More Than 60 Organizations Attend DHRC Convening to Create Roadmap for Reforming Broken Disaster Recovery System

NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) hosted a convening from June 12 to 14 in Washington, D.C. that brought together representatives from more than 60 organizations promoting disaster housing recovery and resilience. Participants shared best practices and lessons learned from past disaster housing advocacy efforts and provided insights that will help create a roadmap to better coordinate disaster housing recovery advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels, integrate new tactics and strategies into the DHRC’s work, and ensure that the DHRC lifts up the experiences and expertise of disaster survivors. The event was made possible through support from the Walmart Foundation.

The convening began by grounding attendees in the stories and perspectives of disaster survivors and their important role in the disaster housing recovery movement. During a panel moderated by Julia Orduña of Texas Housers, Sade Hogue, Cheryl Henderson, Dana Jones, and Rita Robles of the Northeast Action Collective explained how their lived experience grounds their expertise in disaster housing recovery, and they discussed their critical work in Texas ensuring their communities have a seat at the table in disaster planning, response, and recovery.

Meghan Mertyris of NLIHC moderated a panel with Todd Holloway from the Center for Independence, Nayda Bobonis Cabrera from FURIA, Nicole Huguenin from Maui Rapid Response, and Rev. Gregory Manning from the Louisiana Just Recovery Network on efforts to integrate disaster survivors into ongoing advocacy. Two important themes emerged from the panel: if ‘you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu’ and ‘there is nothing about us without us’.

Dr. Laura Olson of the Disaster Justice Network presented on emergency management operations, explaining that the field of emergency management was intentionally designed to remain statis and that mechanisms were built into FEMA that impede advocates from bringing about policy changes. She challenged attendees to consider creating a new federal emergency management system.

Carlos Martín of the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University moderated a panel with Natalie Maxwell of the National Housing Law Project, Maddie Sloan of Texas Appleseed, Maritere Padilla Rodriguez of the Hispanic Federation, and Brett Mattson of the National Association of Counties on the status of disaster housing recovery advocacy today. The panelists observed that advocates face political challenges when it comes to disaster housing recovery advocacy, with elections approaching and an extremely partisan political environment. At the same time, they shared their wisdom about how to take advantage of the moment to advance disaster housing recovery and resilience.

Throughout the convening, DHRC members engaged in deep discussions on ways to collect and document their successes and lessons learned in using media, legal, organizing, and research strategies to advance shared goals.

Jen Butler of NLIHC and Chrishelle Palay of the But Next Time Project and NLIHC’s Board of Directors shared their expertise in uplifting directly impacted people’s voices in the media and discussed how to actively shape the narrative around disaster housing recovery and resilience.

Hannah Perls of the Harvard Environmental & Energy Law Program moderated a panel with Stephanie Duke from Disability Rights Texas, Alicia Edward from Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Leslee Matthews from Maui Rapid Response. These experts discussed how best to use the legal system to advance advocacy goals and the importance of working with organizers, advocates, members of the press, and researchers to ensure that legal wins impact directly impacted people on the ground.

Andrew Loeb Shoenig of the North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network and Rural Prosperity and Investment, MDC Inc moderated a panel with Jordan Hocker of the Maui Housing Hui, Shari Myers of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, and Andreanecia Morris of HousingNOLA on organizing. The panelists highlighted the need to incorporate directly impacted people into all stages of advocacy and emphasized that trusting, genuine relationships based on shared self-interest form the basis of effective advocacy.

Andrew Rumbach of the Urban Institute moderated a panel with Nnenia Campbell of the William Averette Anderson Fund and the University of Colorado Boulder, Shannon Van Zandt of Texas A&M, and Chris Emrich of the University of Central Florida. The conversation focused on how researchers can work with, rather than merely conduct research on, directly impacted communities. The speakers agreed that all communities should adopt a bill of rights to which researchers must adhere if they are to work with them.

On the convening’s final day, NLIHC Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Field Organizing Sarah Saadian moderated three conversations with representatives from HUD, the FEMA, and Congress. In the first conversation, Sarah was joined by Marion McFadden, principal deputy assistant secretary for Community Development and Planning at HUD, who highlighted the urgent need to permanently authorize the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which provides flexible grants to help presidentially declared disaster areas rebuild affordable housing and other infrastructure in the wake of a disaster. The bipartisan, NLIHC-endorsed “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” would permanently authorize the CDBG-DR program and make critical reforms to ensure resources reach disaster survivors with the greatest needs.

Sarah then led a discussion with FEMA administrators Frank Matranga, director of the Office of Individual Assistance, and Sherman Gillums, Jr., director of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination. Mr. Matranga and Mr. Gillums, Jr. shared updates attendees on FEMA programs and policies with attendees. Meanwhile, attendees implored FEMA to take their lead from grassroots and national advocacy organizations, who are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges directly impacted people are facing on the ground and help FEMA better achieve its mission. They also requested that FEMA provide grassroots organizations with a PDF copy of a newly updated application and guide that will be used by FEMA officials to screen disaster survivors requesting FEMA assistance.

Finally, Sarah moderated a conversation with congressional staff, including Lauren McClain, subcommittee director of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Lauren Gros, professional staff member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Both panelists emphasized the importance of constituents connecting with their elected officials and making clear the need for policies and funding that facilitate equitable and efficient disaster housing recovery, explaining that constituent voices drive what issues are prioritized in Congress.

NLIHC is grateful to all those who joined us in D.C. to share their hard-earned knowledge with the DHRC, as well as our panelists, presenters, and speakers who shared their experience and expertise to guide the DHRC’s work into a new era.

As a result of the convening, the DHRC is better positioned to build power and move policy solutions that advance disaster housing recovery and resilience in low-income and disinvested communities. The DHRC looks forward to sharing the knowledge generated during the convening through toolkits and other advocacy resources to support the work of disaster housing recovery advocates nationwide.