Second Seminar on Disaster Relief:
The Federal Response Bayamon, Puerto Rico


Good morning.

It's wonderful to return to the Commonwealth, and to be here with our federal partners: FEMA, SBA, and USDA's Rural Development and Farm Service Agency.

It's gratifying to know that as I look around this room, I see key decision makers from across Puerto Rico...local leaders, business leaders, non-profit organizations, as well as members of the media.

Each of you has a critical role to play in the event of disaster. Today, I'm here to tell you that you are not in this alone!

Today, you'll be hearing a lot about the federal response once the President issues an official emergency or an actual disaster declaration. Our FEMA presenters will be breaking down The Stafford Act and all the programs authorized under that legislation.

Just last week, I attended a high level briefing by the Department of Homeland Security about the 2007 Hurricane Season. As you know, the forecast calls for an active season...we've already had our first named storm. The conclusion of that briefing is that FEMA and our other federal partners believe that we're more ready than we ever have been which is good news.

But as we all know readiness begins at home. So as we discuss the Federal disaster response today, I encourage you to always ask yourselves: How ready is my community?

I'd like to briefly discuss where HUD fits into the federal disaster equation.

Immediately following a disaster, HUD supports the first responders-FEMA, the Red Cross and others. But we play a primary role in the long-term recovery process. One of the lessons learned from the 2005 Hurricane season is that HUD must have a rapid response disaster team of senior managers always at the ready. Today, I'm pleased to announce that HUD has created The Office of Disaster Policy and Response. At the helm is no stranger to many of you-Puerto Rico's native son, Nelson Bregon.

Following Hurricane's Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the Congress appropriated and HUD allocated nearly $17 billion in disaster funding through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, a program you are all very familiar with. CDBG has long been a natural vehicle to help state and local leaders in their longer term disaster recovery.

So, HUD is a critical resource to local communities once the dust has settled...or the flood waters have receded. But this is not to say that we aren't poised to act even before disaster strikes.

Since there are so many others presenting, let me briefly go through what HUD can to in assisting you in your longer term recovery activities.

Using existing block grant funding to jump-start your recovery:

Most recently, when that devastating tornado tore through Greensburg, Kansas, almost leveling the entire town, HUD was immediately in touch with the State of Kansas, offering the Governor the option of re-allocating millions of dollars in block grant assistance to meet the urgent needs in this rural community. Like the Kansas example, CDBG and HOME funding can be used to provide housing and services for victims of disaster in your communities.

Here in the Commonwealth, and in your "municipios", CDBG and HOME offer the flexibility to redirect millions of dollars to address critical needs. As we did in Kansas, and more than a hundred times throughout the Gulf Coast, HUD stands ready to waive certain programs requirements...cutting our own red tape to the extent we expedite the repair and replacement of damaged housing and infrastructure.

Foreclosure Moratoriums are another way HUD helps families to recover from disaster. Once the President issues a disaster declaration, HUD offers immediate foreclosure relief...homeowners whose properties are insured through the Federal Housing Administration are granted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures.

By giving FHA-insured homeowners some breathing room following disaster, we effectively push the conventional lending community to follow suit. When a family is trying to recover from a disaster, the last thing they should have to worry about is being foreclosed upon.

HUD helps to provide temporary housing and shelter. We work very closely with FEMA to identify vacant public housing and HUD-owned properties that can be used as temporary housing for those forced from their homes. We have a new national housing locator...a directory of vacant homes that we can offer to displaced families.

Loan guarantee assistance is another vehicle HUD offers to support long-term recovery.

HUD will offer state and local governments federally guaranteed loans through our Section 108 Loan Guarantee Assistance Program for housing rehabilitation, economic development and repair of public infrastructure.

I mentioned FHA foreclosure relief. FHA has a number of mortgage insurance programs that are especially helpful for families looking to rebuild.

  • HUD's Section 203(h) program provides FHA insurance to disaster victims who have lost their homes and are facing the daunting task of rebuilding or buying another home. Borrowers are eligible for 100 percent financing, including closing costs; and
  • HUD's Section 203(k) loan program enables 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.

Edgar Rodriquez Mendez will be describing these programs to you in greater detail after the break, along with our other federal partners.

Let me leave you with the core message I brought with me today. When disaster strikes you, it strikes us all. The only way to respond in the face of disaster is to respond together. The federal government will never get it done by itself...and in the same way, you cannot go it alone.

We need each other-federal, state and local leaders working together. Nonprofit organizations, many of them community-based grassroots organizations and faith-based groups, are also a critical part of disaster response. And then there's the private sector.

Partnership is the cornerstone of our rebuilding efforts. God forbid that a disaster should strike this beautiful island. But if it does, we must be ready, and we will be ready if we all work together.

Thank you all.

Content Archived: December 27, 2011