March 2, 2020

Democratizing Resilience and Disaster Recovery: Centering Vulnerable Communities in Future Disasters 

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In summer 2019, Enterprise’s Northern California market launched the Democratizing Resilience and Disaster Recovery Initiative (DRDR) in response to catastrophic wildfires and the affordable housing crisis in the region. The initiative, led by senior advisor Rich Gross and program fellow Alex Acuña, is centered on the development of an online technical assistance platform to help community organizations, the public sector and philanthropies better center frontline communities in the process of planning for future natural hazard risks. 

Why is Disaster Resilience Important? 

Enterprise’s national experience in disaster recovery has shown that frontline communities, already vulnerable to the lack of affordable housing and economic disparities, are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of natural hazards. They are least involved in the process of planning for natural hazards, have the least resources to prepare, and are least helped in the process of recovery.

Additionally, public agencies and the philanthropic community are largely underprepared and unequipped to address structural inequities within the disaster management framework. Climate change will continue to produce wildfires, and that destructive earthquakes are looming in our future, it is crucial that community organizations, the public sector and philanthropy take more inclusive, equitable and proactive approaches to future disaster events. 

Cultivating Solutions 

Leveraging our technical experience, capital and relationships, the DRDR initiative has three critical goals: 

  • Minimize disaster-induced housing displacement by advancing pre-disaster resilience and maximizing post-disaster preservation and production of housing affordable for very low- to moderate-income Northern Californians
  • Enhance democratic processes through increased inclusive community engagement, data transparency, knowledge-sharing and relationship building 
  • Prepare communities, philanthropy, public sector local and state jurisdictions to seize pre- and post-disaster opportunities to promote racially, economically and environmentally equitable and resilient communities by transforming systems and building power in frontline communities 

A Roadmap to Disaster Resilience 

In the past six months, our team has worked to better understand the challenges faced by our three core constituencies and the potential ways in which our DRDR platform could fill gaps to advance equity. The challenges we have identified – pre- and post-disaster urgency, funding imbalances, complicated processes and programs, a lack of local capacity, limited community engagement practices, interagency tensions and silos and access to information and data – can be addressed through three elements in our platform.

  1. Orientation – Increase awareness about mitigation planning and disaster recovery structures and identify where sectors can best influence processes to advance equity. 
  2. Activation – Provide a centralized clearinghouse of guidance, tools and information to activate platform users. 
  3. Transformation – Advance community voice and vision around resilient, inclusive, and affordable neighborhoods by providing case studies, models, and strategies that build power in frontline communities. 

Informed by our advisory board of key leaders within these sectors, we hope that the DRDR Initiative will equip our partners with the necessary tools to ensure future communities hit by natural hazards come out of the storm more affordable, inclusive, engaged and resilient. 

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