True Recovery From a Disaster Requires Deep Housing Subsidies

Highly Impacted Communities in NJ After Superstorm Sandy Need Longer-Term Rental Assistance for the Long-Term Recovery

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has released “Long-Term Recovery of Rental Housing: A Case Study of Highly Impacted Communities in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Aurand and Dan Emmanuel, two of the report’s authors, to get a little more insight into the report’s findings and recommendations on the recovery from Superstorm Sandy in Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean Counties, New Jersey.

Disasters exacerbate existing social problems like the affordable housing crisis and that crisis disproportionately impacts the lowest income renters. We need to better target the lowest income renters during recovery by both ensuring our recovery programs produce and recover units that are affordable to them, as well as provide adequate rental assistance to make this feasible. If we fail to do this in the recovery process, we will simply replicate existing inequalities or, more likely, make them even worse.

If only housing voucher programs were sufficiently funded, then, there would be some ability for displaced low-income renters to find housing that they could afford post natural disaster. When a lot of affordable housing and market-rate house is damaged, there is even more of a need for recovery housing and rental assistance to help all the households, including extremely low-income households in need of recovery assistance.

Ensuring an adequate supply of deed-restricted affordable housing might be the only way to ensure resilience in the face of future disasters and stem long-term displacement after disasters. When a disaster does occur, and extremely low-income renter households are affected, longer-term rental assistance of more than two years during the recovery is necessary. Temporary rental assistance really needs to be long-term rental assistance or rental assistance that is available as long as the low-income renter household needs it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been shortening the length of time that its assistance is available – in some cases it is available for less than 18 months. Recovery from Super Storm Sandy and other disasters happens slowly and for extremely low-income renters, recovery is not happening at all.

We need policy solutions that target funds specifically for the extremely low-income renter population. We need more federal support for voucher assistance. Recovery stakeholders in New Jersey, especially housing advocates, ultimately made great strides in ensuring recovery resources reached those most in need, but they needed more support from the federal government. This was especially true when it came to rental assistance.

“Rentals in small properties were a critical source of low-cost units prior to Sandy and many were likely lost to upward filtering,” says Dan Emmanuel. “Both recovery funding targeted to small-scale landlords and uptake of that funding was limited. We need to better understand the behavior of private, small-scale landlords during recovery. How are their decisions shaped by public resources and private incentives? Can policy actually incentivize them to keep their units affordable in the long-term recovery? Given climate change and the increasing frequency of disasters, expanding the supply of affordable housing might be the only way to ensure future resilience and combat displacement. Deed-restricted, affordable housing is not subject to loss through upwards filtering like housing in the private market.”

When the reports’ authors examined tax assessment data, some of the rental properties damaged now are worth more than those properties that were not damaged from the storm because they have been either redeveloped or rehabbed. In effect these once affordable apartments become part of gentrified neighborhoods.

Monarch Housing’s CEO Taiisa Kelly was interviewed for this report.