As millions of barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico from a blown BP oil rig in 2010, a group of lawyers began thinking about what happens after a disaster.
They talked about the opportunities for a community, the legal resources available, and the lessons learned.
Those discussions became the genesis of a new book from the American Bar Association’s Forum on Affordable Housing and Community Development Law.
Building Community Resilience Post-Disaster: A Guide for Affordable Housing and Community Economic Development Practitioners provides detailed case studies from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to Hurricane Katrina.
The 459-page book’s publication is timely as new disasters strike communities each year. Just in 2013, there have been tornadoes in Oklahoma and floods in Colorado.
Building Community Resilience Post-Disaster is edited by Forum members Dorcas R. Gilmore and Diane M. Standaert and features contributions from several housing and economic development authorities.
“One of the realities is that natural disasters are happening more frequently and are also more devastating,” says Gilmore.
She and Standaert make the point that disaster-recovery funding is outpacing traditional community development resources. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) funding request for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) was $2.95 billion in fiscal 2013 compared with a $16 billion allocation of CDBG disaster recovery funding for areas hit by Hurricane Sandy.
“The extent of devastation has meant there are more federal funds focused on redevelopment and recovery,” Gilmore says. “Those additional funds mean that communities will be rebuilt potentially in whole new ways.”
The barriers to rebuilding affordable housing after a disaster are often the same ones that exist in general, but they are intensified.
“The tension between one-for-one replacement of affordable housing and mixed-income development and NIMBYism that affects the field generally becomes heightened in a disaster context,” says Gilmore, who recently served as assistant general counsel for the NAACP. “There are also issues of Fair Housing and the extent to which discrimination happens post-disaster in who has the ability to come back to their home or rebuild.”
One move has been to integrate people who have gone through prior disasters into the discussions when a new crisis hits. At the national level, HUD is playing a large role in the Hurricane Sandy recovery and looking strategically at the rebuilding effort.
“People are thinking about long-term recovery and not only the immediate response,” Gilmore says. “That’s a shift.”
Gilmore also notes that some post-disaster innovations may be applied in a normal economic development context. One example is the portable Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) that came out of the Gulf Coast.
IDAs, which help individuals save for long-term assets like a home or business, typically tie a person to a particular place. The concept of a portable IDA is to make the program more flexible so people could use it wherever they are rebuilding their lives.
“It raised the question if it is possible post-disaster why isn’t it possible period,” says Gilmore. “Are there ways we can think about asset development that follows the person wherever he or she may be? That kind of innovation can be applied all the time.”