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Comprehensive housing construction program design for disaster recovery

By Dennis Morazan
Mar 23, 2020
4 MIN. READ
Tips and best practices from the field
Anyone involved in construction or DIY home repair is familiar with the saying “measure twice, cut once.” The idea is that planning and measuring carefully ahead of time will save you time, money, and headaches before you begin implementing your project. 

Imagine a construction project on a large scale—say rebuilding hundreds or thousands of houses after a major natural disaster—and you can understand why planning is such an important part of the process.

For grantees receiving CDBG-DR funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), comprehensive program design is an important methodology to embrace before you begin rebuilding your housing stock after a natural disaster. 

The five pillars of comprehensive program design


A comprehensive program design details the process and steps the grantee will take to abide by HUD’s FR Notice Requirements and other cross-cutting federal regulations. Grantees should focus on efficiency, consistency, cost control, quality, and fraud mitigation as you incorporate damage assessments, construction management, and inspections into your plan. 

Efficiency: To be efficient, grantees should first develop policies that conform to HUD and state law requirements. Then you can meet with vendors, municipalities of each region, and other governing agencies in order to understand their requirements. 

Consistency: Grantees should develop step-by-step job aides and standard operating procedures for conformity and standardization. These tools will assist the implementers with how to do each job consistently.

Cost control: Developing thresholds for construction (e.g., 65k cap for rehabilitation, 150k for reconstruction, etc.) will help grantees not only manage the budget, but also plan and prepare for potential risks. Getting independent cost estimates that incorporate all known requirements is not only a HUD requirement, but can also help cut down on costly change orders.

Quality: Grantees should adopt quality construction standards. This includes HUD’s basic housing quality standards, plus green building standards like ENERGY STAR® and resilience standards such as FORTIFIED Home™.

Fraud mitigation: Progress inspections, as well as submitting drawings for consideration and review, should be part of grantees’ QA/QC process. Mechanisms should also be put in place to hold vendors and builders accountable, such as liquidated damages and recovery of funds.

Once all these elements are incorporated, HUD then has to approve the grantees’ plan. While waiting for action plan approval, which can take anywhere from 2–6 months, grantees should continue to design the program.

The cost of poor upfront planning


Grantees that fail to invest in comprehensive program design can lose big in the end—and even a small oversight can result in major losses. To illustrate this point, let’s say you’re a designing a reconstruction program and your state staff fails to do the research that would have revealed that the local municipality has a more stringent building code than the state or HUD (which is often the case). 

This oversight causes you to calculate an inaccurate composite price of building reconstruction per square foot, which leads to scope creep through massive change orders. This would be a huge problem if there are grant funding caps in place. In this case, a program would have unfinished and unlivable construction projects that would force the homeowner to fund the remainder of the project or seek help from volunteer organizations. Your state might end up spending at least double its original project budget if you don’t get this cleared up soon—which is not easy to do. Without comprehensive program design, housing programs will experience delays, inconsistencies, and wasted time and money.  

How to avoid common program design pitfalls

 
The natural disaster recovery process is complex and fraught with challenges from end to end. But you can set yourself up for success by following three basic rules: 

Involve all stakeholders. As the above example shows, you can avoid costs down the line by bringing everyone to the table from the start. There are many stakeholders: program staff, consultants, vendors, governing agencies, homeowners/applicants, and local faith-based or other volunteer organizations. Having these diverse voices in the room can be difficult during the initial planning stages—as each group has its own perspective and agenda—but your effort will be rewarded. You’ll have confidence that your program design has addressed every potential problem from every stakeholder group.

Put experienced staff on the job. Remember that comprehensive program design is an upfront investment that will likely save you time, money, and headaches down the road. Problems almost always cost a great deal more to fix once a project is underway, so it makes sense to invest in experienced program designers who know how to steer a successful path.

Get advice from other grantees. If you haven’t implemented a successful housing recovery plan before, reach out to other grantees who have walked in your shoes. Ask for their best advice, tools, techniques, and lessons learned. Grantees don’t often talk to their counterparts in other states, but they could learn so much from others who’ve been through the process. Most states are usually happy to provide internal processes, procedures, and pricing information that aren’t publicly available.

Time and again, we’ve seen construction and inspection programs be successful when they follow these rules. By encouraging clients to envision possible risk factors—and develop contingency plans to deal with them ahead of time—we provide a framework within which a grantee’s productivity is maximized and resources are not wasted. 
By Dennis Morazan

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