As required by House File 64, the Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) submitted their quarterly report on July 10. The report highlights accomplishments of the agency and provides updated information on progress benchmarks and the distribution of recovery funding.
The report identifies one of the key problems the State faces in recovering from such a large disaster. While many sources of funding for relief have been made available from the federal government, very few of the funding sources were designed with disaster relief in mind.
This results in difficulties and inefficiencies for state and local agencies attempting to administer funds that are not tailored specifically for the needs of disaster victims. Businesses and individuals seeking relief are often subject to duplicative reviews and benefits checking. In fact, the report identifies 30 different programs providing disaster recovery support from state and federal agencies.
The numerous programs increase the work required to prevent fraud and abuse. According to the report “while these checks are critical, they often delay funding and sometimes prevent unmet needs from being fulfilled.” The report finds that better coordination, especially at the federal level could increase efficiency in the process. RIO actively provides feedback and makes recommendations to federal agencies to improve their programs for more efficient relief in this and future disasters.
The report also details what it identifies as the top priority in Iowa’s recovery, getting people back into their homes or another permanent home. Most of the funds available to homes capable of being repaired have gone out, but the same can not be said for the acquisition of properties that will not be repaired. The report identifies these acquisitions as a phase that will remain a challenge for the state for years to come.
FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is used to purchase properties that pass their cost-benefit analysis and requires that the property not be redeveloped and instead turned into green space. It is anticipated over $100 million in acquisitions will occur under this program. To date, FEMA has approved 23 property acquisitions at more than $43 million.
The other mechanism for property acquisitions are the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds. These are more flexible than the hazard mitigation acquisitions, in that they allow for redevelopment of the property in some cases. $255 million have been budgeted for CDBG acquisitions, applications for the funds are due July 31, 2009.
The report estimates that more than 1,000 homes could be demolished following property acquisitions. In fact, many of these demolitions are underway and are creating a housing gap for impacted communities. Nearly $18 million in funds are being utilized from the CDBG program to build roughly 350 new single-family houses. An additional $400 million has been made available for low-income tax credits to spur development of multi-family housing.
As of July 1, 2009, there were still 262 Iowans living in FEMA mobile homes. That is down from a high of 595 Iowans a year earlier. The RIO report maintains “we expect to meet our goal of having all of these households into permanent housing by the end of 2009.” To meet this goal over the remaining 5 months of the year, RIO will have to increase their rate of placements by over 33% as compared to the previous 5 months of 2009.
The full report covers additional topic areas and can be found on the RIO website. The next report is due by October 10, 2009.