Housing Resilience: Best Practices for States on Resilient Planning & Recovery

As natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity this paper has outlines state policies and actions to improve the resilience of the nation’s housing stock, including measures to build resilience into planning processes before a disaster strikes.



Many states face dual challenges in ensuring a more resilient housing sector: hurdles in standing up a disaster recovery program, and gaps in near- and long-term actions that could lead to more resilient housing stock. That was the key takeaway from a January 2019 Experts Roundtable on Enhancing Housing Resilience, hosted by the National Governors Association (NGA), in conjunction with the Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS). The roundtable gathered two dozen state, federal, nonprofit and research experts for a day-long examination of policies and actions to improve the resilience of the nation’s housing stock (both damaged and unharmed) and discussion of ways states can optimally structure the administration of federally supported mitigation programs, including how to build resilience into planning processes before a disaster strikes. The knowledge gained from this roundtable is summarized in this white paper.

Despite enhanced state preparedness, including guidance and training from NGA, damages from natural disasters have been increasing substantially in recent years. In 2017, the United States saw 16 disasters with damages exceeding $1 billion each, with cumulative disaster damage in excess of $305 billion, the highest amount ever recorded in the United States. NOAA records show that four of the five years with the highest cost of damages from natural disasters have occurred since 2010, with the other year being 2005. This trend is predicted to continue as weather patterns become more intense.

As damages continue to occur, states will be called upon to respond. The lesson learned from the past few years is that governors need to do even more to improve the resilience of their critical infrastructure and enhance preparedness in the event of an emergency or disaster. This entails mitigating the impacts that result from disasters, for instance avoiding the loss of power, housing and transportation, and enabling more resilient recovery when a disaster strikes, such that power, housing and transportation, for instance, are more quickly restored.

The federal government is a key partner for states in disaster recovery through various funding mechanisms. With deadly and expensive disasters occurring more frequently, the federal government has had to provide more recovery funding to state and local governments. A significant portion of the federal funding has been directed toward repairing damaged housing stock, especially in the form of Community Development Block Grants – Disaster Recovery (CDBGDR) administered by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Recent disaster recovery packages have complemented CDBG-DR funds with additional funding that “plussed up” existing accounts, such as Pre-Disaster Mitigation Funds (PDM) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) made available by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

States should consider how they may need to reorient, reorganize and reeducate their agencies to successfully deploy federal resources intended to mitigate future damages. First, states will want to be aware of whether the agencies administering CDBG-DR grants, which come with unique regulations and requirements, are not the lead agency during emergency response efforts. If not, grant administrators will need to be brought into the discussion before federal funding has been awarded to avoid or limit delays in the administration of recovery funds, or misalignment of priorities. States also may need to provide cross-agency support and training where a new agency lacks the experience or capacity to administer long-term disaster recovery programs. In addition, separate agencies may administer the FEMA grant programs that are intended for mitigation pre- and post-disaster; they will need to work together to ensure alignment of resilience investments. The federal government also could help with training of those responsible for administering CDBG-DR funding, directly or via various national organizations (which is similar to the extensive training for state emergency managers who are responsible for disaster response).

States also need to develop a strategy for how best to respond to the public demand for rapid recovery and accelerated deployment of funds following a disaster. While “speed to the need” is a justifiable approach, it may hinder sensible but someone more lengthy steps that could ensure damaged or at-risk housing is rebuilt or retrofitted to be more resilient and thus be more cost-effective, valuable and serviceable in the long term.

This paper contains additional insights into these lessons learned. It also includes an overview of the recovery programs of two states that participated in the Experts Roundtable — Connecticut and North Carolina – whose extensive experience to stand up programs in the wake of disasters that struck their states in 2012 and 2016/2018, respectively, can help inform other states. Finally, the paper explores solutions to reduce future damages to housing and recover costs from disasters, particularly as those events become more frequent and severe.