Texas is still recovering from Hurricanes Rita, Ike and Dolly – natural disasters that struck nearly a decade ago. In many cases, families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. That’s because disaster recovery in our state takes too long, costs too much and doesn’t learn the lessons of previous disasters.
In 2010, after years of inequitable and mismanaged recovery after the hurricanes, Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and our partners at Texas Appleseed signed a landmark conciliation agreement with the State of Texas, mandated by the federal government. The agreement compels the State to plan for recovery to prioritize the low income communities most vulnerable to disasters. It provides a blueprint for how to use fair housing law and innovative design practices to protect residents, rebuild communities and get families back into homes quickly.
The State supported our design contest to find a rapid re-housing model that could help low income families recover from disasters more quickly. In 2013, we partnered with buildingcommunityWorkshop, the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University and other groups to begin a pilot program called RAPIDO. The project demonstrated that a temporary-to-permanent rehousing strategy could provide victims of a disaster replacement housing in less time, at a higher quality and with greater design choice. The pilot program’s innovative temporary-to-permanent housing design rehoused families affected by a disaster within 120 days of disaster response.
RAPIDO is an award-winning, Texas-grown solution to disaster recovery. Beyond the program’s unique design elements, RAPIDO emphasizes community planning and preparation to empower local jurisdictions to develop and implement a recovery effort that support the values and uniques characteristics of their community. Key innovations include:
Pre-disaster preparedness: Developing a housing recovery plan prior to a disaster removes many of the barriers that have contributed to past recoveries spanning years instead of months. The RAPIDO model calls for designating one state agency to coordinate disaster preparedness, clearing the bureaucratic mess of past efforts, and deputizes the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M to work with local jurisdictions to identify priorities, understand disaster risks, and develop responses that support the needs of the community.
Pre-procurement: Putting the necessary partners, communications, payments, supplies, policies and procedures in place prior to a disaster allows housing recovery work to commence at the earliest possible moment.
Local focus: Locally-driven recovery reduces the timeline of receiving aid and emphasizes a grassroots-guided approach that involves local stakeholders in the decision-making process, increasing satisfaction with and efficiency of the recovery. This includes Supportive Case Navigation, assigning families a dedicated “navigator” to assist them through the rehousing process.
Design: RAPIDO uses a participatory design process prior to and post-disaster, with community input on the local aesthetic of new housing and the leveraging of local strengths, capacity and funding.
Temp-to-perm: The temporary-to-permanent housing strategy bridges the relief and recovery phases of a disaster. By placing a temporary modular core unit and then building predesigned additions, a temporary one-bedroom space rapidly becomes a permanent home.
Disaster relief must incorporate civil rights and fair housing requirements, and the conciliation agreement shows that the State can seize this opportunity to remedy historic disinvestment and discrimination. Texas Appleseed’s analysis of disaster recovery identified how the use of fair housing can improve outcomes:
- Because the same communities that have been historically underserved are also those most affected by natural disasters, government recovery funding should be based on unmet need.
- The federal government should formalize a data-based allocation formula based on unmet need and incorporating challenges to recovery, and CDBG disaster recovery funds should be distributed according to this formula on both the federal and state level.
- Recipients of federal disaster recovery funding must have a clear understanding of their civil rights obligations, and damage assessments must specifically assess the disaster’s impact on protected classes.
- Disaster recovery must involve making communities more resistant to the next disaster, rebuilding in a way that does not exactly replicate pre-disaster conditions in housing, infrastructure and economic development, but without displacing or excluding protected classes.
- To ensure a fair and effective recovery, states should engage in pre-disaster planning, identify best practices, build the capacity of local jurisdictions, and collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders including grassroots community groups.
A bill has been filed at the 2017 session of the Texas Legislature to expanded the RAPIDO model into a statewide approach to disaster recovery. A similar bill received broad bipartisan support in 2015 but failed to receive a vote before the crowded bill deadline at the end of the session. We and our partners offered input during the legislative process and continued to do so as the Texas Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations studied disaster recovery during the interim session. We offered the committee a set of clear recommendations for how to improve disaster recovery based on the success of RAPIDO, proposing that Texas should aim for four goals that informed the bill:
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.
Read our full recommendations on how to accomplish these goals using the Texas model.
Keep up with the latest on disaster recovery housing:
How a Texas Town is Overhauling Disaster Relief, CityLab, 12/2/16
Bill to cut disaster rebuilding from years to months, Houston Chronicle, 5/8/15
Lucio: Hurricane-damaged homes can be rebuilt faster, cheaper, Rio Grande Guardian, 5/1/15
A custom three-bedroom house for $69,000? Welcome to the new model for disaster relief., Public Radio International’s The World, 4/10/15
Houses still unbuilt 6 years after Ike, Houston Chronicle, 1/24/15
Project aims to get disaster victims into homes within days, Houston Chronicle, 11/28/14
Castro tours rapidly built emergency housing in Valley, San Antonio Express-News, 11/28/14
Can we climate-proof cities?, The Guardian, 10/10/14
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