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When I wrote my October blog, I didn’t realize I was partly anticipating this month’s. That previous theme caused me to think about the federal system’s policies that impact housing availability throughout the multi-layered ‘marble-cake’ and since I was writing from NYC, where I couldn’t exit because of the hurricane/nor-easter, I seized on a headline illustrating that very thing: the stance of Gov. Christie in working with President Obama on disaster relief and recovery, particularly housing. Now that the presidential election is over, this example of bipartisanship interaction is still apt and needs to be expanded throughout the strategy for housing assistance following Hurricane Sandy.
What have we learned from the past? It all depends on the ideological, political, professional (different ones – urban planners, engineers, utility companies, health and social services, law enforcement, ‘bean counters’, ‘flat-earthers vs. global warmers’ and others – who don’t agree among themselves necessarily), victim or impactee, ‘flat-earthers vs. global warmers vs. apocalytics; and non-stakeholders elsewhere in the country or abroad (geographically remote and indifferent except for how their taxes are spent). Each stakeholder will criticize or pat ‘himself’ on the back for doing a wonderful job (look at the various websites or press releases for this evidence), but it should be all about SEEING RESULTS. Defining and measuring those, of course, is again in the eyes of the beholder, sometimes, but hopefully, some objective metrics involving sustainability and long-term prevention or mitigation of future disasters is key.
Aside from that caveat, President Obama seems to have split responsibility for short-term relief in the hands of FEMA and longer-term stabilization with the HUD secretary. This is within a construct called the National Disaster Recovery Framework, released in September, 2011, as a guide for federal agencies to better coordinate with state and local partners as they rebuild communities hit by natural disasters. In it, FEMA said the federal government is responsible for “supplementing” local responses, addressing “intra-governmental recovery coordination,” and encouraging sustainable development during the recovery process.
War and disasters have not commonly resulted in new paradigms, new long-terms plans, innovative solutions, as the paramount need, politically and human condition-wise, is to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Bureaucratic structures also do not turn on a dime. But with a creative and powerful authority, the right leaders, and a change in cultures, perhaps just perhaps some creative intergovernmental solutions will be take place. Will it mean less dependence on the automobile and more density around an improved transportation infrastructure, such as the line going to Far Rockaway Beach? Will it be improved tunneling? Will it be different flood plain and barrier island insurance and land use restrictions? Will there be more underground utilities? Will there be more perceived equity among the impactees (the Manhattans, Staten Island, other boroughs, New Jersey, CT)? Will there be a resuscitation of a regional planning entity for the tri-state area, which saw its demise sometime ago? Can we borrow any technologies and policies from international sources? Will there be opportunities to use this intergovernmental framework to stitch together the dozens of funding sources to provide neighborhood demonstrations that could be off-shoots of the Choice Neighborhoods concept, but writ large and with adequate funding? We have many solutions already at hand, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel, but will they be politically palatable when ‘the rubber meets the road’?
In conclusion, there is again no magic bullet, no cookie cutter answer – each locality and region needs to come up with their strategic 40-year plan, based on sound criteria, within this framework, for disaster prevention and sustainability and practice and continually improve it incrementally. Affordable housing advocates need to be actively involved.
Kent Watkins is Chairman of the National Academy of Housing and Sustainable Development.
Welcome to the BPC Housing Commission expert forum! This forum is intended to foster interactive and substantive discussion about pressing housing issues. Each month contributors from different parts of the housing sector will be invited to respond to a discussion topic. Guest posts will feature prominently on BPC’s website, as well as be shared regularly with Housing Commissioners to help inform their work.
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Expert bloggers are not members of the BPC Housing Commission. Any views expressed on this forum do not necessarily represent the views of the Housing Commission, its Co-Chairs, or the Bipartisan Policy Center.