The 2011 storm season was one of the most unusual and destructive on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center counted 1,894 tornadoes during 2011, including 875 in the month of April. Those high numbers translate into billions of dollars in damage, and many communities are still struggling to rebuild. The extent of damage is so great, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated additional money for disaster relief.
In November, Congress allocated $100 million for HUD to award through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) aimed at disaster relief. At the time, Congress also told HUD it could allocate an additional $300 million in CDBG at its discretion. The monetary autonomy given by Congress was rare, especially given the hyper-focus on fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction. But, while Congress recognizes the need to curb spending and reduce debt, it is also painfully aware of the destruction caused by 2011 storms. Nearly every member of Congress has constituents who were affected by the severe weather, and many are still rebuilding.
Earlier this year, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan chose to exercise HUD’s authority and award the entire $400 million to areas of the country that were most heavily damaged by 2011 storms.
Eight states and several cities within those states received awards. They are: New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Alabama, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Vermont. Within Alabama, the city of Tuscaloosa received over $16 million to help with rebuilding in the wake of the April 27 tornado that was reported to be over a mile wide and killed more than 30 people. The city of Joplin, Missouri – still cleaning up after a nearly-mile-wide tornado struck on May 22nd – was awarded over $45 million. According to NOAA, 2011 was the deadliest storm season since 1953, with 551 confirmed fatalities.
Though we are well into 2012, many cities are still working to remove rubble before they can even begin rebuilding. While housing and retail structure suffered the most damage, so did infrastructure, schools, hospitals and more. Uprooted trees damaged roads and bridges, limiting access to some of the hardest-hit areas and making clean-up even more difficult.
As these communities continue rebuilding, affordable housing will be a key component. Especially given the fact that low-income residents rarely have the resources necessary to rebuild on their own. In addition, many have lost all of their possessions, and without a roof over their heads, maintaining the steady employment needed for them to get back on their feet will be difficult at best. Especially since businesses sustained significant damage as well.