As Esnard, because “housing issues are also inextricably intertwined

As forecasts suggest that natural
disasters will continue to increase in frequency, size, and severity
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013), there is a need to better
understand how communities recover from natural disasters and how they can
increase their resilience to future disasters (Arendt & Alesch, 2015;
Quarantelli, 1982; Sapat et al., 2011). Alka Sapat and Ann-Margaret Esnard’s
book, Coming Home After Disaster: Multiple Dimensions of Housing Recovery thus
comes at an ideal time and draws attention to the more limited research topic
of post-disaster housing recovery. Indeed, unlike other topics in the disaster
management field, the literature on housing recovery in a post-disaster setting
has received relatively little empirical and theoretical attention. This is
surprising given that housing issues present some of the most challenging and
complex aspects of disaster recovery (Arendt & Alesch, 2015; Quarantelli,
1982; Sapat et al., 2011). This limited body of knowledge coupled with the
pragmatic importance of understanding how communities can better engage
post-disaster housing issues proves that this edited book will be of great
value to scholars, students, practitioners, and policymakers alike.

 

In Coming Home after Disaster,
Sapat and Esnard along with their 31 contributors do a deft job of
reviewing and synthesizing a rich collection of findings from more than two
decades of empirical and theoretical research on disaster recovery in the
United States and abroad through a holistic, multidisciplinary lens. A diverse
set of expertise is critical, according to Sapat and Esnard, because “housing
issues are also inextricably intertwined with social, economic, and political
considerations” (p. xxix). Capitalizing on this diverse and impressive set of
expertise, this book considers four central themes associated with
post-disaster housing recovery: (1) vulnerability and marginalization, (2)
location, land-use, and land-use planning, (3) the role of government, private,
and nonprofit organizations, and (4) the role of communities in the disaster
recovery process.

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Altogether, this edited book
contains four interrelated sections and 19 chapters. Section I consists of five
chapters that provide the foundation for understanding housing recovery issues
in a post-disaster setting. Indeed, Chapter 1 discusses the key issues and
challenges associated with disaster recovery such as a lack of pre-disaster
recovery planning, implementation capacity, funding as well as inflexible
government programs and the marginalization of poor communities. Chapter 2 explores
how social vulnerability influences disaster recovery and pays particularly
close attention to how marginalized groups (e.g., women, children, elderly, and
low-income minority groups) navigate the post-disaster housing recovery
process.

Building off of the previous two
chapters, Chapter 3 discusses how actions made by governmental organizations
and humanitarian organizations can significantly influence recovery trajectories
and how these actions influence the displacement, return and relocation of
individuals and households. Chapter 4 takes a different turn from the previous
three chapters and explores how post-disaster housing recovery issues are
financed in the United States. This chapter seems particularly relevant to
practitioners and policymakers as the authors discuss in great detail issues
associated with hazard insurance and more particularly the National Flood
Insurance Program (NFIP).  Issues related
to the NFIP have spurred numerous conversations in recent years, as studies
have found that while designed to reduce communities’ risk and exposure to
flooding, the program actually incentivizes settlement in flood-prone areas
(Silvis, 2017). Sapat concludes the first section of this edited book by
discussing the role politics, policy, and governance play in disaster recovery.
The central focus of this chapter is to unpack a key paradox of disaster
recovery in the political sphere. That is, “public policies either reduce
hazard risks and increase community resilience or perpetuate mistakes and
increase vulnerabilities” (p. 67). Considered together, this first section
provides the reader with a strong understanding of the importance and
complexity of disaster recovery in general and housing recovery in particular
and sets the stage for future chapters on these topics.

 

Section II builds off of the key
concepts discussed in Section I and focuses on understanding the complexity of post-disaster
housing recovery specifically in the United States. For example, Chapter 6
presents the results of a comparative case study of two communities in Texas
impacted by Hurricanes Dolly and Ike. The authors found that households
characterized as socially and physically vulnerable have higher levels of
initial damage, fewer and less dependable forms of assistance, and face greater
challenges in using assistance. The authors also found that social and economic
inequities result in slower recovery processes, especially for low-income,
minority households. The main argument made by the authors of this chapter is
that more effective pre-disaster land use and capital investment projects can
reduce vulnerabilities and lead to improved recovery outcomes. Chapter 7
further addresses the inequities in disaster recovery by examining the factors
that influence the availability of affordable housing options in the aftermath
of natural disasters. Specifically, using the 2013 Colorado Floods as the
empirical setting, the authors found that “land availability, the housing market,
government priorities, and the capability, reputations, and commitments of
local agencies” play a role in the decision to rebuild affordable housing
options in the aftermath of a natural disaster (p. 108).

 

Chapter 8 underscores the
importance of strong coordination and collaboration among a variety of
organizations and groups (e.g., government agencies, non-profit organizations,
faith-based organizations, universities, and mental agencies) before, during,
and after the recovery process, using the 2011 Joplin, Missouri Tornados as the
analytical focus. Moving forward, Chapter 9 presents the results of a study
that examined household decisions to rebuild and/repair, wait, or relocate in
the weeks following Hurricane Sandy. Using data gathered from in-person surveys
and a vignette questionnaire, the authors found that housing decisions varied
based on whether individuals were making hypothetical decisions (i.e., their
house was unaffected by the hurricane) or factual decisions (i.e., their house
was affected by the hurricane). The results also revealed that place attachment
and marginal significance of neighborhood recovery influences individuals’
post-disaster housing recovery issues. Chapter 10 concludes Section II and examines
the factors influencing households’ decision to prepare for disasters and
ability to handle sheltering and temporary housing issues in the United States.
Specifically, using data gathered from a national survey of households, the
author found that the presence of a disabled person, limitations associated
with assisted living circumstances, and personal support networks significantly
affect household readiness to deal with post-disaster recovery issues.

 

Section III, which contains
chapters 11 through 14, brings in an international perspective and examines
various facets of housing recovery in a sample of communities around the globe
that were affected by a series of devastating natural disasters. For example,
Chapter 11 provides insight into what sheltering challenges and obstacles
survivors of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake faced in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Using data gathered from in-depth interviews, focus groups, observations and
other secondary documents, the authors found that leadership, social capital,
faith, and adaptive flexibility mechanisms increased Haitians ability to
address shelter-related challenges.

 

Chapter 12 examines structural
improvements to housing units and perceptions of the housing recovery process
in seven rural communities in South India affected by the devastating 2004
Indian Ocean Tsunami. Data gathered from surveys and informal conversations show
that while housing reconstruction and rehabilitation programs have provided
stronger and safer housing units, there were significant differences in
beneficiaries’ perceptions of perceptions of recovery. This finding led the
authors to conclude that involving beneficiaries in the rebuilding process is
an important step to improving perceptions of housing recovery. Chapter 13
presents a related discussion and produces similar findings found in the
previous chapter. Indeed, in studying post-disaster housing after the Wenchuan
earthquake in China, the authors found that the government’s investment in
housing recovery and redevelopment not only expedited the housing recovery
process, but also resulted in significant improvements in the physical
reconstruction and structural safety. However, the authors warn that intensive
government action can inhibit a community’s social recovery and argue that a
more participatory process would have been more beneficial. Chapter 14
concludes the third section and further underscores the importance of embracing
a more a holistic approach to housing recovery. Specifically, using the 2013
Typhoon Yolanda as the empirical setting, the authors argue that post-disaster
housing recovery must not only focus on developing safer, less vulnerable
housing units, but must also focus on developing and sustaining close-knit
communities.

 

The final section of this book outlines
in greater detail the multiple dimensions of post-disaster housing recovery.
Indeed, throughout the pages of this section, the authors show how
post-disaster housing issues are inextricably linked to other salient aspects
of community recovery. Chapter 15, for example, explores how post-disaster
recovery housing reconstruction can either improve or worsen living conditions
of disaster-stricken communities. The authors argue that ill-planned reconstruction
can not only undermine communities’ livelihood, social fabric, governance
structures, household economic conditions, but can also reduce
disaster-stricken communities’ infrastructure efficiency and increase urban
sprawl. The authors conclude that decisions related to reconstruction must be made
with the physical, social, and built environment in mind and that
reconstruction processes must incorporate stakeholders from the public,
private, and non-profit sectors. Chapter 16 also underscores the importance of
coordination and collaboration of a variety of stakeholders in post-disaster
housing recovery. Specifically, this chapter examines how governments,
international aid agencies, and nongovernmental organizations address housing
issues for those who do not formally own property (i.e., ‘informal settlers’). The
author concludes that the capacity to support informal settlers is often constrained
by insufficient funding from local governments and must be supplemented by the
international and humanitarian aid agencies. 

 

Chapter 17 explores the burgeoning
role of the voluntary sector in disaster response and recovery and addresses
the challenges nongovernmental organizations face when dealing with housing
issues. After reviewing this topic in the context of several disasters around
the world, the author contends that nongovernmental organizations are more
effective in helping communities recover from disasters when they recognize the
importance of working with local community actors to establish more sustainable
solutions, understand the local and political environments as well as cultural
norms, and when they consider the preferences of local communities in their decision-making
processes.

 

The final chapters of this
book—Chapters 18 and 19—emphasize the importance of pre-disaster recovery
planning, and as a result, are incredibly relevant to emergency management
practitioners at the local, state, and federal levels. Chapter 18, for example,
rightly notes that pre-disaster recovery plans must contain actionable steps
that proactively tackle short and long-term post-disaster housing recovery
issues. Relatedly, Chapter 19 provides additional evidence of the importance of
considering the impediments of post-disaster housing recovery issues during the
planning phase, and discusses how laws, policies, and programs can influence
recovery outcomes. The authors conclude this chapter with a strong warning to
practitioners. That is, there is no “one size fits all” approach to housing
recovery in a post-disaster setting; communities must consider a variety of physical,
social, and political factors that are unique to their setting in order to be
more effective at improving recovery trajectories.

 

Overall, Sapat and Esnard’s edited
book is an important read for students, scholars, practitioners, and
policymakers alike as it provides a detailed overview of post-disaster housing
recovery issues in the United States and abroad. Moreover, this edited book is set
apart from other work on disaster recovery in a number of ways. First, this
book contains the expertise of several eminent scholars from a variety of
disciplines such as disaster management, political science, geography,
psychology, public administration and policy, sociology, and more. As a result
of such diversity and breadth, this book has the potential to reach a much
broader audience. Second, this edited book contains several international perspectives
and case studies, thus allowing readers to compare and contrast recovery issues
from different countries. Third, the authors and contributors included multiple
methods of data collection. Indeed, while a variety of contributors relied on
primary data they gathered through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and
observations, others relied on secondary data and analyzed government reports,
media reports, and other related documents. Together, these mixed-methods of
research allowed the reader to gain a more holistic understanding of the
various facets associated with post-disaster housing recovery. Finally, this
book addresses a key limitation of prior work on disaster recovery; that is,
the importance of community engagement before, during, and after disasters.
Indeed, throughout the pages of this text, it is made known that successful long-term
housing recovery remains largely dependent on the engagement and participation
of local communities.

 

However,
despite these strengths, future iterations of
this book would benefit from a few changes. First, future versions of this book
and other works on post-disaster housing recovery would benefit from a greater
discussion on the concept of resilience and how it relates to housing recovery.
For example, a chapter dedicated towards measuring a community’s resilience in
terms of post-disaster housing recovery outcomes could help practitioners as
they engage in pre-disaster recovery planning. In addition, this book would
have benefited from a more detailed discussion on how cultural and cognitive
diversity influences post-disaster housing recovery outcomes. Indeed, greater
attention should be paid towards understanding the role religion,
beliefs, customs, behaviors, and norms play in the disaster recovery process. This
book would have also benefited from a more detailed discussion on the
psychological effects individuals experience as they transition through the recovery
process. For example, while Chapter 8 provides some indication of the psychological
effects individuals endure in the aftermath of a disaster, a more detailed discussion
would provide greater insight into how individuals navigate the psychological
effects associated with natural disasters. Finally,
because this book is intended to be of service to practitioners and policymakers,
it would be helpful if the beginning or end of each chapter contained a short
list of practical implications. In so doing, the findings from each chapter
could be more readily identified and implemented in communities in the United
States and around the world.