July 1, 2015

Forty States and Communities Advance in $1 Billion National Disaster Resilience Competition

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NDRC blog post

On June 22, HUD Secretary Julián Castro invited 40 communities  to compete in the second and final phase of the National Disaster Resilience Competition. These finalists—representing areas that have been declared natural disasters by the President in recent years—will compete for $1 billion in funding for disaster recovery and long-term community resilience.  See here for a full list of finalists.

Over the next few months, finalists will further develop their disaster resilience strategies and propose specific projects. From a total pool of nearly $1 billion, each of these 40 states and communities will be able to request up to $500 million for cutting-edge projects that address unmet needs from past disasters while addressing the vulnerabilities that could put Americans in harm’s way during future disasters. Final submissions are due October 27, 2015, with final selections and awards expected to be announced in January 2016.

I want to recognize the hard work of all of the applicants during the first phase.  This process was designed to be challenging, educational, and collaborative, and proved perhaps to be a little grueling.  This is a competition that is pushing us all – the applicants, HUD and more than a dozen other federal agencies, our philanthropic partners, particularly The Rockefeller Foundation – to take truly different approaches to address the challenges of more frequent and severe weather events and other impacts of a changing climate.  Heat waves, drought, tropical storms, high winds, storm surges and heavy downpours are putting our communities at risk.   The changing climate is creating drastically different conditions across the United States: in the Northeast, rainfall during heavy storms has increased by 70% since the 1950’s, while in the Southwest, major rivers and basins are suffering from a 37% reduction in average streamflows over the last decade.[i]

With this competition, HUD asked communities to do something they haven’t done before:  to use data and science-based approaches to look forward to the risks that they face.  We asked them to articulate the disaster recovery needs that remain in their community, and to engage citizens to help develop a recovery response that also addresses those future risks as well as benefits their lives every day – not only when the next disaster strikes.  We have also asked applicants to think broadly about resilience – to consider economic and environmental resilience alongside infrastructure needs – and to consider how the HUD award could leverage an impact that goes beyond the geography and scope of the activities that HUD will ultimately fund.  And that was just for Phase 1!

Through this competition, states and communities are already beginning to transform the way they think about disaster recovery and resilience. As we saw in our Rebuild by Design competition, investing time in planning and thinking beyond the basics – bringing together community members with technical experts like engineers, architects, ecologists, and landscape architects – can lead to disaster resilience projects that deliver multiple benefits. Why build a floodwall or berm if a waterfront park can provide the same level of flood protection, and create much-needed open space and recreation at the same time?

Resilience isn’t just something that HUD cares about: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan identifies steps to help state and local governments prepare for the impacts of climate change and lead national and international efforts towards reducing emissions and promoting clean energy use.  More resilient states and communities are in the interest of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and virtually every other federal agency which is why we invited our partners to be a part of this competition too.  To review the Phase 1 applications, HUD tapped the expertise of more than a dozen federal agencies, many of whom have reported that not only were they inspired by what they saw in the proposals, but also motivated to support innovative new approaches to resilience in their home agencies as a result.

In another remarkable collaboration, HUD’s partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation has made tools and technical assistance on disaster resilience, climate change, and recovery available to every eligible applicant.  Rockefeller has an institutional commitment to promoting resilience through this and other efforts, and is a big part of the impact that the NDRC is having on the broader field of resilience.  A recent blog post by Rockefeller highlights some of the early successes that they have witnessed in this competition — months before a single dollar has been awarded – including new commitments among states and localities to achieve a more resilient future.

While the $1 billion Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery fund in this competition may provide a “carrot,” existing state and local budgets just for infrastructure dwarf the dollars that HUD is providing.   Everyone wins when participating jurisdictions figure out their own blueprint for resilience and how to forge a path forward.  This competition is helping them to do just that – not just for Phase 1 “winners” but also for those not invited to Phase 2.  Those unsuccessful applicants leave the experience with the benefit of having undergone a citizen-driven, multi-agency process to consider and plan for their future risks. We hope that all of these states and localities continue to build their capacity to consider changing threats and hazards as they make their everyday decisions and spending choices –protecting the safety and security of millions of people and influencing billions of dollars in state and local investment.

In the upcoming months, HUD will host nearly two dozen webinars and develop new online resources, to help both applicants and others better understand the challenges and opportunities presented in building a more resilient future.  Please explore our HUD Exchange website for more information on these resources, and updated information on this competition that we hope will be helpful to you.

[i] National Climate Assessment (2014): http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights#section-5681

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