Making Housing Smarter and Safer: Statement of Principles

Communities across the country face risks as a result of natural disasters—floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, mudslides, and tornados.

Low-income families and communities can be most severely impacted by natural disasters:  low-income housing is frequently older and less likely to be built to withstand storms or other damage; damages often go unattended, leaving housing stock more vulnerable to future disasters; low-income families are least likely to be able to afford mitigation measures, are most affected by displacement, and do not have the means to rebuild.  Communities of color also bear a disproportionate impact.

Spending on mitigation is cost effective—for every $1 spent on mitigation, $4 is saved—less work after a disaster.

For these reasons, federal, state and local policies should encourage and provide incentives for making housing, specifically affordable housing, better able to withstand nature’s wrath.  The highest priority of natural disaster public policy should be reducing the risk of loss of life – every American life, regardless of economic means.

  • Pre-disaster, preventative measures should be improved and included in any government disaster planning.  While post-disaster recovery measures are important and must be better managed, the best way to help people is to protect their lives and property before disaster strikes.
    • Existing pre-disaster programs focus on community-wide measures, but more must be done to help individuals protect themselves.
    • Existing pre-disaster mitigation grants cannot be targeted to those who most need assistance.  Instead, scarce federal dollars should be spent on those families and communities that cannot otherwise afford to protect themselves.
  • New funding for housing and energy efficiency should include flexibility to ensure retrofits and upgrades are done to withstand natural disasters.
    • Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Block Grant eligibility should include and encourage mitigation measures.  Installing energy efficient products that cannot withstand known risks is wasteful, and weatherization and mitigation should go hand-in-hand in disaster-prone areas.
    • Capital expenditures and financing mechanisms for affordable housing—new construction and rehabilitation—should include mitigation.
    • Preservation of affordable housing should include mitigation measures so that the housing can withstand a disaster.
  • New funding or tax incentives should be available to strengthen housing, including refundable tax credits or loans for low-income families. However, funding for mitigation should be additional and should not displace existing funding sources.
  • By reducing the risk of damage to property, mitigation also reduces financial exposure and would be expected to reduce insurance premiums costs over time.  Government agencies can contribute by sponsoring, conducting and validating robust, peer reviewed scientific studies to identify and quantify the benefits of the most potent and cost-effective mitigation and retrofit alternatives, and by helping stimulate the development of new technologies.
  • Coordination across federal agencies is needed so that standards are consistent.  HUD, FEMA, DOE and others should work together so any activities regarding residential housing and buildings are done in a smart and safe way.