Protections Needed for Renters as 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season Begins

The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season has begun, and NLIHC and the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) of nearly 900 local, state, and national organizations are calling on the Biden-Harris administration and Congress to take immediate action to help protect our nation’s lowest-income and most marginalized households from disasters and to ensure complete and equitable recoveries following hurricanes and other major disasters.

“Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity, exacerbating inequality and our nation’s housing crisis,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel in a statement. “The Biden-Harris administration and Congress should work quickly to address the long-standing inequities and failures of our nation’s current disaster housing recovery system and take action now to protect those who may be harmed during this year’s hurricane season.”

As this year’s hurricane season gets underway, the Biden-Harris administration and Congress can implement two changes that would have immediate impacts. The administration should quickly implement a Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to ensure that displaced disaster survivors have a stable, affordable home and are not pushed into homelessness. The administration should also work with Congress to enact the bipartisan “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” to permanently authorize the federal government’s long-term disaster recovery program and put in place safeguards to target recovery resources to the lowest-income survivors.

One of the top priorities following a disaster is making sure that all displaced families have a safe, accessible, and affordable place to live. Too often, however, the housing, infrastructure, and mitigation needs of the lowest-income people and their communities are overlooked. Our nation’s lowest-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, people experiencing homelessness, and other at-risk populations are hit the hardest by disasters and face the longest, steepest path to an equitable and complete recovery.

DHAP provides the lowest-income households displaced by disasters with safe, decent, and affordable rental homes and case management services while they rebuild. The program, which was developed through hard-won lessons following Hurricane Katrina, had been used by past Democratic and Republican administrations until the Trump administration refused to activate it. Without DHAP, displaced households are at greater risk of housing instability, eviction, and in the worst cases, homelessness. These households often have little choice but to move into uninhabitable or overcrowded homes, stay in shelters, or sleep in their cars or on the streets. The Biden-Harris administration announced in late 2022 the creation of the Rapid Unsheltered Survivor Housing (RUSH) program to provide rapid re-housing assistance, including up to 24 months of rental assistance and supportive services for people currently experiencing and those at risk of homelessness. The administration acted with urgency and leadership in establishing RUSH and should build on this progress to help further prevent increased homelessness after disasters.

As disasters become both more frequent and more severe due to climate change, the lowest-income and most marginalized households are most at-risk of harm. Disinvested low-income communities and communities of color are least likely to have the infrastructure needed to prevent harm and the financial resources needed to recover. Despite the tremendous need, low-income people and people of color are consistently left behind by our country’s disaster housing recovery system.

The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” would permanently authorize the federal government’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program and ensure its resources better reach disaster survivors in low-income communities and communities of color. The bill was recently reintroduced 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).

Permanent authorization would create a framework for a more efficient and consistent delivery of resources to disaster-impacted communities following a disaster. The bill also includes several reforms to ensure critical housing resources reach households and communities with the greatest needs. The bill directs HUD to target resources to the most impacted and distressed areas, requires resources to be allocated proportionally between homeowners and renters, prioritizes activities that address housing needs, and prepare for future disasters. The legislation maintains the current requirement that 70% of federal recovery funding benefits low- and moderate-income people and provides clearer direction on when this requirement can be adjusted. The bill also promotes greater data transparency and accountability by making important data about the impact of the disaster and program outcomes available to the public. This transparency will aid in fostering effective public participation and supporting nonprofits, researchers, and state and local governments in identifying service gaps.