Certainly, it could have been worse. But Hurricane Irene was plenty bad for millions of Americans up and down the East Coast. For those who were spared the worst of the storm, Irene provided a drill of sorts, prompting people to stock up on supplies and assess their preparedness for natural disaster. For others, it will be days or even weeks before the flood waters recede, damage can be assessed and repairs can begin. And for those who lost loved ones, life will never be quite the same.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, NLIHC organized ongoing meetings of housing advocates and disaster relief experts to help make housing needs a high priority in the wake of disaster. Called the Katrina Housing Group, this committee is working still to advocate for legislation that addresses the remaining needs of victims of the 2005 disasters, and to monitor programs and legislation that address the housing needs of victims of future disasters.

There is a long list of federal programs relating to the housing needs of disaster victims. The Department of Homeland Security, HUD, Small Business Administration, Department of Agriculture, and Treasury Department all offer disaster relief funding and other programs (for details, turn to page 47 of the Advocates’ Guide).

If you are a victim of a disaster, these programs can be hard to navigate, but there are resources available to you. In the Summer issue of Tenant Talk (PDF), we discuss some of the findings in a report on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita issued by the Equity and Inclusion Campaign. The report finds that residents of communities affected by disasters must stay vigilant long after the disaster, as recovery can take years. The Annie E. Casey Foundation created a disaster preparation toolkit  (PDF) that can help community leaders develop a web portal for disaster preparedness and recovery that includes residents and meets their needs. And as you’ll read in Tenant Talk, even amidst unparalleled devastation, when people organize, they can heal their communities.

So where do we stand after Irene? President Obama has pledged that the disaster response will continue, but as of last Friday FEMA had under $1 billion in its disaster relief fund and was shifting relief priorities in order to deal with the latest disaster. And we have heard from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) his belief that any disaster relief spending must be offset by cuts elsewhere.

How should the federal government prioritize its disaster spending? Do you believe housing should have the highest priority in disaster relief? Do you think the House and Senate will vote to offset disaster relief spending? What should all of us be doing to advocate and organize? Let us know what you think in the comments!