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CDBG Disaster Recovery Assistance and Homeowners' Rebuilding Outcomes Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Jonathan Spader & Jennifer Turnham


July 7, 2014

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program has played an important role in the federal government's response to natural disasters, providing a tool for delivering disaster recovery assistance to affected states and localities. This article provides an overview of the CDBG program's role in disaster recovery. It then examines the use of CDBG funding to support housing recovery in Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We use FEMA damage assessments, state administrative program data, and on-site observation of properties' rebuilding outcomes to examine the coverage and sufficiency of CDBG grants as well as the rebuilding outcomes of grant recipients' properties. We find that a substantial share of CDBG recipients faced rebuilding or repair costs that exceeded their total funds from insurance, CDBG grants, and other sources. We also find that reception of a CDBG grant does not guarantee that a homeowner's property is rebuilt. Depending on the program option, anywhere from 7% to 48% of grant recipients who opted to rebuild had not done so as of early 2010. Finally, the results provide limited support for concerns about the use of compensation grants to provide CDBG assistance. Homeowners' responses to a telephone survey indicate that some grant recipients used CDBG funds for purposes other than rebuilding and that the use of compensation grants may have exposed homeowners to higher rates of contractor fraud. The article discusses the implications of these findings for the future use of the CDBG program for disaster recovery.