On Tuesday, the Committee on Financial Services held a hearing entitled “The Administration of Disaster Recovery Funds in the Wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria”, in order to discuss the impact of the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), and the allocation of funds following recent hurricanes to hit the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico.
Witnesses at the hearing included Fernando Gil Enseñat, Secretary of Housing, Puerto Rico, Jeremy Kirkland, Counsel to the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Daphne Lemelle, Executive Director, Harris County Community Services Department, and Marion Mollegen-McFadden, Senior Vice President, Enterprise Community Partners.
The committee and witnesses discussed not only the handling of funds following natural disasters, but the increasing threat posed by the rising frequency of natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires.
“The data suggests that in the coming years, disaster recovery needs will likely grow substantially,” the committee’s memorandum stated. “In 2017, natural disasters combined to cause over $300 billion in direct damages, a new U.S. annual record. All but four U.S. counties experienced substantial damage from some type of natural hazard between 1999 and 2013.”
In his statement, Secretary Gil Enseñat noted how Puerto Rico has utilized the CDBG funds, discussing the new Homebuyer Assistance Program in Puerto Rico.
“We’re creating a Homebuyer Assistance Program by investing $350,000,000 to help citizens purchase homes through a variety of support mechanisms, thereby increasing the level of homeownership in impacted communities and contributing to long-term sustainability and viability of communities across the island,” Enseñat stated.
Daphne Lemelle laid out a similar plan for the Houston area, which has experienced increased hurricane damage in the past few years. Lemelle notes that Harris county has been impacted by six Presidentially Declared Disasters in the last ten years, and how some aspects of state and federal rebuilding plans such as CBDG can become conflicting.
“For example, Harris County is currently opposing a state implemented rule that requires rebuilding of homes based on household size even if it means a reduction in home value,” Lemelle states. “Harris County believes this rule to be detrimental to the local homeowners and housing stock, as well as may have a discriminatory impact on certain households.”
Each witness put forth ideas to improve CDBG flexibility and outcomes, with an emphasis on making a more equality-focused system for homeowners during the rebuilding process.