New GAO Report Critical of Federal Block Grants Pledged for Recovery

Disaster Recovery: Better Monitoring of Block Grant Funds Is Needed.  Report ispages long; summary is available. Here is the direct link to the recommendations.

Use of the $35 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds for the 2017 hurricanes has been slow.Over a year after the first funds were appropriated, much of the money remains unspent because grantees in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still in planning phases. Also, the Department of Housing and Urban Development doesn’t have the review guidance and monitoring plans it needs for good grantee oversight. We recommended ways to improve the oversight of disaster funding and better meet disaster recovery needs.

Update on 3/26. Here is a another, hard-hitting account of the deficiencies at HUD: Key Federal Agency Doesn’t Have the Staff to Oversee $35B in 2017 Hurricane Recovery Money

A key agency charged with overseeing $35 billion in federal disaster aid Congress appropriated after the record-setting 2017 hurricane season lacks sufficient staff to oversee the funds and is not taking proper precautions against fraud, according to a new report.

A slow start to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program has led to virtually none of the funds being disbursed, despite Congress approving the spending more than a year ago. HUD’s “ad hoc” approach to overseeing and monitoring the funds has created lags in four states and territories—Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—providing relief to individuals affected by the hurricanes, the Government Accountability Office found.

Housing Option Ignored by FEMA in FL

From the Orlando Sentinel: FEMA Ignores Housing Option for Displaced Families. At issue is HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program. Here are some details:

DHAP could provide temporary rental assistance and wrap-around case management to low-income families in need, helping them find permanent housing solutions, secure employment, and connect to public benefits as they rebuild their lives. The program was developed after hard-won lessons from Hurricane Katrina, and has been used successfully after Hurricanes Rita, Gustav and Ike and Superstorm Sandy. After previous storms, steps were taken to stand up DHAP as quickly as two weeks after a disaster. Both the Bush and Obama administrations recognized DHAP as a best practice after disasters.

The Trump administration, unfortunately, is instead either relying on failed responses from previous storms that led to the need to create DHAP in the first place or trying new ineffective pilot programs. Administrator Brock Long testified last week before Congress that he favored shifting responsibilities for disaster housing recovery from the federal government onto the states and Puerto Rico. But the state-run disaster housing programs put in place as an alternative to DHAP have been plagued by significant delays. Fewer than 320 households in Florida and 150 households in Texas are in the pipeline to receive state housing assistance. FEMA’s experiment has fallen woefully short.

FEMA is Reviewing Temporary Housing Options for LA

FEMA: Unclear what housing options will be used, but don’t expect Katrina-era FEMA trailers. Some excerpts from the article:

Earlier this year, the federal government unveiled what it called the “new and improved” FEMA trailer, which is a bit roomier and includes fire sprinklers in all units.

Fugate, who traveled to Louisiana this week to assess the flood damage, said other updates have been made to make sure that the trailers comply with housing standards outlined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Audit in NYC Reveals Big Problems with Housing Repair Program Post-Sandy

Here is a second posting on the topic of post-disaster housing, this one focusing on the post-Sandy housing repair programs. Considering how much money is being spent on post-disaster housing programs, clearly the time has come for better oversight and some reform!

An article about the audit appeared in the NY Times, but here is the actual source document:

COMPTROLLER STRINGER AUDIT OF BUILD IT BACK REVEALS MILLIONS PAID OUT FOR INCOMPLETE WORK, DOUBLE-BILLING & UNDOCUMENTED TRAVEL COSTS. Frustrated homeowners forced to contend with over 100 procedural changes in the course of a year. Same subcontractors that bungled earlier work still on the job, working without legally enforceable controls.  Some excerpts:

New York City’s recovery effort following Superstorm Sandy was a boon for consultants who failed to do required work and left thousands of victims without help long after the storm ravaged the City—and problems continue to this day, according to an audit released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer.

The Comptroller’s audit revealed the City’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations (HRO) failed to properly monitor contractors and paid $6.8 million to them for work that that was flawed or incomplete – contributing to extensive delays in the delivery of aid to more than 20,000 people seeking help.

“New York City’s response to Sandy was a case study in dysfunction,” Stringer said. “During the course of this audit, I went to affected communities to hear first-hand the stories of the recovery from hundreds of City residents — from the endless delays, to the lost paperwork and the maddening lack of progress. With this audit, we present a new level of detail about how the City allowed consultants to run amok and what must be done to ensure these mistakes are never again repeated.”

The audit examined the Build it Back Single Family Program – which focused on owner-occupants of properties with one-to-four units affected by Sandy – from June 1, 2013 to August 1, 2014. The findings were enhanced by testimony from six public hearings that Stringer’s office held in areas hardest hit by the storm, which were attended by hundreds of New Yorkers. The audit included detailed reviews of a random sample of 70 applicants, plus reviews of program design, management and operations by HRO and its contractors.

This is not the first example of housing repair program problems. They occurred after H. Katrina in LA as well.  The Diva hopes to have more posts on the topic of the use of CDBG-DR funding for post-disaster home repair in the future.

Marion McFadden – unknown recovery star

This is the second story recently in the Washington Post about a woman official at HUD who had lead responsibility for recovery at the Dept. of HUD.  See: Marion McFadden nominated for award in rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy

I find it unusual that she has been featured twice in the Post, because federal officials engaged in recovery rarely get such favorable national publicity. Furthermore, she is not well known in the disaster community.

I am hard pressed to name the “stars” in the recovery field. Can you name someone prominent nationally in the realm of disaster recovery?

Update: So far I have only heard from one person who knows her and  commented very favorably on her competence.

 

Profile of HUD Recovery Coordinator for H. Sandy

In the Wash Post today, there is a profile of the woman who coordinated the HUD recovery efforts for H. Sandy.  I have to say, she surely has been low profile to date; I tracked the Sandy Task Force effort closely and never heard her name mentioned.

See:  HUD Official Coordinated Hurricane Sandy Recovery Aid. Some excerpts:

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) oversaw the initial response to the storm, the White House created the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force several months later to provide government-wide coordination of the numerous federal agencies assisting the affected states and localities and dispensing the nearly $50 billion appropriated by Congress for disaster recovery.

Marion Mollegen McFadden, the chief operating officer and later acting executive director of the recovery task force, led the ambitious interagency effort, harnessing the power of the federal government during an intense 10-month period to provide unified support to the hard-hit communities as they were making decisions about their rebuilding efforts.

In my view, what remains is a full and current accounting of how the 69 recommendations of the Task Force are being implemented!

HUD does maintain this site for info re the recovery process, but it is not very current.

HUD Approves NJ Disaster Recovery Plan

HUD Approves NJ Disaster Plan. April 29, 2013.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan today announced HUD’s approval of New Jersey’s disaster recovery plan to help homeowners and businesses following Hurricane Sandy. Funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, New Jersey’s action plan calls for a $1.83 billion investment to support a variety of housing, infrastructure and business activities. Read New Jersey’s disaster recovery plan.Donovan, who also chairs President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, said today’s approval will allow the State to begin the long-term process of rebuilding damaged housing, restoring infrastructure, and stimulating business activity and job growth.

“Today we take another important step toward recovery and healing for hard-hit communities in New Jersey,” said Donovan. “HUD has worked closely with Governor Christie, Senators Menendez and Lautenberg, and the New Jersey Congressional Delegation to help design effective programs that will help small businesses reopen, get families back in their homes make communities more resilient as quickly as possible. We have also imposed additional internal controls and accountability measures and we will be working with the Inspector General to ensure that all funds are used as intended – to help families, small businesses and communities get back on their feet and rebuild.”

Update on May 1, the State announced this website for more information.

Differentiating the Response to H. Sandy from H. Katrina

This week I have seen 3 sets of remarks from federal officials that try to make it clear that the response to H. Sandy did not repeat the problems from H.Sandy.

Senate Committee on Homeland Security, March 20. Hurricane Sandy: Getting the Recovery Right and the Value of Mitigation. See testimony by: (1) Sec. Donovan, HUD, and (2) Craig Fugate, FEMA

Also see (3) Sandy Shows How FEMA Has Changed, by Michael Byrne. Federal Coordinating Officer for New York.

Update on Recovery Efforts by HUD, FEMA, and the Red Cross re H. Sandy

United States Department of Housing and Urban ...

I was wondering what HUD is doing re Hurricane Sandy, given the fact that the Sec. of HUD has been given the lead role for recovery for the first time in history. The agency has a page of its website devoted to Hurricane Sandy, but I was disappointed at the results. I was hoping to see some discussion of a strategic approach to recovery , progress to date, or some of the future concerns for the two states where the most damage has occurred, NY and NJ.  But the majoring of the postings have to do with foreclosure rules and details about the CDBG program.

I did find some information about how HUD allocated the initial round of  CDBG money to 6 states affected by H. Sandy. See this article on Feb. 12. If readers know of any more informative sources about HUD’s efforts, please let me know.

There is a website for the HUD Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, but the info is about 2 months old. .

Thanks also to a reader for this source: U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. Dec. 5, 2013. Setting Up the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. It contains the testimony of Craig Fuguate, DEMA Director, and  and Sec. Donovan of HUD. Fugate discusses the National Disaster Recovery Framework on pages 6-8 of his testimony.Donovan discusses his lead role on recovery on pages 4-5 of his testimony.

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OTHER EFFORTS  – FEMA AND THE RED CROSS:

I do not mean to belittle the efforts the federal agencies have made.  These numbers from FEMA on Feb. 22nd are significant:

Here are some details re recovery efforts by the American Red Cross, as of March 2.