Cities and towns depend on FEMA when a disaster strikes. When there are tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other natural disasters, national funds are tapped to help communities. As the number and magnitude of disasters increase, it costs our national treasury. If housing (and other buildings and infrastructure) are built or retrofitted to be safer during potential disasters, it will save lives as well as federal money.
After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, the city rebuilt smarter. There was an earthquake that toppled buildings, but the disaster came in the form a fire caused by a ruptured gas line. When the new gas line system was built, it was designed to shut off if an earthquake ruptured the line. In addition, buildings were required to use more reinforced concrete that would be less likely to crumble in an earthquake. These changes have lessened property damage and loss of life in subsequent earthquakes.
Likewise, since then, many coastal towns have required that the infrastructure be put in the attic or on the roof, not the basement. During hurricane storm surge flooding, basements fill up with water. If the electric system and the heat is there, the building becomes uninhabitable. When electric service is not turned off quickly enough, storm water can start fires, like the fire that destroyed about 200 homes during hurricane Sandy (2012) in Breezy Point, NY.
One of the ways that America is planning ahead is that Housing and Urban Development is looking at their existing buildings with an eye to climate resilience.
This is what HUD is doing in 2021:
- Updating climate risk data and research. HUD will update its policies and operations to create a more climate-resilient system. As a first step, the Department will collect building-level data across HUD programs to map existing climate risks and environmental justice concerns. This will help inform the Department on how to best address climate impacts and protect HUD-assisted assets and their occupants, with a focus on underserved communities. HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research will work to assess the effectiveness of current building efficiency codes and recovery programs and identify resilience best practices that the agency can adopt to promote investments in climate resilience.
- Reducing climate-related financial risks in mortgage financing. HUD is collaborating with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Agriculture to consider approaches to better integrate climate-related financial risk into underwriting standards, loan terms and conditions, and asset management and servicing procedures (per EO 14030). HUD is also exploring market strategies to incentivize both energy and water efficiency and climate-resilient building practices. HUD recognizes these steps as critical to ensuring the best use of taxpayer dollars in response to changing climatic conditions.
- Strengthening disaster recovery and resilience. The greatest asset to our country is our people, and HUD recognizes the need to better protect America’s communities from the impacts of climate change. HUD will update Disaster Recovery and Mitigation grant requirements to promote resilience and environmental justice, ensuring that communities recovering from disasters are more resilient in the future. HUD will also strengthen its floodplain management regulations to focus on increasing flood resilience, promoting environmental justice, improving fiscal security, and minimizing adverse impacts to the beneficial functions of floodplains and wetlands.
- Building a more equitable future. Climate change and its impacts exacerbate existing health and socioeconomic inequities, placing certain populations at particular risk. Addressing environmental inequities is at the core of HUD’s mission to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities. HUD will create spaces for mutual learning around climate change, its impacts, and environmental justice issues impacting low-income, communities of color, tribal communities, individuals with disabilities, and other protected classes.
- Identifying leadership and accountability. For the first time, agencies have tasked senior leadership with ensuring steady progress on agency-wide adaptation and resilience efforts. HUD has established an internal Climate and Environmental Justice Council with representation at the Assistant Secretary level and led by HUD’s Senior Advisor for Climate Change with support from the Office of Environment and Energy. The Climate and Environmental Justice Council will manage the implementation and monitoring of the climate adaptation plan and is responsible for the long-term integration of climate and environmental justice into HUD’s programs and operations. [HUD No. 21-168]