Equitable Recovery, Equitable Resilience

This white paper from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) describes the roles that community organizations play in responding to natural disasters, as well as the accomplishments and challenges relating to this work. With natural disasters related to climate change occuring at increasingly frequent rates, community organizations provide critical emergency aid and recovery services. Furthermore, these services can help reduce the recovery gap within communities, as underlying economic, social, and housing factors and public policy decisions create disparities which are exacerbated through natural disasters. Drawing on interviews with various organizations in California, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Texas, this paper reviews the different strategies that these groups use and puts forth some recommendations for policy changes that may be necessary to advance equity in recovery and resilience. 

The paper, from LISC’s Research and Evaluation team, describes how increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters are having a disproportionately harsh impact on underserved communities. The authors refer to natural disasters in Puerto Rico, California, Texas, and Florida, describing the enormous financial, structural, and environmental damage done by these events. Interviews with community organizations indicate that these disasters exacerbate disparities within and between communities. One particular challenge cited was the difficulty that low-income individuals and people of color experience in accessing short-term, emergency aid. Practitioners additionally emphasized how disasters caused the most damage in places already suffering from economic, infrastructure, and housing challenges, and that underlying housing and infrastructure conditions have cascading, self-reinforcing impacts in the event of a disaster and afterward. 

To address these challenges, the groups interviewed in this paper both responded to the immediate needs of community members and worked to foster recovery and long-term resilience. They provided emergency funds, food, cleaning supplies, and other in-kind donations and services to survivors. They additionally conducted disaster-related case management, supported small businesses and workers through grants and loans, and developed innovative home repair programs using private resources. As there have been delays in large-scale recovery aid in several places, this work was particularly crucial to survivors. To support resilience in the longer term, these groups advocated for more equitable planning and recovery processes. 

The paper states that in order to provide this aid, the groups both adapted and mobilized their existing services and formed collaborations with each other in tackling challenges. 

Highlighted as a case study is the Harvey Home Repair Collaborative, which is funded by the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, coordinated by Houston LISC, and whose membership overlaps with Harvey Home Connect. Harvey Home Connect uses a common application that links households with incomes of up to 400% of the federal poverty level to assistance at nearby community organizations. These groups assess repair needs through a standardized procedure, and provide interim assistance before assigning contractors to conduct repairs. These collaborations allow them to reach those most in need and provide more recovery, as they operate through community organizations with substantial reach in their respective neighborhoods, the unified intake process makes the repair process much more transparent to the homeowner, avoids duplication of services, and accelerates aid, and home repair collaborations allow groups to learn from each other and find synergies in their respective expertise. As demonstrated by the Harvey case study, community organizations and their networks promote more equitable recovery and resilience by reaching individuals who would not otherwise be served, and connecting them to public and private resources. 

The paper additionally describes several challenges to community-based approaches, such as the extent and frequency of disasters, variations in community organizational and municipal capacity, and various forms of policy and practice challenges. To address these challenges, the paper provides the following policy recommendations:

  • Increased federal and state resources for disaster recovery, including the permanent authorization of CDBG-DR,
  • additional federal and state resources to address underlying resilience needs of housing and infrastructure, 
  • greater federal funding for capacity-building and for specific services that can support communities before and after disasters,
  • philanthropies should continue to support community voice to direct recovery and resilience policy at the municipal, state, and regional levels, and
  • community groups should consider planning collaboratives around home repair that build on the strengths of local partners. 

LISC offers expertise in helping communities obtain the resources they need, through their work in pooling private and public funds as well as working with local partners. Many of the local partners they work with include the community organizations described in this paper, and part of their work involves connecting these community-based groups together. One prominent example of their role in facilitating collaborations is highlighted in the Harvey Home Repair Collaborative, where they worked as a coordinator. LISC’s other roles in disaster recovery are discussed, such as how it expands upon the capacity of local government as a technical assistance (TA) provider and leverages existing relationships with philanthropic partners to attract critical private dollars after a disaster. Through these methods, LISC has supported disaster recovery in states such as New York, Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida.

Publication Date: August 2020

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