Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) housing recovery programs are an essential tool for rebuilding and revitalizing communities affected by natural disasters. Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to state and local governments, these programs offer much-needed financial assistance to homeowners and renters to rebuild or repair their homes and support infrastructure and economic development. However, implementing CDBG-DR housing recovery programs can be complex and challenging and, if not done correctly, can result in delays, inefficiencies, and inequitable outcomes.
With experience working on housing programs across the country, including in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, New York City after Hurricane Sandy, and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, this author developed best practices for implementing CDBG-DR housing recovery programs, including planning, community engagement, program design, implementation, and monitoring. These recommendations are based on years of experience and lessons learned from CDBG-DR programs across the country. To avoid common program pitfalls, CDBG-DR grantees should consider these seven best practices when designing and developing programs.
1. Streamline Eligibility Processes for Efficient Program Delivery and Overall Program Compliance.
Developing and launching an applicant survey and/or registration page well before the program intake begins is crucial. This step serves multiple purposes, allowing the grantee to gather valuable information about the most vulnerable populations and prioritize the distribution of application invitations. Providing various methods – such as an online registration option through the grantee’s website, a call center, and outreach events tailored to reach relocated residents effectively – make registration accessible to all affected residents. During registration, inform applicants about the documents they must submit with their application.
The establishment of separate intake and eligibility teams streamlines the process and minimizes waiting times for applicants. By running these functions concurrently, applicants can have their eligibility assessed promptly, expediting the overall process. This approach not only reduces waiting times but also enhances the efficiency of the program.
Additionally, it is essential to create an Eligibility Appeal Review Team. This specialized team would be responsible for processing appeals from applicants who may have been initially deemed ineligible. Handling these appeals in a timely manner maintains transparency and fairness throughout the process. Following these guidelines would ensure a well-organized program-intake process, allowing the grantee to efficiently serve those in need and effectively fulfill the program’s objectives.
2. Create Wrap-Around Public Services to Support Homeowners and the Community.
Establishing preliminary programs that offer temporary support to low- to moderate-income individuals and households is imperative. These programs extend assistance beyond construction-related matters, encompassing provisions such as relocation aid, rental assistance, and even mortgage payment support.
Another crucial aspect of planning involves fostering workforce development opportunities within the community. By doing so, planners can create pathways for residents to access the jobs that emerge as a result of the program’s implementation. This approach bolsters the community’s economy and promotes a sense of empowerment and inclusion for its members.
Cultivating strategic partnerships with key organizations would help maximize the program’s impact. Among these collaborators are legal aid agencies and housing counseling non-profits. Their involvement ensures that community members have access to vital resources, legal guidance, and expert counseling related to housing matters, further fortifying the endeavor’s success. These outlined steps lay the groundwork for a comprehensive and sustainable approach that uplifts the community and empowers its residents for a brighter future.
3. Provide Clear and Consistent Messaging to Homeowners.
Successful programs include clear and concise policies, eligibility criteria, and lists of eligible and ineligible expenses, all written in easily understandable language. This ensures that participants can readily comprehend the program’s guidelines and requirements.
Effectively sharing information and ensuring transparency help avoid misunderstandings and sets appropriate expectations. For example, homeowners may not know that any personal expenses incurred after applying to the program would not be reimbursed. Instead, they should patiently await program funds before making any additional expenditures.
Dissemination of program-related information through various channels facilitates a transparent and accessible process. These include program websites, frequently-asked-questions pages, webinars, public meetings, and intake centers. By doing so, program organizers can ensure that the details and updates are accessible to a wider audience, increasing awareness and participation in the program. Adopting these practices helps create an inclusive and well-structured program that promotes understanding, fairness, and accountability among all stakeholders.
4. Invest in a Robust and Well-Designed Data and Document Management System.
It is important to establish a resilient system for handling extensive applicant documentation. Additionally, building a user-friendly interface that connects with reporting dashboards and other stakeholder resources helps facilitate program insights. Moreover, when the grants management system is meticulously designed, users can take into consideration future audits and ensure compliance with regulations.
5. Create a Tiered and Integrated Environmental Review and Damage Assessment Process for Maximum Efficiency.
To streamline the assessment process and minimize disruptions to homeowners, program designers should compile a Tier I (site-specific) Review that encompasses regions sharing similar geographies, demographics, and social features. This review enables the efficient utilization of survey and registration data to prioritize Tier II (area-wide) and Damage Assessment requests. To further expedite the process, Tier II inspections could be carried out simultaneously with damage assessments, including Lead Paint and asbestos assessments. Combining these evaluations makes it possible to optimize efficiency and provide a more effective response to the needs of homeowners while ensuring thorough and accurate assessments are conducted.
6. Stand Up a Construction Management Team, Separate From the Homebuilders, Who Are Responsible for Activities.
By adhering to the following checklist of crucial measures, program designers can foster a successful, reliable, and smooth homebuilding process, benefitting both builders and homeowners alike:
- Carefully assign projects to homebuilders based on their capacity, past performance, and demonstrated commitment to maintaining construction standards and quality.
- Provide all homebuilders with a comprehensive and mandatory training program. This training covers essential aspects such as expectations, policies, warranties, payment request processes, construction standards, safety measures, and compliance with local municipalities and utilities.
- Perform cost estimates and reasonableness analyses to maintain financial accountability, ensuring that projects remain within budget and cost-effective.
- Closely monitor crucial program deadlines to ensure that homebuilders obtain the necessary permits and complete their projects promptly and in accordance with the specific requirements for each construction type.
- Conduct thorough walk-throughs with homebuilders before initiating work to minimize complications and unexpected adjustments. This step identifies any areas that might have been overlooked during the damage assessment, thus reducing the need for change orders (i.e., modifications to the construction contract, likely updates to scope or pricing, that can increase costs if initial needs are missed).
- Maintain vigilant oversight of change orders, verifying their validity and necessity to prevent potential misuse.
7. Require Licensing, Insurance, Bonding, and Written Acknowledgment of Compliance and Work Requirements From Homebuilders.
Homeowners should receive a construction contract template. Tip sheets also can be created for both the homebuilder and homeowner, offering valuable advice on topics like avoiding fraudulent contractors, meeting HUD’s Energy Star Requirements, and safe disposal of hazardous materials.
Under the CDBG-DR housing recovery program, eligible households may receive financial assistance for activities such as home repairs, reconstruction, or new construction. The program may also provide rental assistance, downpayment assistance, and other forms of support to help households secure safe and affordable housing. By applying these best practices, communities can maximize the impact of CDBG-DR funds and ensure a more equitable and resilient recovery from disasters.
Daina Ruback is a director on the Housing, Community Development & Infrastructure (HCDI) team at Tidal Basin Group. She oversees a portfolio of programs, including CDBG-DR, CDBG-MIT, Homeowner Assistance Fund, and Technical Assistance contracts, and serves as a subject matter expert on federal grants management. Prior to her time at Tidal Basin, she worked for the city of New York’s Office of Management and Budget, leading program and policy for their Community Development Task Force after her role as lead for the city’s $3 billion CDBG-DR housing recovery portfolio. After working as a trainer and educator with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, she held positions promoting small business and entrepreneurship with the Women’s Enterprise Development Center in New York and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs in Washington, DC.