Disaster Housing Recovery Update – October 30, 2023

National Updates

An artificial intelligence system for automating urban building evaluation using Google Street View images and deep learning is in development, led by University of Florida Assistant Professor of Artificial Intelligence Chaofeng Wang. The project will expedite post-natural disaster building assessments and provide necessary information needed for recovery. Dr. Wang aims to expand the model’s testing and data collection to overcome regional variations and increase its utility. The project is currently being tested by several local governments in Mexico and has potential applications in urban planning and insurance industries.

Based on 69 risk assessments conducted by major international development organizations, a new study finds that only 28% of risk models attempt to use an equity sensitive approach to climate disasters. The paper suggests that this oversight might affect efforts to develop evidence-based disaster risk management interventions.

A new Brookings report shows that a lack of standard definitions and metrics for local operational capacity results in federal resources being directed towards communities that are most capable of managing them – not those that most need them. The authors make several recommendations as to how the federal government should build local governments’ capacity for addressing disasters. The research follows upon a separate Brookings report released earlier in October, co-authored by NLIHC Senior Policy Analyst for Disaster Recovery Noah Patton, that compiled recommendations for disaster recovery policy reform to assist renter households after disasters.

An article published in the New York Times presents an overview of the slow return of tourism to Maui amid continuing disaster relief efforts following the devastating wildfires this summer. The destruction of the town of Lahaina has had a profound impact on the island's tourism industry, which relies heavily on tourist dollars. Some visitors are contributing to relief efforts, but as Maui heads into its peak tourist season during the winter holidays, the island’s recovery will continue to be closely monitored, with many displaced residents still seeking stable housing.

Climate-related disasters are worsening mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a growing body of research. Overwhelming emotions are common in the immediate aftermath of climate-related disasters, followed by long-term symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, headaches, and stomachaches. Low-income populations are especially vulnerable to the psychological impacts of sudden and massive losses, which can impede decision-making about shelter. Moreover, rebuilding in disaster-prone areas can pose risks for repeated traumatization. 

State and Local Updates


Nine months after a tornado struck in January 2023, debris removal from private properties in Selma is finally complete. The city is now focusing on ensuring housing as its top priority. Additionally, Mayor James Perkins, Jr. announced plans to build 27 more homes in disaster-affected areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is still accepting applications for disaster assistance related to the tornado, and additional long-term recovery resources are ongoing.


Six years after the Tubbs firestorm scorched a 12-mile swath through Santa Rosa, city structures are mostly repaired. Though many single-family homes have been restored, the area has been rebuilt with greater housing density.

Nearly a year after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck northern California, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors heard a report from Habitat for Humanity on home repair progress. Supervisors expressed concerns that public funding earmarked for repairs was not reaching those who needed it most. In part due to application and allocation changes, no repairs have been completed, despite the $250,000 allocation to Habitat for Humanity. Camille Benner of Habitat for Humanity stressed that the community’s repair needs exceed the allocated total of $500,000 and presented five bids for funds to the Board, including two of $150,000 apiece. The organization is helping people who are applying for USDA loans and working with landlords to make more affordable housing available. Other loans have been received from the Small Business Administration. Still, 19 structures remain red-tagged or unfit for human occupancy, and FEMA money is not available to the county due to unmet requirements.


Costs for housing remain high and availability remains low five years after Hurricane Michael devastated Florida’s Panhandle. Many homes remain damaged, and the closure of local businesses has altered the community fabric. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which devastated southwest Florida in September 2022 and resulted in over $112 billion in damages, some property owners took advantage of the housing shortage by hiking rental prices. Local organizations like Lee Interfaith for Empowerment (LIFE) responded vigorously, helping establish an affordable housing trust fund and rental assistance programs. However, challenges continue to emerge, as landlords decline rental vouchers and occupant criteria remain prohibitive.


Maui faces economic collapse due to the impact of recent wildfires on the island’s tourism industry. Decreased revenues may lead to cuts in essential services. Regulatory obstacles, excessive building costs, and a lack of affordable housing is complicating the process of rebuilding. Moreover, officials and developers lack public trust due to cultural and historical grievances.

Daytime disaster area restrictions in the County of Maui will be lifted for owners and residents with vehicle passes in Zones 14A and 14B beginning October 20 and October 21, respectively. An array of supportive services will be provided to returning residents during the first two days of re-entry into fire-damaged areas, including water, shade, washing stations, portable toilets, medical and mental health care, MauiBus transportation from local hotel shelters, and language assistance. The unsafe water advisory remains in effect.


Governor Andy Beshear announced the first round of Rural Housing Trust Fund (RHTF) Awards on October 23, in accordance with an agreement last legislative session to allocate $20 million in State Aid Funding for Emergencies (SAFE) to aid disaster-impacted communities. This round of funding focuses on home repair, reconstruction to help existing owners impacted by disasters and single-family homebuyer development bring new homes to disaster-impacted markets. A total of $13.5 million was awarded to nine nonprofit housing agencies that are helping Kentuckians recover from the 2021 tornadoes that struck the western part of the state and the 2022 flooding that impacted the eastern part. The funding will be used to rebuild 115 new homes and repair 45 homes for disaster survivors.


A saltwater wedge in the Mississippi River that threatens New Orleans drinking water has been delayed by several weeks, according to local reporting. Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now predict the wedge could reach water treatment intake plants in late November, if at all. Even then, salt levels may not reach thresholds that prompt health warnings. Researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) are actively supporting assessment and mitigation efforts in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) New Orleans District.

The damage and financial loss to New Orleans caused by hurricanes Katrina and Ida have made the city vulnerable to climate gentrification. Naturally occurring geographical advantages and selective government-led proactive resiliency initiatives have exacerbated existing inequalities. To preserve equity, a balanced approach to recovery and community integration is essential, as well as the close monitoring of volunteer organizations’ efforts to ensure they do not unintentionally exacerbate gentrification.

North Carolina

The state hurricane recovery program RebuildNC is facing criticism from homeowners, lawmakers, and disaster management experts, who have highlighted waste and inefficiency in the programs. ReBuild NC has struggled to provide permanent housing for over 3,100 hurricane survivors while mismanaging millions of dollars in federal funds. The office is facing backlash for excessive salaries, inefficient spending on temporary housing, the exacerbation of home repair costs due to construction delays, and inconsistent policy that has stymied efficient homeowner applications. After a legislative oversight hearing in September 2022, RebuildNC sought advice from the Saint Bernard Project to address program deficiencies. Still, concerns persist over a lack of accountability and a culture that purportedly protects officials from scrutiny.


The Jackson County Community Long-Term Recovery Group (JCC LTRG) introduced “Rogue Reimagined” on October 23, inaugurating the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional disaster recovery strategy. This initiative is designed to guide the community’s recovery in the aftermath of fires, addressing not only immediate needs but also future challenges such as ensuring affordable housing, improved evacuation routes, enhanced vegetation management, and more. The JCC LTRG has 21 signed partners, but the plan will be jointly managed by local governments and community organizations. The project is funded largely by American Red Cross and Business Oregon with additional support from the towns of Phoenix and Talent.

Virgin Islands

The Committee on Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications received updates on various housing programs and initiatives during a meeting on October 24. During the meeting, concerns were raised about disaster recovery efforts and continued use of tarp on residences six years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Additionally, it was revealed that USDA had only approved one loan through its 502 Direct Very Low-/Low-Income program, in conjunction with the V.I. Slice program, which itself faces challenges related to income requirements and financing limits. Though local nonprofit organizations like Live City Strong have contributed to home rebuilding efforts, their impact is limited due to funding restrictions.