Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Improving housing policy after Hurricane Harvey



by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

With all eyes on Texas and Louisiana in the path of Hurricane Harvey, most of us are focused on victims’ critical need for safety, food and shelter. As housers, we should also be thinking about what comes next, building on the lessons learned in past floods. In three policy areas, we know ways to build better and prepare smarter as we rebuild homes, mitigate future damage and insurance against flood risk. NHC and our members are working in all of these areas to improve policy.

Rebuild for the future. As recovery help moves past emergency needs to rebuilding, we should make sure it goes to strengthen communities for the long term. I learned just last week about a NeighborWorks® America affiliate, The Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, which has a RAPIDO disaster recovery housing pilot that creates temporary housing designed to be more resilient to floods and able to expand as households grow. The post-Katrina recovery efforts of NHC Gold member Enterprise Community Partners, a 2014 Housing Visionary Award honoree, and many others gives us much experience to draw on in the months to come. If past federal responses are any guide, we should expect recovery funds to use proven tools like Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Community Development Block Grants, both of which are well-suited to create long-term community assets.

Mitigate future damage. Investing now to protect homes, business and communities against future floods will pay off. Mitigation can mean using natural features to absorb storm water, improving land use policy to require safer buildings or making targeted physical improvements. Communities at risk should invest in mitigation, and the federal government should help, especially in communities with many low-income individuals.

Reform flood insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) expires next month, and Congress has only started the process of reforming it. There are draft bills in both chambers, with a good bit of daylight visible between them. For the program to do what it must to manage risk and signal to property owners how to protect themselves, it needs to change, likely with more private insurance participation. More accurate maps, rates that reflect risk, incentives to mitigate risk and especially targeted help for those who need it will make us all safer. NHC and our coalition partners, at SmarterSafer, including newest member Habitat for Humanity International, have been working with members of both parties to encourage timely and effective NFIP reform and reauthorization.

Housers will play a big part in leading the rebuilding efforts after this disaster. Let’s bring our best thinking and strongest efforts, so that we are all safer when the next storms strike.

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