This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
org NAC Comment [Docket ID: FEMA–2007–0008] Ben Smilowitz Executive Director, Disaster Accountability Project July 20, 2009 Docket No. FEMA 2007-0008 The Disaster Accountability Project (DAP) respectfully submits these comments on Disaster Housing Policy to FEMA for the National Advisory Council Meeting. National Disaster Housing Joint Task Force FEMA must make staffing the National Disaster Housing Joint Task Force an immediate priority to bring the National Disaster Housing Strategy (NDHS) into compliance with 6 U.S.C. §772. On January 16, 2009 the Bush administration published an updated version of the NDHS. While the 2009 Strategy does more closely follow the instructions given in the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA)  through its annexes, it is not complete. Also, it is not ready to be implemented. The idealistic and holistic concepts outlined in the NDHS rely on a joint housing task force made up of “local, State, nongovernmental and private-sector entities for implementation.”  This task force has not yet been established and is lacking a permanent chairperson,  leaving the same level of uncertainty in interim housing that existed during Katrina. The creation and action of this task force is crucial for needed planning and preparation for future disasters that lead to the displacement of persons. In his written testimony prepared for the hearing on July 7, 2009 before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Administrator Fugate wrote that “FEMA convened organizational meetings of the National Disaster Housing Task Force.” At those meetings, a draft of the Implementation Plan required, in the NDHS, a National Disaster Housing Task Force charter and an organizational chart, among other documents, in order to create the Task Force. From his testimony, it is clear that the Task Force has not been staffed. 
QUESTION 1: In his testimony Administrator Fugate stated that the National Disaster Housing Joint Task Force would be staffed, but did not indicate that it currently is. What is the timeline for permanent staff? QUESTION 2: Additionally, he indicated that a draft of the Implementation Plan had been written during the organizational meetings. What is the new timeline for the release of the final Implementation Plan, given the passing of the six-month deadline in the NDHS? Also, is the draft version available for public comment? QUESTION 3: What is the status of the Comprehensive Concept of Operations (CONOPS)? Is it on schedule, as the deadline for completion of this document is October 16th 2009? Interagency Coordination It is evident from the response to Hurricane Katrina and subsequent disasters that the realities of post-disaster housing need were not adequately anticipated. Coordination was severely lacking amongst federal agencies, as well as with private sector individuals and organizations that provide multi-family residential housing units. In addition to the problems with trailers, both in supply and location,  FEMA failed to take advantage of housing stock offered by other agencies, including the VA, USDA, and HUD, as well as units offered by the private sector. As a result, residents were housed in trailers, hotels, and cruise ships, further exacerbating the stress felt by many individuals and families.  After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, FEMA and HUD entered into an Interagency Agreement (IAA) in July 2006, which created the pilot Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP).  Again in late September of 2008, FEMA and HUD signed another Interagency Agreement to work together to administer the Disaster Housing Assistance Program for Ike (DHAP-Ike).  While these agreements are an important start, they do not go far enough to ensure that victims of future disasters will have adequate access to available interim and permanent housing stock. These agreements are made on an ad hoc basis, and a permanent standard does not yet exist.  FEMA and HUD, in particular, must work together to create a comprehensive system for interim housing and to establish a permanent policy to foster interagency coordination. According to the NDHS, FEMA is supposed to partner with HUD in interim housing, and support HUD in permanent housing.  In the recent hearing by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security on “FEMA Housing: An Examination of Current Problems and Innovative Solutions,” two Congressmen, Mark Souder (R-IN) and Mike Rogers (R-AL), inquired how long post-disaster housing remained within FEMA’s jurisdiction. In response, Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Skinner replied that FEMA would remain at the table for interim and transitional housing. QUESTION 4: In the future, how does FEMA plan on working with HUD to maximize housing offered by other agencies?
QUESTION 5: Has any timeline been established after which housing responsibility will be fully given to HUD? Encouraging Community Rebuilding and Innovative Solutions to Interim Housing FEMA proposed many different types of temporary housing in the months following Hurricane Katrina, including trailers, hotel rooms, and cruise ships. Many Gulf Coast residents rejected the idea of living on a cruise ship, and instead looked further away for more stable housing options. As the time residents spent away from the Gulf Coast grew, the likelihood that residents would return to their communities decreased, as they established lives elsewhere. By placing hurricane victims in unstable temporary housing, FEMA discouraged efficient rebuilding and resettlement. FEMA also failed to provide expedited direct rental assistance to residents until late September, further preventing communities from returning to normalcy.  The NDHS “challenges planners to be creative in seeking innovative solutions. Disaster housing must include a sufficient range of options that are compatible with the community characteristics, including population density, climate, geography, and land availability. They must be safe, durable, physically accessible, and cost effective. Viability may also hinge on timely availability and sufficient capacity to meet the size and diversity of a household, as well as cost effectiveness.” The units currently in use are expensive and inefficient. They emit dangerous chemicals, are difficulty to store efficiently and have very short useful life spans. Since Hurricane Katrina many different options have been proposed as replacements for the mobile and modular homes currently in use. These options are less expensive and are built with environmental and health impacts in mind. These innovative solutions must be evaluated critically as a number of these options will likely prove to be a substantial improvement over the current system. One such example is the shipping container style building, created by Housing Emergency Logistics Plan (HELP LLC). The company uses shipping containers that have been redesigned to replicate more traditional modular housing models. They are different, however, in that they are built sustainably, are extremely easy to set up and transport, and large numbers of units can be stored in a small amount of space.  QUESTION 6: What efforts will FEMA make after a disaster to encourage residents to return to their homes rather than resettling elsewhere? QUESTIONS 7: How can FEMA assure more stable forms of interim housing? QUESTION 8: Are there any studies to evaluate the usefulness of the alternative interim housing options proposed at the July 8, 2009 House Homeland Security Committee hearing? Rental Repair
Rental repair must be a priority. Safe and available housing is a major factor in reconnecting communities after a disaster, setting the stage for successful long-term recovery. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and subsequent storms, available funds were heavily directed towards temporary housing, including trailers, which individually cost over $59,000.  There was far less of a focus on repair of existing structures, in order to return residents to permanent housing. Many Gulf Coast residents tried to use available funds to rebuild, rather than continue to live in temporary housing but many were denied access to funds or faced complicated bureaucracy.  This was particularly a problem with rental housing. Many landlords struggled in their attempts to rebuild, due in large part to a lack of funding, and in turn many residents who did not own property found fewer locations to rent. The lack of emphasis on repair has been attributed to confusion with authorization contained in Section 408 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. The Rental Repair Pilot Program established in the PKEMRA, which “funded repairs to multifamily rental housing units due to disaster-related damages” in exchange for an agreement to make units available to disaster applicants,  expired in December 2008  further complicating rebuilding efforts. A report reviewing this rental program was supposed to be submitted for review by March 31, 2009. QUESTION 9: What is the current status of the rental repair program? And where can the public access the report submitted to the Disaster Recovery subcommittee on this program? State and Local Oversight The NDHS delegates a substantial amount of responsibility in interim disaster housing to state and local authorities.  While it is ultimately a matter of individual State autonomy to create a plan that works for a given state, FEMA must hold these jurisdictions responsible for including housing in their disaster plans. Individual communities may have the most up to date knowledge about the needs of the community, but the Federal Government has the majority of resources and knowledge relating to what works and what does not with regard to interim housing. FEMA must make itself and the knowledge it and its partner agencies possess readily available to state and local governments. The National Housing Resource Center Website links to a description of the State-led Disaster Housing Task Forces along with a document outlining key activities that that task force should do but it does not specifically hold local and state governments accountable for those activities. State and Local authorities know that they can rely on the Federal Government in the event of a major disaster therefore it falls on the Federal Government to make sure that State and Local governments are well prepared.
QUESTION 10: How are FEMA and its partner agencies going to work with state and local authorities to assure that they have updated interim housing plans and that they are? Conclusion Having clearly delineated interim housing policy that specifically defines the roles and responsibilities of all involves is crucial to rebuilding a community after a disaster. Current policy is far from adequate. It relies heavily on vague generalities and future objectives. Action must be taken now to ensure that FEMA and the nation are prepared for the realities of the next catastrophic disaster. Additionally new and innovative housing solutions must be critically evaluated for both efficiency and cost-effectiveness that is lacking currently in the system. Again, thank you for evaluating these issues and considering our recommendations. Please let us know if you have any additional questions or concerns.
Ben Smilowitz Executive Director Disaster Accountability Project Julia Pergola Legal Intern Disaster Accountability Project Shira Silver Intern Disaster Accountability Project  6 U.S.C. 772  National Disaster Housing Strategy (2009), 28.  U.S. Senate. Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Far From Home: Deficiencies in Federal Disaster Housing Assistance After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Recommendations for Improvement. (S Rpt 111-7) Washington: Government Printing Office, (2009), 283.
 U.S. House of Representatives. Committee on Homeland Security. Written Statement of Craig Fugate, Administrator, FEMA, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA Housing: An Examination of Current Problems and Innovative Solutions (2009) (available at http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?ID=202).  Id. at 581.  The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned, White House Report (2006), 60.  National Disaster Housing Strategy Annex 1 (2009), 49-50.  IAA Number HSFEHQ-08-X-1760  Supra. n6.  Supra n2 at 17.  Supra n5 at 50.  Supra n2 at 31.  U.S. House of Representatives. Committee on Homeland Security. Written Statement of Walter J. Boasso President and CEO of HELP, LLC (2009) (available at http://homeland.house.gov/Hearings/index.asp?ID=202). Stating that “over 2000 HELP 20-foot units can be stored on 1 acre of land as opposed to the same acre only able to store 170 FEMA-style 22-foot trailers.”  Supra. n3 at 8.  Supra. n3 at 11.  National Disaster Housing Strategy Annex 5 (2009), 119.  Supra. n3 at 274.  The NDHS states: “To prepare communities for disasters, local and State officials should address interim housing as part of their broader public information campaigns.” National Disaster Housing Strategy (2009), 51.