HUD published two documents in the Federal Register for public comment. Both documents are Requests for Information (RFIs) concerning the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. The first RFI focuses on the formula used for CDBG-DR; the second RFI addresses overall implementation of the program. The second RFI is accompanied by a set of questions. Members of the public have until February 21, 2023, to respond to the RFIs.
HUD’s CDBG-DR program provides state, tribal, and local governments with the flexible, long-term recovery resources needed to rebuild affordable housing and infrastructure after disasters. Because the CDBG-DR program is not formally authorized, Congress must approve funds for disaster recovery efforts appropriated under the program with each new disaster. HUD, meanwhile, must create new rules and regulations each time this occurs. HUD subsequently determines how to distribute the approved funds via an allocation formula based on disaster impacts and unaddressed disaster recovery needs. HUD has opened public comment on the RFIs to solicit feedback regarding the policy modifications necessary to better allocate assistance and serve disaster survivors more efficiently, quickly, and equitably via a “universal allocation notice.” This is the first time HUD has invited the public at this scale to direct recommendations to the agency. While a bill to permanently authorize the program, the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” was not included in the year-end omnibus budget package, NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) will submit a comment to HUD to address current concerns with the CDBG-DR program and continue pushing for the bill’s passage in the coming year. Because the budget bill also included $3 billion in CDBG-DR funds for 2022 and 2023 disasters, it is expected that HUD will use comments made in response to the two RFI’s to guide regulations for the use of these funds and future allocations.
Given the level of interest in and broad scope of the two RFIs, NLIHC’S DHRC working group has decided to host a set of meetings for anyone interested in collaborating to provide comments. The meetings will follow the weekly DHRC Working Group calls, held every other Wednesday. Those interested in being a part of this effort are encouraged to join our biweekly planning meetings. Register here.
Congressional and National Updates
Members of the New York congressional delegation called on President Biden to issue a major disaster declaration in response to the historic blizzard that struck western New York in late December 2022.
The Congressional Research Service released a review of links between climate and weather hazards and challenges to federal emergency management.
A new study has found that individuals from households with lower incomes are more likely to experience disaster-related home loss and more likely to develop adverse health effects following disasters.
HSToday reviewed the most costly disasters of 2022.
State and Local Updates
After Typhoon Merbok damaged homes and destroyed substance hunting and fishing camps in Indigenous lands across coastal Alaska, FEMA published documents on assistance programs in local Indigenous languages. However, the documents turned out to be unintelligible to individuals fluent in these languages. One document published in the Yup’ik language appeared to be nothing more than a collage of phrases lifted from a collection of folklore published in Yup’ik in the Soviet Union during the 1940s. “Imagine if someone took all of your folktales and then interviewed your great-grandmother about her experiences growing up, and had all of this information recorded, and wrote it down, and then scrambled it and stuck it in various different ways and made kind of a collage out of it,” said linguist Gary Holton, describing the composition of the text. “It’s offensive.” Accent on Languages, the federal contractor responsible for the translation, refused to respond to media requests concerning efforts to correct the issue. FEMA has since hired an Alaska-based company to produce new translations, stating that it had released the document only to several radio stations and congressional offices before staff discovered the problem.
Rain created by an “atmospheric river” driving moisture to the Bay Area and surrounding regions is currently being blamed for 17 deaths. Hundreds of people throughout California are currently in shelters or under evacuation orders, and widespread damage has been caused by numerous instances of catastrophic flooding. The rain is expected to continue for some time. President Biden issued a disaster declaration, and elected officials continued to recommend that residents remain hyper-vigilant about flooding, landslides, and high wind.
In the North Coast region of California, areas struck by earthquakes in late December are rolling out plans for repair and rebuilding. The town of McGuire recently announced an earthquake assistance fund with $3 million available.
In Mariposa County, residents impacted by October’s Oak Fire are still struggling to recover. While local resources are available, the fire did not generate a disaster declaration from FEMA, which would have permitted federal assistance for individuals. As a result, the recovery has been made even more difficult.
A report published in Politico found that the State of Connecticut used Hurricane Sandy-related HUD recovery funds to rebuild 62 homes that were each worth more than $1 million dollars.
Florida’s emergency management director Kevin Guthrie is pushing the state’s legislature to make reforms needed to address challenges revealed by Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole. These reforms include reducing the amount of time people have to remove boats from waterways ahead of a storm and creating uniform requirements for local governments contracting with debris-removal companies.
While the arrival of temporary transportable housing units to Ft. Meyers Beach in late 2022 boosted the spirits of residents desperate for temporary housing after the area was impacted by Hurricane Ian more than three months ago, the revelation that the trailers had been provided in error by FEMA – Ft. Meyers Beach is a designated flood zone and thus cannot receive temporary housing from FEMA – and would be returned provided a “kick in the gut” for many residents. Instead, the area will receive travel trailers for use as temporary housing at some point in early 2023.
A review of current and historical data on neighborhood attributes has found that areas of Florida impacted by hurricanes tend to attract wealthier residents after the disasters.
The Kentucky Legislature will be considering a $150 million recovery strategy during its legislative session this year. The plan, which creates an Affordable Housing Emergency Recovery Trust Fund (AHEART), would provide a permanent source of disaster recovery funds for the creation of affordable housing for disaster survivors.
An editorial published in the Commonwealth Journal argues in favor of the passage of AHEART while also suggesting that funds received to support recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic be used to build the affordable housing desperately needed in the state.
A diverse cast of advocates has been pushing for greater action on flood mitigation in flood-prone areas of New Jersey. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is considering the adoption of inland flood protection standards.
State legislators grilled leaders of the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency over alleged inefficiencies during the ongoing effort to recover from Hurricane Matthew (2017) and Hurricane Florence (2020). Advocates testified that while the office has improved its ability to quickly assist impacted individuals with housing, delays are persisting.
Members of the West Virginia Legislature heard from state emergency managers during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding held on January 1, 2023. Many counties in West Virginia were denied assistance by FEMA after flooding in 2022.