Equitable Housing Policy: In Conversation with Claudia Monterrosa from US Dept. of Housing & Urban Development

Welcome to the fifth episode and season finale of our web series, Resilient Housing Across the Americas, a set of 1:1 conversations with leaders across countries and sectors discussing challenges and the future of housing.

This week we are joined by Matt Strahan of the World Economic Forum to discuss attainable housing and the role of the private sector in advancing housing resilience. In case you missed it, make sure to catch the first several episodes in our series with Mayor Mitch Roth of Hawaii County and Mayor William Dau of Cartagena, Colombia, Matt Strahan of the World Economic Forum, and Mayor Carolina Leitao of Peñalolén, Chile

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Elizabeth Hausler: Hi again, everyone. We’re here at the Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado, enjoying our journey around the world, talking about resilient housing. 


We’re featuring mayors and city leaders and government officials who are working on disaster  resilient housing across the Americas. I’m talking with Claudia Monterrosa, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, otherwise known as HUD. 


Claudia, thanks so much for joining us. I’m so excited to talk to you today. I just want to ask a big sort of broad overview question: how has HUD’s approach to climate resilient housing evolved over the last few years? 


Claudia Monterrosa: HUD’s work in this field and this issue area has evolved dramatically since 2011. And in fact, we are one of the biggest leaders in this space, primarily due to the enormous amount of funding that the federal government has really provided to address disaster areas throughout the nation over the last several years and more rapidly or more frequently over the last couple of years. 


Just over the last three years, I think there’s been several one-time authorizations; – well not authorizations – but issuance of disaster recovery funding via Congress based on the severity of those disasters in just in actually just in February of this year, we issued about $3.4 billion in disaster recovery funding for Florida and also for Kentucky and some other areas that had been impacted in 2022. 


EH: That’s extraordinary.  


CM: Yes, it’s extraordinary, and we do have a huge responsibility to be able to carry out  the mission of that money, which is to create resilient communities and really address the nature of the disasters. And when we are rebuilding that, we’re being energy efficient, resilient, and we’re working with the community from the ground up and from the bottom up. 


EH: The community-led initiatives and working from the ground up is something that Build Change has been doing from the beginning. It’s very close to our hearts. So that’s just so wonderful to hear. Can you give us some examples or how much of that funding has been used  for permanent lasting changes, like for making houses disaster resilient for the long-term or other things that last beyond the immediate emergency phase? 


CM: Right, I think that’s one of the missions of this money; when we are going into communities, [the mission] is to build resilient, long term, affordable housing. And that could be single family house residences or multifamily and making sure that we’re going above and beyond what’s in the code. Right? 


So we’re looking at doing cool roofs, retrofitting when it’s necessary. And if we need to demolish more of the community sites to demolish some of those structures, but that they have, you know, net zero elements if those are available in there. And so what we want is to ensure that that investment is going to last for a very long time and that community members have a home that can hopefully withstand the forces of nature in the future anywhere from, you know, really addressing floods and flooding in a lot of the areas of the country. 


In fact, right now we have a flood rule for a proposed rule that is going to be coming up very soon. And so that’ll be very important over the next several months. 


EH: What is the goal of that flood rule? How would that work? 


CM: It’ll set into regulation where homes can actually be located and how high off the ground in some other floodplain areas the homes ought to be located. 


EH: Nationwide? This is going to be a nationwide rule?


CM: So we’re working with FEMA and we’re working across the board on that and I would encourage, you know, folks here to really take a look at the proposed rule and the comments for that just closed and we are going to be taking all that input and coming up with a proposed rule later on. 


EH: So, could you tell us a little bit more about any specific initiatives your office has advanced and how they’re generating a positive impact for Americans? 


CM: Right, so one of the things that we’re really diligent and intentional about is having equity as the centerpiece of the work that we are doing, not just on the resiliency side, but how we approach communities and want to make  sure that, oftentimes, the most impacted communities are the most vulnerable communities, right? The underserved, and poorest of communities and so we want to make sure that  those needs, their needs are really lifted up. 


So we’ve created a community engagement and equitable development toolkit; it is a technical assistance toolkit that also has implementation guides and we are really proud of that work, and we encourage everybody to really utilize that. 


And it’s something that’s really geared towards those grantees to be able to use that and increase their public participation. It really teaches the community how to come about and how to advocate for their own needs and work with local governments. 


EH: What is the biggest obstacle then to adoption of disaster resilient recovery at scale? Because you’ve got the guidelines, you’ve stood up an office, you’ve named it, you’ve got it sounds like a fair amount of funding flowing. What are the biggest obstacles toward the end goal, which is disaster resilient housing for everyone? 


CM: I think when you go to the local level, every locality, every state is different. I think the other big, big, big obstacle and barrier is that level of capacity, not only of the government but also of the local communities and also service providers or the organizations that work to really engage in that recovery effort. We had the privilege to go and travel with the Secretary of HUD, Secretary Fudge, in I think it was in early March to Kentucky, and she delivered the news that they were going to be getting hundreds of millions of dollars for disaster recovery due to the flood disasters that occurred in 2022. 


And I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of the folks that were doing the work on the ground Right? And the biggest obstacle and what I heard and what they conveyed to us is we need your help, technical assistance, and we need to streamline as much as possible our current regulations. And so we are taking that very, very seriously. 


And to that point, one of the things that we did early on this year is to issue a request for information for both the guidelines and for the program policies and also for how the allocation formula actually happens. And so we had that out for public comment for about 60 days, and we’ve received all that coming in and we’ve received really an amazing amount of input as we speak right now, we’re going through those comments and we’re hoping to release a proposed guidance notice based on that. Because this is not an authorized program, it wouldn’t be a proposed rule, but those comments will help to shape the new notices for whenever we actually have new funding coming in. 


And we are serious and we are intentional in improving how we deploy funding to, you know, impacted communities and in a lot of our materials are being also translated into Spanish because a lot of our communities, you know, obviously are impacted where there’s a large segment of Spanish speaking and other monolingual  speaking communities. So we’re very attuned to that and to also address the needs of the disabled and special needs populations. 


EH: So equity focus, multilingual and digital? How digital are these tools? 


CM: They’re very digital, right? And so we’re very mindful that not everybody also has access to a digital, you know, so you know, broadband or internet. So that’s why we work with organizations and TA providers that we deploy, you know, across the country. So, yeah, very easily accessible on the Internet. 


EH: The last question I have is this: what actions or outcomes are you hoping to achieve here at the Cities Summit of the Americas? But you could also just tell me anything else you want to tell me. So as your closing remarks. 


CM: Yeah, well, actually I’m hoping to really meet with a lot of the different mayors from Latin America and the Americas so we can exchange and really learn from each other and how they approach resiliency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their own countries and their own cities, and compare notes. And because, you know, there’s always an amazing amount of time and opportunity to improve. So more than the work that we are building on here.


So that’s what I’m hoping to do and also to share the wonderful work that HUD is doing under the leadership of our Secretary, under the direction of the Administration. President Biden has been very, very diligent about this, and we’re taking it seriously and implementing that mission. 


EH: Do you have anything else? No. Thank you for inviting us and being part of this segment. Our pleasure. We’re happy to be here. Yeah. Yeah. Excellent. Thank you.

When we are going into communities, [the mission] is to build resilient, long term, affordable housing. And that could be single family house residences or multifamily and making sure that we’re going above and beyond what’s in the code.

Learn about HUD’s work to advance housing resilience, including the Proposed Flood Risk Management Standard and the Citizen Participation and Equitable Engagement Toolkit which Claudia Monterrosa describes in the discussion, as well as the Green and Resilient Retrofit Program being advanced by President Biden’s Administration.

Want to strengthen your country's housing stock?

Read the Build Change Guide to Resilient Housing or email us at advocacy@buildchange.org to begin your journey.