RainReady’s Residential Flood Assistance Program Case Study - Chicago, Illinois

In 2015-2016, RainReady partnered with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development to provide free repairs and flood mitigation retrofits to select homeowners that experienced property damage during Chicago’s 2013 flood, through a unique program called the Residential Flood Assistance Program (RFAP). The program was funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR).

RFAP utilized a “one-stop shop” service delivery model, in which the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s RainReady program, as the City’s delegate agency, was responsible for:

  • Conducting public outreach to solicit program applications,
  • Verifying program eligibility of applicants,
  • Providing comprehensive home assessments to identify flood repair needs and flood mitigation solutions,
  • Developing a construction scope of work for each home,
  • Supporting the homeowner’s selection of a contractor, and
  • Administering the grant funds to the contractor, and obtaining the grant agreement documents from the homeowner.

Five delegate agencies, including Center for Neighborhood Technology, partnered with the City of Chicago to deliver this program.

RFAP participants received all program services for free, including home assessments and construction work. Eligible repairs and upgrades included addressing mold, lead and other hazardous materials; replacing flood-damaged building materials; and installing flood mitigation measures including: backflow valves, foundation waterproofing, gutter and downspout repair and disconnection, regrading, rain barrels and other green infrastructure such as rain gardens and permeable pavers.

The City of Chicago provided RainReady with a list of 70 individuals that had previously filed a claim for disaster relief from the 2013 flood.  The homes were located throughout the city, but predominantly in neighborhoods where more than 30% of households have income below the federal poverty line. Each home was eligible for up to $50,000 in construction services, including mitigation measures, flood repairs, and environmental abatement. RainReady was responsible for verifying program eligibility for each applicant, including household income and proof of flood damage.  

The homeowner could select any contractor to perform the approved construction work, provided the contractor satisfied the program’s procurement requirements as verified by RainReady. The homeowner could consider factors such as price, schedule, customer service, and past performance, when selecting their preferred bid.

The RainReady project manager for RFAP offered the following recommendations for similar residential flood mitigation programs:

  • Train home assessors to use a “building systems” approach when identifying flooding risk and mitigation solutions

The RainReady model was designed to respond to an existing gap in the market. For example, plumbers and masons can offer flood prevention solutions within their own area of expertise. However, residents benefit from more integrated assessments that identify the various ways water intrusion occurs, and links traditional solutions with landscaping measures to redirect and infiltrate stormwater. RainReady has developed and trained their staff to specialize in flood mitigation that treats the building and grounds as one water management system.  

  • Be strategic in reaching out to homeowners

After receiving the list of qualified homes, RainReady was most successful at reaching residents through door-knocking campaigns. RainReady also expanded its initial City-provided outreach list by contacting residents that had been identified through RainReady’s previous community engagement work. Any program like RFAP will require a marketing campaign that finds effective ways of reaching the target audience and assuring residents that the program is legitimate. Programs should also weigh the stringency of program eligibility requirements against the level of program uptake desired.

  • Think about long-term maintenance

Especially with green infrastructure, ongoing maintenance increases the effectiveness of investments. RFAP required that property owners agree to city inspections of any installations for five years and commit to staying in their home for two years. RainReady also evaluated each homeowner’s capacity to maintain various types of flood mitigation measures, and selected measures that best fit the resources and goals of the homeowner.

  • Do not start from scratch

RainReady is currently working with other communities to create similar programs outside of the Chicago area. They have developed materials and resources that can help other programs get started.

In 2017, Georgetown Climate Center spoke with RainReady to learn about this program's successes and provide recommendations for improvement. This case study reflects what we learned. To explore a similar program, see RainReady’s Oak Park Village Pilot Program and Boulder, Colorado’s Home Preparedness Assessment Program.


Publication Date: 2016

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