Although it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for most Americans when they think of HUD, our agency has long played an important part in helping communities recover from disasters and build resilience to reduce future risk. In fact, for a period in the 1970s, HUD hosted the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, a precursor to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Ever since, HUD staff have continued to support communities before, during, and after disasters, especially through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.
Because disasters affect so many aspects of life and can strike communities of all sizes around the country, the federal response is comprehensive, with many agencies providing aid and expertise to support the state and local governments that are the first responders. As you’ll see in the articles in this issue of Evidence Matters, HUD helps communities facing disasters through its assisted housing stock and more broadly through supplemental funding and technical assistance.
Within the agency’s range of disaster response work, the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) plays a key, multifaceted role. PD&R has a unique vantage point within the agency, providing expertise and research to support all of HUD’s activities while also seeking best practices through partnerships with academics, think tanks, and other nongovernmental organizations. PD&R’s staff have a range of skill sets such as program evaluation, geospatial data analysis, and local economic and housing market analysis, making the office especially well-suited to pitching in on the rapidly changing conditions typical of any disaster response effort.
Since the 1990s, PD&R staff have been especially engaged in three ways. First, by providing information on past disasters. Through a combination of staff member expertise and reports analyzing best practices and the agency’s prior responses, PD&R serves as a clearinghouse for communities seeking information on how to prevent or respond to disasters. A selection of this research is available through HUD USER (huduser.gov) in the PD&R Disaster Recovery Tool Kit.
Next, PD&R’s efforts are critical to telling the early story on the extent of damage caused by disasters. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2013, for example, PD&R staff quickly mapped damage in the affected communities down to the block group level, allowing for better targeting of resources and making the case that the severity of damage necessitated additional funding.
Finally, when Congress provides disaster recovery funds through HUD, PD&R works with staff from the Office of Community Planning and Development to develop funding formulas that ensure that all affected communities receive assistance quickly, effectively, and equitably.
Through our American Housing Survey (AHS), PD&R played a critical role in understanding the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and its citizens. Starting with the fortuitous baseline of the 2004 New Orleans metropolitan AHS, PD&R was able to foresee some of the difficulties of the recovery: a large stock of low-rent, single-family homes and low-income homeowners without mortgages, portending a lack of insurance coverage for recovery. In 2009, PD&R added a special metropolitan AHS of New Orleans to measure the progress of recovery, adding specific new questions on the housing path of residents who were displaced by the disaster. AHS returned to New Orleans again in 2011.
This highlights the important role of data and analysis in supporting disaster planning and relief. There is no substitute for the critical work on the ground, but those efforts need the type of knowledge infrastructure PD&R can provide to support work
at all stages of disaster recovery.
— Katherine M. O’Regan, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
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