Report by Former HUD Regional Administrator Holly Leicht Draws On Experience Overseeing $15.2 Billion Sandy Recovery and Lessons Learned from Disasters Nationwide
New York, NY, July 19, 2017 –– Former U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Administrator for New York & New Jersey Holly Leicht today released a report on recommendations for how all levels of government can increase the speed and efficiency of disaster recovery and be better equipped before future disasters. The report, “REBUILD THE PLANE NOW: Recommendations for Improving Government’s Approach to Disaster Recovery and Preparedness,” explores the legislative, financial, administrative, and other challenges of disaster response and recovery based on Leicht’s experience overseeing HUD’s $15.2 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery program, as well as lessons learned from other disasters. The report was jointly sponsored by the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) and the Office of the Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.
Leicht issued the report at a symposium at Baruch College co-hosted with Rafael E. Cestero, President & CEO of CPC and Staten Island Borough President Oddo. The event included a panel of disaster recovery experts who responded to the report and shared their experiences, including Marion Mollegen McFadden, VP of Public Policy at Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. and former HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary; Terrence Brody, Senior Managing Director at Ankura Consulting Group and former Executive Director of the New Jersey Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding (GORR); Brad Gair, Senior Managing Director at Witt O’Brien’s and former Director of Housing Recovery Operations, New York City; and Christie Peale, Executive Director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.
“As disasters have become more prevalent in America, government at all levels too often finds itself building the plane while it’s in flight,” said Leicht. “This report compiles 41 actionable steps government can take now to fix how we legislate, fund, and execute recovery efforts and prepare for and mitigate disasters yet to come.”
Disasters are inevitable, and the better the preparation at the federal, state, local and household level, the less time and money it will take to recover. Today, the government spends tens of billions of federal taxpayer dollars on disaster recovery annually, but only a fraction of that on mitigation, even though a 2005 independent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences found that over a ten-year period every $1 spent on mitigation saved $4 in recovery costs. Proactive, improved policies, coordination and communication will reduce future risk to people and property, saving taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year, and will enable communities to fully recover more quickly and completely when future disasters occur.
The report includes 41 specific recommendations, some of which are ambitious but many of which are achievable in the near-term. The recommendations are aimed at a variety of government decision-makers, including Congress and the White House, federal agencies involved in disaster response and recovery, and state and local governments. Key takeaways from the report include:
- Congress and the White House should give HUD standing authority to issue CDBG-DR funding up to a set amount immediately following a Presidentially-declared disaster so that a supplemental appropriation is only necessary after major disasters.
- Congress and the White House should specify in future disaster appropriations legislation that the regulations and rules of an infrastructure project’s primary funding agency override those of a second funding agency if the second agency’s funds are used strictly to meet a cost-sharing requirement.
- Congress and the White House should make an additional allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), a standard component of post-disaster supplemental appropriations, to catalyze development of new affordable housing to replace lost and damaged rental units.
- FEMA, in partnership with the Small Business Association and HUD, should develop a single “Disaster Relief” website with a “common application” for impacted homeowners, multifamily building owners, and small business owners. This portal would lead to a seamless interagency data system, enabling ongoing communication and updates to flow between applicants and relief agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.
- Large-scale recovery programs benefit from administration by a single office or entity dedicated to disaster recovery.
- State and local governments should pursue a multi-pronged approach to disaster preparedness that combines planning, buyouts and acquisition for redevelopment; resilient infrastructure projects; protective land use and zoning measures; pre-certification of necessary disaster response and recovery services; and robust public outreach.
“Superstorm Sandy showed us how vulnerable our housing stock and infrastructure is to severe weather events, and forever changed how we think about disaster recovery and resilience,” said Rafael E. Cestero, President & CEO, CPC. “As a mission-driven, nonprofit lender, we felt it was important to join the City’s recovery efforts and offer our unique expertise to help those most in need navigate the complexities of the recovery programs. We feel it’s equally important to learn from that experience to understand what could be improved, so that we’re better prepared at all levels—before and after disasters occur.”
Following Superstorm Sandy, CPC was selected to administer federal disaster recovery funding through New York City’s Build it Back (BiB) Multifamily Program, which was designed to assist owners of properties with five or more units. The funding was used to make critical repairs to restore what was lost, as well as to implement resiliency features that will better allow the properties to withstand the fallout of future storms. CPC administered a total of $33 million in disaster recovery funding to 106 multifamily buildings across all five boroughs. The majority of the CPC’s work was with smaller buildings, which are a critical piece of the housing stock that often lack access to funding and the technical assistance needed to navigate the process.
Staten Island Borough President Oddo said, “The fact that the five-year anniversary of Sandy is several months away, and the recovery process is still ongoing demonstrates the importance of this report. We owe it to those who perished, all New Yorkers, and the next generation of government leaders to honestly and objectively examine the government’s response to Sandy so that future leaders don’t make the same mistakes. Each mistake that was made compounded and made an already difficult situation for residents even more unbearable. The uber-talented Holly Leicht has a unique perspective on the government’s response since she not only has a vast understanding of city and state government, but as Regional Administrator for HUD, oversaw the program. There are many lessons to be learned, and I hope leaders from New York City and all over the country, when faced with a disaster of the magnitude of Sandy, examine and implement her recommendations.”
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About The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC)
Established in 1974, CPC is a nonprofit affordable housing and community revitalization finance company that believes housing is central to transforming underserved neighborhoods into thriving and vibrant communities. CPC is largest Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in the country dedicated to investing in housing development, and provides innovative capital solutions, fresh thinking and a collaborative approach to the often complex challenges that owners and developers of multifamily housing face. To date, CPC has leveraged approximately $9.7 billion in private and public investment to finance more than 170,660 units of housing. The company’s work with its partners has helped revitalize countless neighborhoods and provided quality housing for families, senior citizens, and individuals with disabilities. Follow CPC at communityp.com, and on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.