Our recommendations to Texas Senate committee considering disaster recovery improvements

On February 3, the Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) held a public hearing in Brownsville on one of their interim charges to study between legislative sessions, the state’s disaster recovery strategy after Hurricane Dolly and moving forward.

We have long argued that the way Texas does disaster recovery takes too long, costs too much and doesn’t apply lessons learned from past disasters to future recoveries. Together with partners including the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, [bc]Workshop, the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University, La Unión del Pueblo Entero and A Resource in Service Equality, we have helped develop an innovative disaster recovery housing program, RAPIDO, aimed at rebuilding homes quickly and helping the low income communities in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere, who are most at risk for disasters, prepare and recover efficiently.

As IGR members consider how to improve the state’s recovery process, we will continue to advocate for solutions that protect vulnerable communities and build on RAPIDO’s succes (during the 2015 legislative session, the IGR chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, authored a bill to expand the RAPIDO pilot program statewide. It passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support but failed to receive a vote before the crowded end-of-session bill deadline in the House of Representatives).

Our staff and partners participated in the IGR hearing in Brownsville, and also helped lead a tour of RAPIDO sites in the Rio Grande Valley. Our co-director John Henneberger’s testimony before the committee is reprinted in full below. Here’s what we think the state should do:

Texas Post-Disaster Housing Rebuilding Program and Goals

To ensure effective post disaster rebuilding we recommend that the Texas Legislature enact post-disaster rebuilding goals and establish a post disaster rebuilding program.

Proposed Texas Legislature Post-Disaster Rebuilding Goals:

1. Rebuild all homes within 12 months;
2. Reconstruct the maximum number of homes with the available resources (including faith-based, voluntary and homeowner self-help);
3. Tailor home reconstruction to meet the needs of homeowners and local communities;
4. Rebuild in a manner to protect communities against damage from future disasters.

Proposed Texas Post Disaster Rebuilding Program:

• Cities and counties will be invited to prepare plans for vulnerable infrastructure and housing in conjunction with the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center (A&M HRRC) and the local council of governments (COG).

• Prior to a disaster, cities, counties and COGs will assess local infrastructure and housing that is vulnerable to be impacted by future disasters. They will pre-plan for higher quality and more resilient housing and infrastructure to be developed through a future post-disaster rebuilding process.

• A&M HRRC will provide training and work with COGs and local governments to determine if the local jurisdiction wants an individually tailored local housing reconstruction program or prefers to participate in a regional program administered by the COG.

• For cities and counties that don’t wish to develop a local plan or self administer a program following a disaster, COGs, assisted by A&M HRRC, will undertake these planning functions in consultation with the local governments. A&M HRRC will certify that plans are compliant with federal and state guidelines and best practices to implement the Texas Legislature’s Post- Disaster Rebuilding Goals. COGs or the Texas General Land Office (GLO) will administer rebuilding programs following disasters on behalf of those jurisdictions.

• Post-disaster rebuilding plans will be based on best practices in infrastructure and housing and comply with the requirements of local, state and federal regulations to avoid bureaucratic rebuilding delays and maximize disaster rebuilding resources.

• The Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) is already the designated Texas lead agency for disaster emergency recovery. The GLO will be designated the lead state agency for disaster long-term rebuilding. GLO will maintain the knowledge and relationships with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to efficiently administer rebuilding programs in the same manner that the TDEM currently maintains relationships with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to manage disaster recovery.

• A&M HRRC, working closely with GLO, will outreach to and coordinate with faith-based organizations, voluntary organizations and community development corporations to ensure that housing rebuilding programs operate in coordination with and leverage their voluntary resources and contributions for post-disaster housing reconstruction.

• Local governments and COGs will develop their disaster reconstruction plans with support from A&M HRRC, which will review and certify to the GLO that plans comply with all applicable local, state and federal regulations and meet the Texas Legislature’s Post-Disaster Rebuilding Goals that a plan:

1. Rebuilds all homes within 12 months;
2. Reconstructs the maximum number of homes with the available resources (including faith-based, voluntary and homeowner self-help);
3. Tailors home reconstruction to meet the needs of homeowners and local communities;
4. Rebuilds in a manner to protect communities against damage from future disasters.

• Housing reconstruction plans will be required to provide for the return to the affected community of all displaced residents in no more than 30 days from a disaster and for completion of permanent reconstructed housing within a maximum of 12 months. Plans submitted to GLO will specify performance benchmarks with incremental milestones over the course of the 12 months for the reconstruction activities to be completed in compliance with the Texas Legislature’s Post-Disaster Rebuilding Goals. If the benchmarks are not met by the contractor, mandatory remedial actions will be triggered including providing for the COG or the GLO to assume administration over the program. During the post-disaster rebuilding period the performance benchmarks and current performance progress will be posted and updated on GLO’s disaster recovery website.

• Smaller Scale Post-Disaster Rebuilding Program: The Texas Legislature will authorize the Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB) to fund Smaller Scale Post-Disaster Rebuilding Programs as determined necessary on an incident by incident basis by LBB. The program will provide housing reconstruction assistance in the wake of smaller scale, non-presidentially declared disasters in a manner that achieves the Texas Legislature’s Post-Disaster Rebuilding Goals. A&M HRRC in cooperation with GLO, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) and COGs will establish guidelines and procedures for the Smaller Scale Post Disaster Rebuilding Program to be implemented by local COGs or GLO. A&M HRRC will assist local communities on an incident specific basis to assess housing rebuilding needs and design programs tailored to each specific smaller scale disaster.

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