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Affordable Housing , Community Development , Homelessness

Rebuilding Smarter After A Disaster

27 August 2013

In 2011, the biggest tornado imaginable killed 162 people, and destroyed a third of Joplin, Mo. Townsfolk dug out from the wreckage, buried their dead, and began to talk about rebuilding their southwest Missouri smarter, and greener, and more livable.

Joplin took a page from the recovery of Greensburg, Kan., after a 2007 tornado killed 13 and destroyed most of that towns’ buildings. With an eye on building a sustainable community, Greensburg is now the world's leading community in LEED-certified buildings per capita.

In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy killed 117 and caused billions of dollars in damage along the East Coast , officials in New Jersey committed to spend some $135 million in federal funds to persuade developers to build more affordable housing. This is a good thing in an expensive state. According to Out of Reach 2013, a report on housing costs around the country from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, New Jersey outstrips Connecticut for its housing wage, or the amount of money a household must earn to afford a decent, two-bedroom apartment. In New Jersey, where the minimum wage is $7.25, the housing wage is $24.84 an hour.

Connecticut’s housing wage is $23.22.

Connecticut, too, is showing a sense of rebuilding smarter. A 278-page action plan submitted to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development calls for $26 million of roughly $71.8 million to be devoted to rebuilding or building multi-family houses for low- and moderate-income families.

The figure came from surveys of public housing authorities in areas hit by Sandy, the public, and discussion of how best to leverage the disaster money, said Michael Santoro, Department of Economic and Community Development community development specialist and author of the action plan.

How much money goes toward repair and how much toward development depends on the types of applications the state receives, Santoro said. Units located on the 100-year floodplain, for example, might not be appropriate for repair.

Disasters are awful and heartbreaking, but the clouds’ small lining is states’ increasing inclination to states rebuild and/or renovate smarter, greener, and more affordable housing.

.Susan Campbell is the Communications and Development Director at the Partnership for Strong Communities.

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