Prepared Remarks for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan at the Rhode Island Disaster Recovery Tour Press Availability

Johnston, Rhode Island
Monday, April 26th, 2010

Thank you - I want to thank Senator Reed for his extraordinary leadership and for inviting me to see for myself the damage that flooded thousands of homes and businesses throughout the state, hitting communities like Cranston, Warwick, the Olneyville area of Providence, and neighborhoods surrounding the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers particularly hard.

As we approach hurricane season, I think most Americans don't realize how vulnerable Rhode Island and Southern New England are to a Category 3 storm given the state's population density and coastal geography.

So, hopefully, this storm - which deposited 10 feet of water in places like the West Warwick Mall, closing major highways including 95, 295 and Route 6 - served as a wake-up call for all of us.

From Secretary Napolitano's visit in the immediate aftermath of the storm to my visit today, I hope every resident can see that the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that Rhode Island has everything it needs to quickly recover from the damage, allowing businesses to re-open their doors and families to return to their homes.

To date, our colleagues at FEMA have distributed more than $25 million in grants to individual homeowners and renters. FEMA reports that they've conducted nearly 20,000 home inspections and assessments with an average turnaround time of less than 4 days.

In the three weeks since the storm, HUD staff - led by our newly appointed Region 1 Director, Richard Walega along with HUD Disaster Coordinator Bob Tassone - have been working to assess the impact of the flooding on HUD-assisted housing and its residents and to provide communities with the resources they need to repair infrastructure.

Damage was reported for 29 HUD-assisted multifamily properties. And while most of the damage was contained to parking areas and grounds with minor damage to apartments, several hundred people had to be evacuated from senior residences in Central Falls and Warwick.

To date, 49 families remain evacuated. Fourteen of these families, staying with family and friends, returned to their homes this past week. Major rehabilitation is underway and the estimated completion date is June 1st.

But it's important that Rhode Island officials and residents understand the HUD resources that are available to them and the work that is already underway.

First, HUD is offering the State of Rhode Island the ability to re-allocate existing federal resources toward disaster relief. HUD has provided Rhode Island with more than $18.6 million in Community Development Block Grant funding and $9.6 million in HOME funding - and these programs give the State the flexibility to redirect millions of dollars to address housing and services for flood victims.

HUD is currently contacting State and local officials to explore streamlining the Department's CDBG and HOME programs in order to expedite the repair and replacement of damaged housing - and I urge communities to reach out to HUD so we can redirect federal money as needed.

Second, we are granting immediate foreclosure relief. For FHA-insured properties that were damaged, we've imposed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures. It's wrong for families struggling to recover from a storm to also have to deal with foreclosure proceedings.

Third, we are making mortgage insurance available - providing FHA insurance to disaster victims who have lost their homes and are facing the daunting task of rebuilding or buying another home. Borrowers from participating FHA-approved lenders are eligible for 100 percent financing, including closing costs.

Fourth, we are making insurance available for both mortgages and home rehabilitation - HUD's Section 203(k) loan program allows those who have lost their homes to finance the purchase or refinance of a house along with its repair through a single mortgage. It also allows homeowners who have damaged houses to finance the rehabilitation of their existing single-family home.

Lastly, we are offering Section 108 loan guarantee assistance to state and local governments for housing rehab, economic development and repair of public infrastructure.

But while this may have been the kind of flood that happens once every 200 years, we at the federal level need to do a better job about preparing for disasters.

That's why the Obama Administration has assembled a Long-Term Disaster Recovery Working Group.

As you know, the best recovery operations begin in preparation and planning. And if a disaster does strike - the goal should not be to just rebuild, but rebuild stronger and smarter.

Having witnessed the devastation in the wake of Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Katrina, the floods in Iowa over these past 15 months, communities have been very clear about where the Federal government can and can't help.

First and foremost, they want a single federal coordinator to work with the communities. They don't want to have to go from agency to agency for help.

Secondly, they want a better understanding of issues specific to their communities - for Rhode Island that means coastal erosion, land use impacts, and prevention programs. When it comes to building codes, incentivizing economic development and better understanding regional threats, communities need a partner.

Third, they want us to lower barriers so non-profit and volunteer organizations can do their part to recover in the wake of disaster.

Secretary Napolitano and I expect to deliver our working group's report to the President early next month. And we think that our recommendations will mark a sea change from the way the Federal government has approached disaster and disaster planning to date.

So, I appreciate this opportunity see how federal dollars are helping Rhode Island recover - but even more importantly, to understand how we can be a better partner to communities on the ground, before disaster strikes and after. And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.


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