HUD Aids Families, Communities After Hurricanes

(Featured in the Fall 2004 issue of Housing Today)

Hurricanes are nothing new to the citizens of Florida. They are simply a fact of geography, much like the warm and sunny weather for which the state is famous. But the 2004 hurricane season, which ran from June 1 to November 30, proved especially destructive.

In the span of seven weeks, three hurricanes - Charley, Frances and Jeanne - crisscrossed the central region of the state, and a fourth - Ivan - brought devastating flooding to the panhandle, leaving more than $42 million in damage in their wake. As the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded to more than a million requests for hurricane relief, HUD quickly began performing its role in responding to the needs of individuals and communities, an ongoing process that will continue well into 2005.

Rapid response. Working with FEMA - the federal agency charged with coordinating organizations that are part of the nation's emergency management system - HUD staff members from offices in Florida, as well as 80 volunteers from HUD offices around the country, sprung into action as soon as the storms had cleared. HUD field offices in Florida have disaster response procedures in place that ensure they will be able to provide essential services and support to FEMA and its partners, which include state and local emergency management agencies, 27 federal agencies (including HUD) and the American Red Cross.

HUD staff members helped hurricane victims apply for FEMA disaster relief, identify additional resources (such as roof tarps provided by the Corps of Engineers and assistance from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs) and find temporary housing. This included working with FEMA to identify vacant HUD-subsidized multifamily units and HUD-owned homes that could be used as temporary housing for those forced from their homes. HUD staff members also issued emergency Section 8 vouchers, relocated HUD tenants whose units were severely damaged or destroyed, and provided expertise in the coordination of damage assessments.

In addition to these official duties, several HUD staff members volunteered to help provide meals for families who lost their homes, including some Florida staff members who were dealing with a lack of power and storm damage to their own properties.

Most HUD volunteers from outside the state spent about six weeks in Florida, but several are still there assisting communities with long-term recovery and planning activities.

Help for rebuilding communities. HUD's federal block grants are being used for some of these long-term recovery efforts. HUD is allowing HOME Investment Partnership Program and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grantees in the disaster area to reprogram or accelerate the disbursement of these funds to assist with disaster recovery.

HOME funds are exclusively for creating affordable housing for low-income households, while CDBG funds enable state and local governments to target their own economic development priorities. Following Presidentially declared disasters, CDBG grants can be used to address housing, infrastructure repair, economic revitalization and development of infrastructure to prevent future damage in affected areas. At least half of the CBDG disaster relief funds must benefit low and moderate-income members of the community.

In addition to expanding opportunities under existing federal block grants, the Military Construction and Emergency Hurricane Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2005 will make $100.9 million in new CDBG funds available to Floridians. The state will make these funds available to communities for unmet disaster relief, long-term recovery and mitigation needs. HUD has also granted several regulatory waivers associated with this funding.

Help for displaced families. HUD also offers special mortgage programs to help disaster victims repair or rebuild their residences as well as special regulatory protections to help prevent them from losing their home as a result of disaster-related financial losses.

Two mortgage programs insured by the FHA assist homeowners rebuild, repair or replace destroyed homes. The Section 203(H) program provides up to 100 percent financing, including closing costs, for the purchase or reconstruction of a single-family home for individuals with homes located in a Presidentially declared disaster area. The Section 203(K) program allows borrowers to roll acquisition and rehabilitation costs into a single loan with a long-term fixed or adjustable rate. For Florida hurricane victims, HUD is waving the requirement that 203(K) properties be at least one year old.

To further assist homeowners having trouble paying their mortgages because of Hurricane Charley, HUD issued Mortgage Letter 2004-36 and Mortgage Letter 2004-37. These letters provided lenders with information on FHA-insured loan programs that can support borrowers' efforts to rehabilitate or replace their homes; instituted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured loans; and encouraged servicing actions, such as special forbearance, mortgage modification, and waiver of late charges to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Additionally, HUD moved to assist owners of multifamily properties by issuing Mortgagee Letter 2004-35 and Mortgagee Letter 2004-38. The letters encourage lenders to be sensitive to the needs of multifamily mortgagors affected by the disasters. Suggested actions include not foreclosing on defaulted mortgages during the emergency, waiving late charges, expediting release of escrows and settling hazard insurance claims expeditiously.

Building better. HUD developed new construction standards that increased the wind resistance and structural integrity of manufactured housing after Hurricane Andrew 10 years ago. Hurricane Andrew devastated significant portions of southern Florida, destroying more than 25,000 homes and damaging more than 101,000, including 90 percent of the manufactured homes in Dade County.

Today, many new manufactured homes in storm-devastated communities throughout Florida stand as a testimony to the success of these new standards along with innovative technologies, such as "structural insulated panels" and "fiber cement sheathing." HUD assessments after Hurricanes Frances, Charley and Ivan found many newer on-site and manufactured homes resisted the hurricanes well - in some cases in stark contrast to surrounding homes. Homes fitted with impact resistant windows, reinforced garage doors and hurricane shutters fared the best.

For more information on HUD's recovery efforts following the 2004 hurricane season, please visit HUD's Disaster Recovery Assistance website. For more information on HUD-sponsored efforts to improve hurricane-related building technologies, please visit the disaster resistance and reconstruction section of the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) website.

Content Archived: July 8, 2011