January 27, 2014

Secretary Donovan Travels to Chile to Identify Disaster Reconstruction Lessons

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Earlier this month, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan traveled to Chile to meet with leading housing and urban development officials overseeing disaster reconstruction efforts following that country’s 2010 earthquake and tsunami. His trip came at the invitation of Minister Rodrigo Pérez Mackenna, his counterpart at Chile’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINVU).

The primary purpose of the visit was to identify lessons from Chile’s long-term reconstruction efforts that may apply to Hurricane Sandy-impacted regions in the U.S.

Secretary Donovan toured reconstruction sites near Concepción, a major city located in one of the regions most devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. The earthquake, recorded as one of the world’s largest urban earthquakes, affected more than 80% of Chile’s urban population and destroyed or severely damaged over 300,000 homes. Since then, MINVU has worked with cross-sector partners to successfully construct or repair 90% of the damaged homes.

Secretary Donovan touring Dichato with Chilean Minister Rodrigo Perez on January 6, 2014.The tour included a visit to a newly constructed low-income housing project, a naval shipyard, and a public boardwalk that also serves as a tsunami-mitigation zone. During field visits to several coastal towns, Secretary Donovan and Minister Pérez highlighted the importance of international cooperation in disaster preparedness and recovery with Chile serving as a leading model.

“It is important to share experiences and learn from each other. We must make an effort to reconstruct differently, as in the coastal zone of Dichato. I’m impressed with what I have seen and I congratulate those who have participated in this reconstruction,” Secretary Donovan told local media.

Back in Santiago, Secretary Donovan participated in a Ministerial discussion with other cabinet-level officials focused on inter-agency cooperation. They discussed setting clear recovery goals, creating effective task forces, and planning for long-term disaster recovery and mitigation. Secretary Donovan shared learned experiences and recommendations from his tenure chairing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, particularly the importance of including local communities in the recovery and planning phases.

Secretary Donovan also had a brief meeting with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, in which they discussed continuing U.S.-Chile relations. He expressed the U.S. government’s commitment to trade negotiations with Chile and commended the President on his government’s successful efforts to rebuild the country’s infrastructure after the devastating earthquake.

The trip also coincided with the launch of Chile’s first rental housing subsidy program, the first of its kind in South America. The program, inspired by similar programs at HUD, offers a flat monthly subsidy to younger families that wish to temporarily rent rather than purchase a home. This is an effort to develop the formal rental market and offer subsidies more aligned with the housing needs of younger households as they grow in size and adjust to the demands of the labor market. Staff at MINVU and HUD will continue to monitor the performance of the rental subsidy program and discuss its relevance for US housing policy.

“Chile represents a clear example of the high value of sharing knowledge across national boundaries,” explains Todd Richardson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development. This work exemplifies how PD&R is using the international comparative lens to address complex urban policy challenges. Specific lessons from this exchange – including the effectiveness of Chile’s pre-planning, the model of inter-ministerial coordination, and strategies for adapting pre-existing programs to meet local constraints and needs – all inform future domestic policy decisions.

Moving forward, both the U.S. and Chile are committed to building on these engagement efforts to identify lessons that benefit their respective communities.

Larry is Program Coordinator and Lauren is a Fellow in the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation, HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research.

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