What Does Post-Disaster Housing Look Like?

Whenever I mention my desire to build post-disaster housing, I get a funny look as most people say, “you mean like the FEMA trailers?” Images like this one were far too common after Katrina and have been burned into our memories by the media. So first off, let’s dispel that myth.


Image Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Large Scale Disaster Response: Immediately after a large scale disaster, shelters are set up by local governments, Red Cross, and other organizations. However, shelters are not meant to be a long term housing solution. It can be months or years that families are out of their homes while they are repairing and rebuilding. When the shelters close, government and non-profit agencies try to bridge the gap by providing long term housing assistance, which typically consists of hotel vouchers, rental assistance, and reimbursement for home repairs. The reason trailers were used during Katrina is because the scale of that disaster was so extreme that the normal housing resources were exhausted immediately. The trailers were a last resort and inherently had their fair share of problems. Most large scale disasters never get to that point, and Katrina was definitely an exception to the rule.

Small Scale Disaster Response: For people who are affected by a home fire, small scale flood, or other non-Presidentially Declared disaster, post-disaster housing typically looks like a hotel room, a basement in a relative’s home or a couch at a friend’s house. All of these are decent temporary accommodations, but they get old… really fast.

When I work for FEMA I live in a hotel room for months at a time. It’s fun at first – with the daily housekeeping services, mini bar, and lack of home responsibilities – but I never quite feel settled. Sometimes I have to pack up and move to different towns and hotel rooms every few weeks. It’s frustrating, inconvenient, and logistically challenging… and that’s from the perspective of someone who didn’t just lose everything in a disaster.

Getting back into stable housing after a disaster is of utmost importance. It brings routine, security, and peace of mind to an extremely unsettling time. Recovering from a disaster takes a lot of time and effort, and the sooner people can get into their own home, the better off they will be. Imagine trying to take stock of all your lost possessions for insurance purposes, following up with various agencies to replace important documents, and tracking down health records and prescriptions, while trying not to burden your family and friends who offered up a place to stay. Home is where you are your true self, and we need that safe place when dealing with the physical and emotional fall out of a disaster.

At Our Front Porch, we have a long term goal of building exceptional, welcoming, and community oriented post-disaster housing – but more on that later. In the meantime, while we are working on making that a reality, we still believe that finding your own place to stay as soon as possible after a disaster is essential to a successful recovery.

Do you need help finding new housing after a disaster? We are here to help!

~Heather Korth

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