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Resiliency at Work

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Summer 2022   



Resiliency at Work


      • The Community Adaptation Program in New Orleans has helped homeowners install green infrastructure features to reduce flooding in their yards and increase the city's overall capacity to collect and store stormwater.
      • The city of Norfolk, Virginia, is reducing environmental inequities by deconcentrating poverty in the St. Paul's Area and transforming it into a climate resilient community.
      • After being devasted by the Camp Fire, the town of Paradise, California, is rebuilding with a focus on strengthening visible and invisible infrastructure, resilient housing, evacuation routes, and early warning systems.

As climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent, states and localities are developing solutions to make housing and infrastructure more resilient to risks and costs. These resilience efforts are also addressing environmental inequity and remediating the historical disadvantages that frequently manifest themselves in the damage, deaths, and long-term suffering that disasters cause. Several recent mitigation and abatement initiatives by communities that have experienced major disasters offer useful lessons. In response to Hurricane Isaac in 2012, the city of New Orleans created the Gentilly Resilience District, which, in addition to implementing large-scale grey and green infrastructure projects, features a retrofit assistance program for homeowners to construct flood risk-reduction systems on their properties. The frequent flooding in Norfolk, Virginia, required implementing projects that manage stormwater and address environmental justice concerns, especially in areas where low-income and minority residents have been disproportionately affected. Devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire, the town of Paradise, California, has several public and private efforts underway to increase resilience to wildfires, including developing safer evacuation routes and creating innovative building designs that use noncombustible materials. Funding from various HUD programs, including the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), and Choice Neighborhoods Implementation (CNI) grants, helped realize many of the resilience projects in these communities.

New Orleans Adapts to a Changing Environment

New Orleans' location along the Gulf of Mexico leaves the city more vulnerable to the effects of climate change-related flooding than any other city in the nation.1 This risk is unevenly distributed across New Orleans — major flooding and storm damage disproportionately affect the low-income households and people of color who predominantly live in lowlying areas, creating an environmental justice issue.2 Pumps and canals that drained land for development in the early 1900s enabled low-income, African-American residents to move into single-family homes in areas that were affordable because of their low-lying topography. At the same time, inhabiting such areas placed these groups at risk of sinking soil and chronic flooding. The city's century-old drainage system underscores how early efforts to build single-purpose infrastructure such as canals and walls work against the area's ecology rather than in concert with it.3 In addition to building stronger storm walls, New Orleans is also reducing flooding impacts by embracing its natural landscape and using it to develop green infrastructure projects.4

In the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and numerous prior hurricanes, the city of New Orleans sought to reimagine its recovery efforts with a renewed focus on resiliency. In particular, the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, unveiled in 2013, guides the city's longterm vision for managing stormwater while also ensuring that residents and businesses thrive.5 The plan recommends adding native vegetation and wetlands to help absorb stormwater naturally.6 In 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation selected New Orleans for the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, which spurred discussions with other member cities to share best practices and resources.7 Participation in the 100RC network led New Orleans to become the first city in the world to develop a comprehensive resilience strategy, which was unveiled in 2015.8 The city also created the Mayor's Office of Resilience and Sustainability in 2015 to serve as a hub for implementing adaptation initiatives.9

Leveraging Recovery Funding

In 2016, HUD awarded New Orleans $141.3 million in NDRC funding to repair lingering damage from Hurricane Isaac. This funding was the secondlargest award among the 13 grantees in that allocation round. The city's NDRC application proposed the creation of the Gentilly Resilience District (GRD), the first of its kind in New Orleans.10 Located just north of downtown New Orleans, Gentilly is bordered on the north by Lake Pontchartrain and on the east and west by canals, making the neighborhood particularly prone to flooding.11 According to the 2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, approximately 76 percent of Gentilly residents are African-American. Approximately 43 percent of Gentilly households earn less than $35,000 per year, and 14 percent of families in Gentilly live below the federal poverty level. Approximately 60 percent of Gentilly households are homeowners. The area's demographics and heightened environmental risks require policymakers and stakeholders to pay close attention to developing equitable solutions.12

Photo of a one-story brick home and front yard with gravel, plants, and pine straw.
Along with permeable materials such as gravel, many homeowners participating in New Orleans' Community Adaptation Program have added trees, plants, and pine straw to help absorb rain. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority

According to Seth Knudsen, director of real estate development and planning at the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), the NDRC award has been instrumental in leveraging Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to finance several large-scale green infrastructure improvements in the GRD. For example, the Mirabeau Water Garden is a 25-acre site that will have the capacity to store up to 10 million gallons of stormwater once complete.13 In addition, NORA's past work on vacant lots, which tend to be located in low-lying, flood-prone areas, strengthened the city's NDRC application, said Knudsen.14 As of May 2022, the city had developed green infrastructure projects on 45 vacant NORA lots as part of the Pontilly Neighborhood Stormwater Network within the neighborhoods of Pontchartrain Park and Gentilly Woods. In addition, the city has invested more than $1 million in CDBG-DR funds to transform 42 other vacant lots into rain gardens, detention basins, and passive green space that serve as both stormwater management systems and public amenities.15 Although the city allocated the bulk of the NDRC funding to large projects in the GRD that improve parks, streets, open spaces, and vacant lots, the city also works with homeowners through NORA to manage stormwater in residential neighborhoods.16

Community Adaptation Program

Because traditional grey infrastructure has limited capacity, New Orleans has also adopted another approach to expanding stormwater storage: capturing rainfall in residential neighborhoods. NORA received an initial allocation of $5.9 million in NDRC funds to implement the Community Adaptation Program (CAP), which provides up to $25,000 to low- to moderate-income homeowners within the GRD for stormwater management interventions.17 According to Knudsen, CAP has three main goals: educating the public about green infrastructure, storing stormwater, and developing a green infrastructure workforce and industry.18

Following an extensive outreach campaign to educate homeowners about CAP and green infrastructure strategies such as rain barrels, stormwater planter boxes, infiltration trenches, and permeable paving systems, NORA received approximately 180 applications for the program in summer 2018.19 Upon written notice of application approval, NORA and the homeowner proceed to the environmental review phase. The homeowner and contractor then sign an agreement detailing the timeline and responsibilities of each party and discuss the best options for the property, after which the contractor proceeds with the installation.20 NORA requires contractors to offer a 1-year warranty on all labor and materials except for permeable paving systems, which have a 2-year warranty. The timeline from application to installation currently ranges from 3 to 6 months depending on how quickly homeowners complete the required documentation and the availability of the selected contractor. The completion timeline also depends on homeowners' ability to schedule appointments with designers and finalize plans. NORA exercises flexibility in scheduling for homeowners with extensive family responsibilities, health challenges, or multiple jobs. This process empowers homeowners to be decisionmakers and places them in the driver's seat of resilience.21

Once the work is complete, residents receive a manual explaining how to maintain the green design elements. Although homeowners are required to maintain the green infrastructure for only 5 years, NORA hopes that the installations will be maintained in perpetuity. NORA aims for the green infrastructure elements to "become part of the homeowner's yard and landscape and be maintained just the way they would cut the grass or do other types of yard maintenance."22 NORA returns to the properties periodically to monitor the green infrastructure throughout the 5-year period.23

NORA also coordinates with the city to run CAP's workforce development program, which recruits contractors to install green infrastructure and train other installers to help maintain the projects. As Knudsen explained, "It does not do us a whole lot of good to install all of these things that are both publicly and privately owned across the city without a workforce and cohort of small businesses to realize the economic benefits of the installation… [and] to help us in the future with the maintenance for these types of systems."24

Measuring Impact

The CAP-funded improvements to homeowners' properties contribute to the city's overall capacity to collect and store stormwater. Knudsen indicated that the city's grey infrastructure system can pump a half-inch of rainfall per hour, and the network of pipes can store a half-inch. Each CAP project is designed to detain roughly 3,000 to 3,500 gallons of water. As of May 2022, CAP had installed green infrastructure on 173 properties and plans to reach its goal of nearly 200 properties by fall 2022. Knudsen said, "It would be ideal if each property in the city could manage the first inch of water on its own before we actually get to the pumping system…[which would] double the first-hour capacity of the stormwater management system." A $25,000 investment in green infrastructure on residential property through CAP captures, on average, more than the first inch of rainfall. Once complete, the CAP projects collectively will be able to detain up to 700,000 gallons of stormwater. Because of the program's success and the widespread interest it has generated in Gentilly, NORA is actively collaborating with the city to allocate additional NDRC funds to CAP and expand the program to finance green infrastructure projects on more residential properties.25

Although most of the NDRC funds went toward larger projects in the city, said Knudsen, "CAP may be the most meaningful project and have the greatest impact because of its direct engagement with homeowners" and the program's ability to bring green infrastructure directly to the neighborhoods where people live. One of the most significant benefits of the green infrastructure, according to Knudsen, is psychological. People learn to understand and appreciate the value of investing in the resilience of their homes and neighborhoods. In addition, these projects contribute to placemaking and pride among residents who know that their properties are better suited to withstand the challenges of climate change.26

Photo of a grass and vegetation-covered vacant lot with a sidewalk in the foreground and houses in the background.
The city of New Orleans has transformed several vacant lots into detention basins and rain gardens with vegetation that can retain stormwater before it overwhelms pumps. Photo courtesy of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority

Managing Expectations

NORA strives to set appropriate expectations among homeowners about CAP's capabilities. Homeowners may expect the green infrastructure interventions in their yards to prevent all flooding, whereas the interventions actually are designed to "add some amount of storage that will change the way stormwater is handled on their property," Knudsen explained. Some yards improved through CAP still flooded following heavy rainfall but nevertheless managed to capture approximately 3,000 gallons of stormwater. Homeowners must obtain flood insurance to qualify for CAP, and they must keep the policy active during the compliance period. Obtaining flood insurance serves as "an acknowledgment that any improvements made through our program will not be able to prevent flooding in all circumstances," Knudsen said. At the same time, the increased cost of premiums under Risk Rating 2.0, the National Flood Insurance Program's new pricing methodology, can be challenging for many low- to moderate-income households and seniors with fixed incomes.27

In addition, NORA has identified a need for an economic impact analysis to quantify the benefit of green infrastructure investments for homeowners and neighborhoods. Knudsen observed that it is difficult to calculate the individual and combined economic value of capturing approximately 3,000 gallons of water per property over the lifetime of the improvements. According to Knudsen, capturing just an additional half-inch of stormwater could have "a monumental impact" on the degree of damage to a particular home or community. For example, if the CAP improvements decrease water levels from 5 inches to 4 inches, then "we're actively decreasing the amount of standing water, … and there's probably some massive economic benefit that's accruing to property owners in that area," Knudsen stated.28

Advancing Resilience and Environmental Equity in Norfolk

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Hampton Roads region in Virginia ranks second only to New Orleans in its risk of harm from sea level rise.29 Norfolk, a port city and hub of the Hampton Roads region, has sustained the highest rate of sea level rise on the east coast since 1930. With 144 miles of shoreline and an established network of waterways, the city is especially vulnerable. Norfolk's economic health relies heavily on its port, a vital asset that generates jobs for the region and attracts new residents and businesses. Over the past few decades, however, the city's waterfront location has become a major weakness because of an increase in major storms, land subsidence due to sea level rise, and flooding. Recurrent storms have disrupted the city, requiring action plans that address the natural, social, and economic risks of environmental vulnerability.30

In recent years, Norfolk has developed climate resilience strategies that focus on environmental justice in communities that have been disproportionately affected by severe weather. In 2013, the Rockefeller Foundation selected Norfolk for the 100RC network, which supported the development of a multipronged resilience strategy to improve grey and green infrastructure.31 The strategy focuses on advancing initiatives that enhance citizen connectivity and access to information and technology, deconcentrate poverty, and improve social cohesion.32 The resilience strategy has also complemented other planning processes that are guiding sustainable growth in the city such as a green infrastructure plan and plaNorfolk2030, Norfolk's General Plan. A consistent theme in these planning documents is addressing the needs of Norfolk communities that are simultaneously experiencing economic, social, and environmental distress.33 The St. Paul's Area of Norfolk is one example of such a community.

The St. Paul's Area not only has been disconnected from the economic opportunities of the adjacent downtown but also has experienced the negative effects of severe weather as well as the deterioration of its housing stock and neighborhood infrastructure.34 According to the 2012–2016 American Community Survey 5-year estimates, the average income of neighborhood residents is less than $30,000, and more than 50 percent of residents in the area, which is more than 90 percent African-American, live below the federal poverty level. In addition, the St. Paul's Area has the region's highest concentration of public housing. Numerous units fall within a 100-year floodplain and have experienced severe flooding because of their location on top of the filled-in Newton Creek.35 Flooding in the St. Paul's Area has become so intense that it occasionally has hindered children's access to school.36 According to Susan Perry, director of Norfolk's Department of Housing and Community Development, this flooding was one of the primary concerns residents articulated during community engagement activities.37 Following visioning sessions, Norfolk initiated the St. Paul's Area Transformation Project, which advances its resilience goals and helps realize Norfolk's commitment to environmental equity.38

A low-angle aerial view of parking lots, roads, and several blocks of two- and three-story buildings.
New roads raised above the floodplain around the future site of the new Tidewater Gardens will improve connectivity between the St. Paul's Area and downtown Norfolk. Photo courtesy of City of Norfolk

A Resilient Vision for the St. Paul's Area

Plans for the St. Paul's Area materialized thanks to a $250,000 HUD Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Planning grant awarded in 2011. The grant funded an extensive community participation process involving residents and officials from both the city and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.39 This process laid the groundwork for the 2014 Transformation Plan, which focuses on Tidewater Gardens, the first of the three public housing communities selected for redevelopment and the one most at risk of severe flooding. The city successfully articulated its plan for the St. Paul's Area to become a mixed-use, mixed-income, and climate-resilient community in its application for a $30 million CNI grant awarded in 2019.40

The St. Paul's Area Transformation Project advances the third goal of the city's resilience strategy to connect communities, deconcentrate poverty, and strengthen neighborhoods.41 The project exemplifies Norfolk's commitment to environmental justice through resilient features that protect residents from environmental harm, including the Blue/Greenway, a resilient park that will also serve as a valuable community asset.42 The comprehensive redevelopment of the Tidewater Gardens public housing community advances environmental equity by making the area's housing, roads, public utilities, and community amenities more sustainable.43

Tidewater Gardens

Built in 1955, the 618 units of Tidewater Gardens, encompassing 44 acres, have substantially deteriorated, and these negative physical conditions compound the residents' distressed economic situation.44 The 714 new housing units called for in the plan — which include 260 replacement, 238 affordable, and 216 market-rate units — will be relocated outside of and/or elevated above the floodplain, away from the historic but flood-prone creek beds.45 The new units will be environmentally sustainable with features that meet the criteria for certification by Enterprise Green Communities, including ENERGY STAR® appliances; floodproof designs that require exit doors and central heating and air equipment to be installed above flood elevations; and adequate backup generators and water systems.46

The city of Norfolk will transform a portion of the former Tidewater Gardens site into the Blue/Greenway, a 26-acre resilient park that will include active and passive green spaces intended to manage stormwater runoff through constructed wetlands.47 The Blue/Greenway will add more than 10.6 million cubic feet of stormwater storage, and the addition of a wide bioswale and native plants will help absorb excess rainfall and tidal waters. The city will uncover the former creek and restore it as the main water channel to return the watershed to its natural state.48 The Blue/Greenway will be designed around this central water channel and several interconnected basins. Wet ponds and dry detention areas along the central water channel will offer more stormwater storage capacity.49 Trails in the Blue/Greenway will connect the park to the Elizabeth River Trail and the waterfront as well as other parks where residents can enjoy a "beautiful recreational amenity," according to Perry.50 These spaces will also include features that Tidewater Gardens residents requested, such as learning, relaxation, and family activity spaces along with art that captures the community's rich history.51 Some pedestrian pathways will be constructed above stormwater berms, and large meadows will serve as both recreation spaces and stormwater detention.52

Front view of a one-story house with front yard and driveway.
House designs such as the one above from the Rebuild Paradise Foundation's floor plan library use noncombustible building materials and follow local guidelines for defensible space surrounding the lot. Photo courtesy of Rebuild Paradise Foundation

In addition to housing, the St. Paul's Area Transformation Project provides critically needed infrastructure improvements intended to connect residents to additional economic opportunities. St. Paul's Boulevard is a major north-south corridor that has long acted as a barrier to downtown's economic opportunity, neighborhoods, resources, and amenities because few streets connect it to St. Paul's Area.53 With the support of a $14.4 million U.S. Department of Transportation Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant, the city will upgrade the entire street network of Tidewater Gardens to enhance eastwest connections on roads that are multimodal, raised above the floodplain, and designed around historic trees to aid stormwater management. The plan calls for the realignment of Church Street, a historic commercial corridor for the area's African-American community, to restore its former status as a vibrant, mixed-use hub of activity.54 The realignment of the street grid, the phased housing redevelopment, and the construction of the Blue/Greenway are happening concurrently and are slated for completion by 2025.55

People First

The existing residents of Tidewater Gardens at the time of the redevelopment may return to St. Paul's Area by accepting a direct replacement unit onsite, for which they receive preference for 5 years; exercising the right of first refusal for the onsite affordable units and using their housing choice vouchers; or moving into replacement units that will be built in offsite private developments that will have project-based rental assistance.56 According to Perry, early data from the redevelopment process indicate that nearly 55 percent of Tidewater Gardens residents would like to return to the new community and that 85 percent of relocated residents, as of June 2022, have moved to neighborhoods with a poverty rate of less than 40 percent.57

Residents expressed concerns about disruptions posed by relocation during the redevelopment of Tidewater Gardens.58 In response, the city crafted a People First initiative offering intensive supportive services for all public housing residents. An assigned case manager assists Tidewater Gardens residents with relocation, education, health, employment, financial wellness, and other services. To finance People First, Norfolk created a dedicated, citywide tax increase that raises approximately $3.5 million annually to support Tidewater Gardens residents. People First will provide these services for 5 years after residents relocate to ensure that they are stable and thriving.59 Thus far, the People First initiative is yielding positive outcomes, with 73 percent of residents employed (47% at baseline) and resident annual income increasing by more than $8,000. As of July 2022, 91 percent of Tidewater Gardens residents had health insurance and had access to services to manage their chronic health conditions. The initiative focuses on all members of the household and connects adults and children with high-quality educational opportunities and early learning programs, creating resilient families of the future.60

Paradise, California, Recovers From Wildfires

Climate change not only contributes to rising sea levels but also exacerbates the risk and severity of wildfires, especially in drought-stricken areas.61 Located in northern California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the town of Paradise is recovering from the November 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed 80 percent of the town, including nearly 90 percent of its single-family detached homes and more than 70 percent of its multifamily attached units. Years of drought and high temperatures have heightened the region's risk of wildfires. Estimates suggest that 18 million trees died in California in 2018, increasing fuel load and making the forests even more prone to fires. Roughly 90 percent of Paradise residents live in areas classified as Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones by California's Office of the State Fire Marshal. The Camp Fire displaced approximately 40,000 people and caused the town's population to plunge by 82 percent. Seniors were especially likely to relocate at least 30 miles away from Paradise.62 Nearly 40 percent of the population in the fire-affected areas of Butte County, which includes Paradise, consisted of low- to moderate-income households.63 The town's Long-Term Community Recovery Plan presents best practices for fire resilience and outlines several strategies, including improving evacuation routes and clearing trees to improve safety.64 Community organizations, the state, and the town of Paradise have also offered residents financial and technical support to help them return and rebuild their homes.

Long-Term Community Recovery Plan

After a series of community listening sessions and public engagement activities, the Paradise Town Council adopted the Long-Term Community Recovery Plan in 2019, which outlines 39 initiatives to improve safety and resilience to wildfires.65 According to Kate Anderson, housing program manager in the town's Community Development Department, funding constraints allow some projects to move faster than others, but the town is learning which projects will best mitigate future disasters.66

Residents and local officials expressed the need to widen roads as well as pedestrian and bicycle pathways to accommodate emergency vehicles during an evacuation.67 The town aims to repair and widen 93 miles of damaged roads to ease traffic flow and facilitate rapid evacuations. Construction is already underway and is slated for completion in 2025.68 In March 2022, the town completed the Pentz Road Safe Routes to School project, which added turn lanes and a wide path for pedestrians and bicyclists along a high-traffic corridor that previously was unsafe for area elementary school students walking to and from school. In addition to improved walkability, the new sidewalk serves as an evacuation route.69 The project also undergrounded all utility lines and removed overhead cables and utility poles, thereby reducing fire hazards along the street.70 Wooden utility poles are prone to falling in high winds, which can cause them to spark and cause fires. To eliminate this risk, the town is working with local utility companies to place all utility lines underground by 2025.71 One month after the Camp Fire, the town also added fire-resistant concrete pipes to replace damaged pipes that caused roadways to cave in. By July 2021, the town had removed more than 88,000 trees that could obstruct roads and evacuation routes if they caught on fire.72

Photo of a structure with semi-circular roofline and several windows and a door on the front.
With a fully noncombustible design that uses steel for framing, joists, and roofing, Q Cabins provide a fire-safe alternative to traditional stick-built homes. Photo courtesy of Rebuild Paradise Foundation

Programs Help Property Owners Rebuild

The long-term recovery plan indicates that the town will seek funding to help homeowners and property owners construct housing using fire-resistant materials.73 Federal and state funding has been a critical source of aid. In January 2020, the state of California received more than $1 billion in CDBG-DR funds, of which $55.9 million was allocated to Paradise. The town used the funds to provide developers at least $250,000 in deferred interest loans to rebuild multifamily housing for displaced seniors, low- to moderate-income families, and people with disabilities.74 The state also allocated more than $205 million in CDBG-DR funds to the California Owner- Occupied Housing Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (OOR) program, which provides grants of up to $200,000 to homeowners affected by the 2017 and 2018 fires. The CDBG-DR funding also covers infrastructure development, and, according Anderson, the state has received many funding requests for infrastructure projects from jurisdictions both inside and outside the bounds of the burn scar.75 Since 1995, Paradise has administered its own OOR program supported by HUD HOME and CDBG program funding and state redevelopment agency and CalHome funding. In 2020, Paradise received $23.5 million in CalHome Disaster Assistance funds for its OOR program to issue low-interest, deferred loans of up to $150,000 for residents to rehabilitate and reconstruct their homes. As of May 2022, the town's OOR program had helped residents build 15 homes and begin construction on 20 more. "Ultimately, we hope that the combined [CDBG-DR and CalHome] funding will help numerous households return home to Paradise and help our community with our infrastructure, economic, workforce, and mitigation needs," Anderson stated.76

Another source of funding is the Rebuild Paradise Foundation, a local nonprofit formed in response to the Camp Fire, which has disbursed $1.5 million to eligible homeowners through two grant programs as of May 2022.77 The Missing Middle Grant reimburses residents up to $5,000 for preconstruction land surveys, water connections, and architecture and engineering costs, which typically are not covered by insurance. To be reimbursed, residents must obtain a building permit and provide receipts. Because nearly half of the septic tanks in Paradise have been damaged, the Rebuild Paradise Foundation offers a Septic Infrastructure Grant that provides homeowners with up to $7,500 to repair or replace septic systems.78 Although the funding is limited to preconstruction costs, the foundation instructs residents on finding contractors.79

One local company, Design Horizons, is on the ground in Paradise constructing noncombustible, prefabricated housing based on its model Q Cabin. Traditional stick-built homes are easily engulfed in flames through embers that seep through window frames and between roof shingles; the Q Cabin, however, lacks these access points.80 The 100 percent noncombustible Q Cabin uses steel for the studs, floor joists, roof, and interior framing, along with several layers of noncombustible siding and concrete composite sheathing encapsulating the building envelope.81 Because of its prefabricated design, a typical Q Cabin costs less than $275 per square foot and can be constructed much faster than stick-built homes.82 Once the foundation is set, a Q Cabin can be constructed in 7 days.83 Design Horizons meets with homeowners to create the home on a computer, using 3D modeling software to incorporate their preferences for layout, finishes, and add-on features such as decks, patios, and garages. Design Horizons ensures that the styles and floorplans comply with local standards, and the company can help homeowners obtain building permits to begin construction.84 As of June 2022, at least two Q Cabins have been built in Paradise.85

The Rebuild Paradise Foundation's floor plan library allows residents to choose from several master-planned designs that comply with the local wildland-urban interface (WUI) code, a standard building practice that establishes requirements for setbacks, density, vegetation, and building materials in areas at risk of wildfire.86 The designs incorporate noncombustible materials for roofing and gutters, and one plan uses insulated concrete for additional fire protection. Although the plans are free to access online, homeowners must pay for a site plan specific to their property's topography and other unique features.87 These floor plans save residents not only time but also $5,000 to $10,000 in design costs, noted Jen Goodlin, executive director of the Rebuild Paradise Foundation. As of May 2022, more than 80 properties had permits based on the designs, and roughly half of these were either complete or nearing completion. As of May 2022, an additional 130 homeowners were in the process of obtaining a permit and awaiting site plans.88

The various approaches and programs to help Paradise property owners rebuild their housing have helped speed construction. Goodlin reported that, as of May 2022, the town had rebuilt 23 percent of its original housing stock, totaling 1,358 single-family homes and 263 multifamily units, with 2,000 more building permit applications for single-family homes in the pipeline.89

Looking Ahead

As more funding becomes available, Paradise will implement an early warning system incorporating mobile alerts and sirens to notify residents of hazardous events. Paradise will also increase the walkability of its downtown and add defensible space and fire breaks between roads and vegetation. In addition, upcoming guidelines will stipulate setbacks for trees to further reduce roadway hazards during an evacuation.90 The state of California is in the process of determining the return on investment for projects that might produce strong outcomes in economic and workforce development.91 As outlined in the long-term recovery plan, the town will offer residents and property owners guidance on choosing local builders and contractors knowledgeable in green building design techniques. The town intends to partner with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program to establish standards for green building design in fire hazard communities. Additional efforts are underway to create incentives for town residents, contractors, builders, and developers to promote fire-resistant construction that exceeds WUI requirements.92

A Resilient Future

Although considerable work remains, the projects in New Orleans, Norfolk, and Paradise serve as strong examples of local rebuilding efforts to reduce climate change risks and incorporating resilience strategies into the existing built environment. The HUD funding allocated to these communities has been vital for launching these projects. New Orleans directed most of the HUD NDRC funding in the GRD to large infrastructure projects, but CAP makes the concept of green infrastructure more tangible because residents see its positive impact in yards throughout the neighborhood. NORA's direct engagement with residents enrolled in CAP ensures the long-term maintenance of the green infrastructure features installed on homeowners' properties and residents' willingness to share the benefits of stormwater management with others.93 In Norfolk, the St. Paul's Area Transformation Project — guided by Norfolk's resilience strategy — reconnects public housing residents to the city's downtown and, through innovative stormwater management techniques, advances environmental equity by improving infrastructure and affordable housing.94 Paradise's Long-Term Community Recovery Plan underpins its multifaceted approach to fire resilience through innovative building designs and strengthened visible and invisible infrastructure. Local initiatives offering technical and financial support are rejuvenating Paradise and supporting steady repopulation, making it the fastest growing town in the state.95 As the impacts of climate change continue to be felt worldwide, adapting to and mitigating climate change risks are imperative for a resilient future. Comprehensive, thoughtful local strategies that engage community residents with an eye to addressing vulnerabilities are essential to achieving that future.

  1. City of New Orleans. 2017. "Climate Action for a Resilient New Orleans," 8.
  2. City of New Orleans. 2014. "Exhibit A: Executive Summary City of New Orleans," 28.
  3. Ibid, 25.
  4. The American Society of Landscape Architects. n.d. "Gentilly Community Adaptation Program"; City of New Orleans. 2010. "A Plan for the 21st Century, Chapter 12: Adapt to Thrive: Environmental Steward- ship, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Climate Change," 1; Email correspondence with Seth Knudsen, 12 July 2022.
  5. City of New Orleans. 2015. "Resilient New Orleans: Strategic actions to shape our future city," 22-3; Waggonner & Ball Architects. 2013. "Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan," 7.
  6. Waggonner & Ball Architects, 78-9.
  7. City of New Orleans 2014, 9; City of New Orleans 2015, 24.
  8. City of New Orleans 2015, 24; City of New Orleans 2017, 8.
  9. City of New Orleans 2014, 10.
  10. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2020. "National Disaster Resilience"; City of New Orleans 2014, 24; 28; City of New Orleans. 2020. "National Disaster Resilience: Proposed Substantial Amendment 1, Proposed Adjustments and Reallocation," 7.
  11. City of New Orleans 2014, 38.
  12. U.S. Census Bureau. 2019. "2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates" ( Accessed 18 July 2022; City of New Orleans 2014, 39.
  13. Interview with Seth Knudsen; City of New Orleans. 2018. "Mirabeau Water Garden"; City of New Orleans. 2021. "Mirabeau Water Garden Drainage Improvements and Green Infrastructure Project."
  14. Interview with Seth Knudsen, 25 May 2022; City of New Orleans 2014, 21.
  15. Interview with Seth Knudsen, 25 May 2022.
  16. City of New Orleans. 2017. "Mirabeau Water Garden Project."
  17. Interview with Seth Knudsen; The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. "Community Adaptation Program" ( Accessed 1 June 2022; The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. 2018. "Community Adaptation Program 1-pager."
  18. Interview with Seth Knudsen.
  19. Ibid.
  20. The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. n.d. "Community Adaptation Program, Project Flow Chart."
  21. Interview with Seth Knudsen.
  22. Ibid.
  23. "Community Adaptation Program, Project Flow Chart."
  24. Interview with Seth Knudsen; The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority 2018.
  25. Interview with Seth Knudsen.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid; Email correspondence with Seth Knudsen, 26 May 2022; Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Risk Rating 2.0: Equity in Action" ( Accessed 19 July 2022.
  28. Interview with Seth Knudsen.
  29. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Hampton Roads' Sea Level Rise Adaptation Advances on Multiple Fronts" ( Accessed 8 April 2022.
  30. City of Norfolk. n.d. "Norfolk Resilience Strategy," 14; 18.
  31. City of Norfolk. 2016. "Norfolk Vision 2100," 2; "Norfolk Resilience Strategy," 28.
  32. "Norfolk Resilience Strategy," 27.
  33. City of Norfolk. 2018. "Choice Neighborhoods FY2018 Implementation Grant Tidewater Gardens/St. Paul's Area," 2; City of Norfolk. 2013. "PlaNorfolk 2030"; City of Norfolk. 2018. "Green Infrastructure Plan for Norfolk: Building Resilient Communities"; VHB. 2020. "St. Paul's Area/Tidewater Gardens Choice Neighborhood Implementation (CNI), Environmental Assessment," 60.
  34. City of Norfolk 2018, 29.
  35. City of Norfolk 2018, 2; 29-30; 32-3; 66; City of Norfolk. "St. Paul's Blue/Greenway" ( Accessed 1 June 2022.
  36. VHB 2020, 56.
  37. Interview with Susan Perry, 25 May 2022.
  38. St. Paul's Area Transformation. "History of St. Paul's Area" ( Accessed 1 June 2022.
  39. Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority City of Norfolk. 2014. "Extended St. Paul's Area / Tidewater Gardens I Norfolk, Virginia: Transformation Plan," 10; 12.
  40. Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "St. Paul's Area Transformation: Overview and Choice Neighborhood Initiative" ( Accessed 1 June 2022; City of Norfolk 2018, 2; 53; 66; Interview with Susan Perry.
  41. City of Norfolk. "Strategy Implementation Updates" ( Accessed 7 June 2022; St. Paul's Area Transformation. "About" ( Accessed 27 June 2022.
  42. VHB 2020, 10; 55-6.
  43. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2018. "Choice Neighborhoods FY2018 Implementation Grant Award," 4-5.
  44. City of Norfolk 2018, 29; 104.
  45. Email correspondence with Susan Perry, 19 July 2022; City of Norfolk. n.d. "Norfolk, VA CNI Implementation Grant Application – Tidewater Gardens," 102; Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "Overview and Choice Neighborhood Initiative" ( Accessed 1 June 2022.
  46. Interview with Susan Perry; Enterprise Green Communities. 2020. "2020 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria," 10–1; 110–11.
  47. Interview with Susan Perry; City of Norfolk 2018, 102; City of Norfolk, "St. Paul's Blue/Greenway."
  48. Ibid; VHB 2020, 10.
  49. City of Norfolk, "St. Paul's Blue/Greenway."
  50. Interview with Susan Perry; "Norfolk, VA CNI Implementation Grant Application – Tidewater Gardens," 3.
  51. "U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2018. "Choice Neighborhoods FY2018 Implementation Grant Award," 4; Email correspondence with Susan Perry, 19 July 2022.
  52. City of Norfolk, "St. Paul's Blue/Greenway."
  53. Interview with Susan Perry.
  54. Ibid; VHB 2020, 9; "Norfolk, VA CNI Implementation Grant Application – Tidewater Gardens," 3; 67.
  55. Interview with Susan Perry; VHB. 2020; Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. "Housing" ( Accessed 7 June 2022.
  56. Interview with Susan Perry; St. Paul's Area. 2018. "Choice Neighborhood Initiative (CNI) Implementation 2018: Resident Community Meeting Master Plan Vision"; St. Paul's Area Transformation. "Housing" ( Accessed 29 June 2022; St. Paul's Area Transformation. "People First" ( Accessed 29 June 2022.
  57. Interview with Susan Perry; City of Norfolk. 2022. "This Month in St. Paul's."
  58. Correspondence from Susan Perry, 7 June 2022; Interview with Susan Perry.
  59. St. Paul's Area Transformation, "People First"; Email correspondence with Susan Perry, 19 July 2022.
  60. Email correspondence with Susan Perry, 19 July 2022.
  61. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "Wildfires and Climate Change" ( Accessed 9 June 2022.
  62. State of California Department of Housing and Community Development. 2020. "State of California Proposed Action Plan for Disaster Recovery," 2-3; 18-9; 28; Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and Industrial Economics Incorporated. 2021. "Camp Fire Regional Economic Impact Analysis," 19; 41–2; 44.
  63. State of California Department of Housing and Community Development 2020, 53–4.
  64. Adele Peters. 2022 "A Smarter Urban Design Concept for a Town Decimated by Wildfires."
  65. Town of Paradise. 2019. "Long-Term Community Recovery Plan," 14; 19–21.
  66. Email correspondence with Kate Anderson, 31 May 2022.
  67. Town of Paradise 2019, 41–2.
  68. "Town-Wide Road Improvements," Make It Paradise website ( Accessed 7 June 2022.
  69. "Completed Recovery Projects," Make It Paradise website ( Accessed 31 May 2022.
  70. Rick Silva. 2022. "Town, school district celebrate Pentz Road improvements," Paradise Post, 21 May.
  71. Town of Paradise 2019, 41; 54; "Undergrounding of Utilities," Make it Paradise website ( Accessed 7 June 2022.
  72. Make It Paradise, "Completed Recovery Projects."
  73. Town of Paradise 2019, 36.
  74. Town of Paradise. "CDBG-DR Multifamily Housing Program" ( Accessed 31 May 2022; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. n.d. "CDBG-DR Disaster Allocation."
  75. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. "CDBG-DR Disaster Allocation"; Butte 211. "Camp Fire. Rebuilding & Housing Construction" ( Accessed 31 May 2022; Email correspondence with Kate Anderson, 26 May 2022.
  76. Email correspondence with Kate Anderson, 31 May 2022; Economic & Planning Systems, Inc. and Industrial Economics Incorporated 2021, 94.
  77. Interview with Jen Goodlin, 25 May 2022; Rebuild Paradise Foundation. "Who Is Rebuild Paradise?" ( Accessed 7 June 2022.
  78. Rebuild Paradise Foundation. 2021. "Annual Report for 2021," 3; Interview with Jen Goodlin; Rebuild Paradise. "Septic Infrastructure Grant" ( Accessed 27 May 2022.
  79. Interview with Jen Goodlin.
  80. CBS News. 2022. "After the Camp Fire: Rebuilding Paradise," Sunday Morning, 29 May; The Q Cabin Kits. "Why Q Cabin Kits?" ( Accessed 6 June 2022.
  81. Josh Niland. 2021. "One Northern California designer is replenishing housing stock in the region with new, fire-resistant prefabs," Archinect News, 6 August.
  82. The Q Cabin Kits. 2018. "Rebuild Quickly and Affordably with Q Cabins" ( Accessed 6 June 2022.
  83. Niland.
  84. Ibid; The Q Cabin Kits, "Why Q Cabin Kits."
  85. Email correspondence with Jen Goodlin, 8 June 2022.
  86. Rebuild Paradise Foundation. "Residential Floor Plan Library" ( Accessed 27 May 2022; Interview with Jen Goodlin; Planning for Hazards. "Land Use Tool: Wildland-Urban Interface Code (WUI Code)" ( Accessed 1 June 2022.
  87. Interview with Jen Goodlin; Rebuild Paradise Foundation, "Residential Floor Plan Library."
  88. Interview with Jen Goodlin.
  89. Email correspondence with Jen Goodlin, 18 May 2022.
  90. Town of Paradise 2019, 20–41; Interview with Jen Goodlin.
  91. Email correspondence with Kate Anderson, 25 May 2022.
  92. Town of Paradise 2019, 76.
  93. Interview with Seth Knudsen.
  94. The City of Norfolk. "Office of Resilience" ( Accessed 20 July 2022; City of Norfolk. "Goal 3: Advance Initiatives to Connect Communities, Deconcentrate Poverty & Strengthen Neighborhoods" ( Accessed 20 July 2022.
  95. CBS News 2022.



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