaster-struck community are counting on us for support,” Schatz said. “And it can’t be that the federal government leaves them high and dry midway through the process of putting their lives back together, because we couldn’t get some numbers to add up.” He urged immediate action during forthcoming appropriations bill discussions, emphasizing that supporting disaster survivors must transcend partisan divides. 

The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau mirrors what researchers have also found: that households with the fewest resources, as well as those who have disabilities or who have been historically marginalized were more likely to be displaced from homes by disasters than others.  

More than 44.8% of the country’s homes face at least one kind of “severe or extreme climate risk” from either flood, wind, wildfire, heat or air quality, according to the 2024 Realtor.com Housing and Climate Risk Report. Realtor.com provides climate factor risk scores for properties, highlighting potential disaster risks over the next 30 years, using data from the First Street Foundation. Miami, New York, and Tampa face the highest flood risk by property value, while New Orleans has the highest percentage of property value at risk. For wind damage, Miami, Houston, and New York top the list, while in several cities in hurricane-prone states, all homes are exposed to extreme wind risk. Wildfire threats are highest in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Francisco, with California cities also facing significant risks from severe heat and air quality issues. The total value of those homes is nearly $22 trillion, according to the study. 

In a March 12 Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearing, “Examining Proposals to Address Housing Affordability, Availability and Other Community Needs,” Matt Josephs, senior vice president of policy for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, urged Congress to support Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) to provide funding for low- to moderate-income communities, especially during disasters. 

State and Local Updates 


Funding provided to assist Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts via FEMA and other federal agencies has now topped $820 million. More than 35,000 survivors have received assistance via FEMA, including 7,000 survivors who received rental assistance while repairs or rebuilding to their primary residence occurred. Idalia impacted the Florida Big Bend region as a Major Category 3 hurricane in mid-2023.  

The commissioners of Lee County – which bore the brunt of Hurricane Ian’s impact in 2022 – have approved a roadmap for hurricane recovery and future resilience. Two hundred community members provided input on the plan, which was developed by the county’s Long-Term Recovery Task Force. The plan outlines 43 initiatives to assist Lee County in recovering and preparing for future disasters. Many residents of Lee County voiced concerns with the length of time it took for the plan to be released and ongoing housing issues in the area.  


Hawaii authorities announced the launch of the Disaster Case Management Program for survivors of the Maui wildfires on March 19. The program, which is supported by FEMA but operated by several non-profit organizations, will assist disaster survivors with individualized assistance in navigating the ongoing disaster recovery progress. For perhaps the first time ever, FEMA and state officials stressed that case management services would be available to all individuals and households impacted by the Maui wildfires, not only those who are eligible for FEMA assistance and submitted applications. Thirty-six case managers across four community organizations will be hired.  

The Hawaii Congressional delegation announced that it had successfully petitioned FEMA to open assistance to individuals who are citizens of Compacts of Free Association (COFA) countries on Maui who were impacted by the Maui wildfires following earlier questions about the legality of FEMA providing assistance to citizens of COFA countries, including the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. While such residents do enjoy special immigration status, FEMA had determined that they were ineligible for assistance. Thanks to action from the Hawaii Congressional delegation, these residents will have access to federal assistance programs for the first time in decades.   

More than 3,500 Lahaina fire survivors are currently housed in hotels, facing a quickly approaching deadline when FEMA’s temporary sheltering program ends in four weeks. Efforts to move these survivors into longer-term housing through direct-lease contracts have been complicated by a shortage of available units and homeowners withdrawing their properties. Despite FEMA’s success in securing nearly 1,500 units, only a small number of eligible families have been placed, with the process being hindered by issues like pet acceptance, specific location demands, and the condition of offered units. Some homeowners have pulled out after signing leases, leaving some families without promised housing. FEMA aims to place 300 households per week, but progress has been slow. Other complications include property owners withdrawing, difficulties in meeting housing quality standards, and the unique challenges of Maui's real estate market. FEMA and contracted property management companies have faced criticism for their handling of the situation, with calls for greater involvement of local property managers to address specific needs and expedite placements. 


FEMA disaster recovery centers in Maine are winding down operations as an April 1 deadline for applications for FEMA assistance approaches. The centers, operating in Kennebec, Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford, and Somerset counties, were opened in the wake of widespread power outages and severe flooding that struck the state in mid-December 2023  


Residents and business owners in Macomb County, as well as other affected areas, have until April 8 to apply for federal disaster assistance to address damages from severe storms that struck the county in August 2023. Over $103.1 million in grants have already been distributed for home repairs, personal property replacement, and other needs stemming from storm damage. FEMA and the Small Business Association offer a range of assistance, including low-interest disaster loans. A disaster recovery center in Chesterfield Township is providing in-person support, though applications can also be submitted online or by phone.  


Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) is launching a new program to assist those impacted by the destructive 2020 wildfires in the state. The new Homeowner Assistance and Reconstruction Program will be available to those who lost homes in the Almeda and south Obenchain fires and are still in need of recovery assistance. Assistance will be available for repair, rebuilding, and replacement costs, as well as fixes for replacement homes.  


Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s new $80 million budget proposal includes $5 million toward a new program that would rehouse people after disasters and other emergencies when other forms of state and federal aid are not immediately available. The remaining funding would be used to fund public legal defense against evictions, as well as anti-homelessness initiatives and efforts to restart a popular home repair grant program. 

Rhode Island 

President Biden declared a Major Disaster for Rhode Island on March 21 following destructive storms and flooding in the state that occurred on December 17-19, 2023. The declaration makes federal assistance available to individual households in Kent, Providence, and Washington counties, as well as federal funding for hazard mitigation measures across the state. Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in the designated areas can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov, by calling 1-800-621- 3362, or by using the FEMA App. Those using a relay service, such as video relay service (VRS), captioned telephone service, or other relay service, should provide FEMA with the number for that service. 

West Virginia 

Eight weeks after severe storms and flooding hit West Virginia, FEMA has approved over $2 million in assistance for more than 600 affected households and businesses. FEMA’s assistance includes grants for essential home repairs, personal property replacement, and other serious needs, with 16 inspectors verifying damage across five eligible counties. Residents are encouraged to apply for aid through Disaster Recovery Centers or online.