I often take the accomplishments of our team for granted when I know that faster should be possible. It’s not a dissatisfaction with our people or our systems, but an unwillingness to accept that disaster recovery, by nature, takes years when impacted communities need help now.
Let me be the first to say that I work with an incredible team of professionals that are accomplishing great things each and every day. On November 1, our HORNE team began application intake for a revolutionary single family housing recovery program in South Carolina. The program prioritizes low income families with age dependent or disabled members and offers rapid construction services to ensure that residents live in safe conditions. By Christmas, the state will have fully repaired and closed its first homes just 14 months after the catastrophic flood of October 2015. We expect the program will assist 1,500 homeowners before the event’s three-year anniversary.
For those familiar with traditional housing recovery timelines, this pace is groundbreaking. It exemplifies the efficiencies and best practices of over a decade of experience implementing disaster recovery projects since Hurricane Katrina. I’m confident that the South Carolina model will define a new benchmark for good government and successful recovery.
But—it’s still not fast enough. On October 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck the South Carolina coast in many of the same communities that had been impacted by the October 2015 floods. Despite our best efforts to communicate the program’s purpose, we will have to turn away Matthew impacted applicants who were not also impacted by the October 2015 flood. Since the state has not received federal funding to service Matthew damage, this revolutionary housing program appears irrelevant to the residents most recently affected and it’s hard to explain to them why.
The lines between response and recovery are blurring and that’s a good thing. It means we are compressing the recovery timeline. But, we can only expedite to the extent that impacted communities immediately understand the federal assistance available to them and have a plan to implement programs that provide much needed help. One option that could help speed up recovery is the implementation of a “standby recovery fund” at HUD as appropriated from Congress. This “standby recovery fund” would likely not be able to fund disaster recovery completely, but it would help get projects started faster and help state and municipal governments more rapidly serve their affected communities and speed up long-term recovery.
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