PDF _ RL34087 - FIMA Disaster Housing and Hurricane Katrina: Overview, Analysis, and Congressional Issues
8-Aug-2008; Francis X. McCarthy; 45 p.

Update: Previous Editions:

Abstract: Some have criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) emergency housing policies, particularly its approach to health and safety standards (as exemplified by the evidence of formaldehyde in both trailers and mobile homes), as well as its overall strategy to perform its housing mission. To address disaster housing issues, Congress could opt to consider questions such as the following: how have disaster housing needs traditionally been addressed under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (P.L. 93-288, as amended)? How did FEMA’s approach during Hurricane Katrina differ from previous disasters and why? Should FEMA have pursued expanded authorities at the start of the disaster? Should housing vouchers have been used earlier and tailored to the disaster event? With a substantial amount of available funding provided by Congress, but without requesting expanded authority, FEMA found its sole option was to use traditional disaster housing practices. Those practices, successful for disasters of a historically familiar size, were hard-pressed to meet the unprecedented demands of the Katrina catastrophic disaster.

There are potential events (New Madrid earthquake or other large natural or terrorist events) that could conceivably produce many of the same challenges presented by the Gulf Coast hurricane season of 2005. Those challenges include large, displaced populations spread across the nation and separated families unable to return because of the loss of not only their homes but also their places of employment. Federal disaster housing policy may remain an issue in the 110th Congress, because, as Hurricane Katrina illustrated, the continued existence of communities after a catastrophic event involves extensive federal assistance issues.

In the past, FEMA’s approaches have turned on practical and theoretical considerations. Practical considerations include the agency’s ability to house families and individuals within a short time frame and in proximity to the original disaster, and in the case of Hurricane Katrina, to make contact with the hundreds of thousands of applicants who registered for assistance. Some of the theoretical policy considerations include questions of equity, self-reliance, federalism, and the duration of federal assistance. Those considerations have led to process questions concerning program stewardship and the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse of federal resources.

The Post-Katrina Act, enacted in October of 2006 (P.L. 109-295), includes changes in FEMA housing policy that provide the President with greater flexibility for meeting the challenges of disasters on a large scale. Also, Public Law 110-28 has eased the cost-share burden for some housing costs and other disaster relief programs. Future debate on the housing issue will also be informed by the report on the National Disaster Housing Strategy (as directed in P.L. 109-295). This Strategy was due to Congress in 2007, but a draft was not provided until late July of 2008. Following a 60-day comment period, a final National Disaster Housing Strategy is scheduled to be presented to Congress.

This report will be updated as warranted by events.

 [read report]

Topics: General Interest, Population, Legislative

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