Saturday, May 14, 2011

Disaster Housing--The FEMA Nemesis?

Once again disaster housing looms huge in FEMA's future efforts. The disaster housing strategy has not yet been finalized by HUD and FEMA since being mandated in PKEMRA 2006!

So again a short history of disaster housing just to maintain the record as we enter another "temporary" housing crisis.

OEP (Office of Emergency Preparedness) in the WH was ended by President Nixon's Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973 that sent disaster response and recovery to HUD. COOP and COG for the federal government went to FPA! Frank Carlucci, a Deputy Director of OMB had been the first true FCO in history and his clout was demonstrated when Nixon fired Secretary of HUD George Romney at Carlucci's request over disaster housing issues. Carlucci said you will and Romney said I can't!

So disaster housing was sent to a HUD that had as its statutory charge "decent, safe, sanitary housing for Americans"! In fact HUD, a largely corrupt bureaucracy that until DHS was created had the highest number of politically vetted positions in the entire Executive Branch was largely run to benefit the middlemen/women of the housing world. Lacking specific regulatory authority in many circumstances some in HUD, like the OIG fought the corruption but were largely unsuccessful. Between July 1, 1974 when I arrived and September 10, 1979 when I left over 2000 HUD officials and program participants were indicted and/or convicted.

Under President Carter, Secretary HUD Patricia Roberts Harris, an honest but patrician DC lawyer, the new disaster housing program was completely unwelcome and remained a stepchild in HUD! When ordered by Carter to W.VA during a disaster and trying to sort out housing problems Pat Harris decided to do all that she could to get rid of that mission. She told Carter she would lead the fight against the FEMA creation if he did not include disaster housing in the FEMA mission when created. The result was the stepchild was booted out of HUD's door and therein lies the tale!

An argument could be mounted successfully IMO that the recovery mission in disasters is largely housing. But few FEMA appointees have had a clue about disaster housing and have mostly worried over buying and selling "trailers" which only in Katrina were RV's with their formaldehyde problems and largely have been mobile homes/manufactured housing.

Always remember that FEMA is largely a grant making administrative agency with little real knowledge of the private sector and in particular the FIRE sector. The result continues that disaster housing is still a disaster. Both FEMA and HUD need to really do some hard thinking and work to come up with solutions. I believe the planning basis for disaster housing [to be surged in an event even higher] should be 500,000 homeless needing permanent housing. I have advocated that number for 30 years and always was shouted down by FEMA management.