Three panels show damaged houses after a disaster, a CDBG-DR citizen participation meeting, and rebuilt homes.


Advancing equity—the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals—should be the cornerstone of all federal programs. Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) grantees advance equity in disaster recovery by actively involving people who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality in their own recovery, and prioritizing their needs throughout planning and implementation.

In line with Executive Order 13985, the citizen participation process provides grantees an opportunity to engage with people of color, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, people in rural areas, members of religious minorities, people who are LGBTQIA+, and other underserved communities, and to allocate federal resources in a way that advances fairness and equity. Citizen participation should begin very early in both the planning and launch phases of recovery and continue as unmet needs are better understood and programs, typically, are refined during implementation.

The Citizen Participation & Equitable Engagement (CPEE) Toolkit is a resource to aid CDBG-DR grantees in centering equity in disaster recovery programs throughout an enhanced citizen participation process. The primary goal of citizen participation is to provide residents—especially low- and moderate-income (LMI) residents of the community where CDBG-funded activities will take place—the opportunity to actively participate in the planning, implementation, and assessment of the programs and projects.

To foster a citizen engagement process that can achieve a truly equitable recovery, grantees should ensure that protected classes, vulnerable populations, and underserved communities are the focal points of their outreach efforts. Grantees are encouraged to become familiar with how these three terms are used within the context of this toolkit and know the differences between them.

  • A key distinction with respect to protected classes is the statutory basis for prohibiting discrimination against persons on the basis of:
    • Race
    • Color
    • National origin
    • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity)
    • Religion
    • Familial status
    • Disability
    • Genetic information
    • Age
  • There is not a standard set of vulnerable populations. The intersectionality of characteristics (see Step 1: Shift the Mindset) that can make people vulnerable varies locally and regionally by:
    • Geography
    • Markets
    • Prevalent housing stock and tenure
    • History
    • Prejudice
    • Policy
  • Underserved communities may overlap with both protected classes and vulnerable populations and are the result of historic and systemic patterns regarding the lack of engagement, mistreatment, and barriers to participation.

As discussed in "Equity in Disaster Recovery, Mitigation, and Adaption," disparities across race, class, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics can influence how people prepare for, experience, respond to, and recover from the impacts of a disaster. Yet, these disparities should also prompt grantees to invest more fully in ensuring access to information and tools for successful recovery. CDBG-DR resources should help eliminate disparities by investing in housing, infrastructure, and economic growth informed by community-wide planning efforts.

A message of welcome from Tennille Parker, Director of the Disaster Recovery and Special Issues Division, Office of Community Planning and Development, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Citizen Participation

Engaging in meaningful citizen participation following a disaster can be a challenging process. Citizen outreach and public comment are made far more difficult by barriers that include:

  • Disaster-related trauma
  • Fatigue from displacement and clean-up
  • Navigating confusing government programs
  • Post-disaster challenges in mobility, temporary housing, and other logistics
  • Mistrust in government-run processes
  • Systemic and historic inequities

The process of mitigating these barriers should begin before disaster strikes. Grantees should commit to non-discrimination, build community trust and networks, and develop strategies and methods for engagement that will result in transparent and inclusive decision-making.

A Citizen Participation Plan that is compliant with regulatory requirements (for a list, see Step 1: Shift the Mindset) may still not ensure engagement with vulnerable and harder-to-reach populations following a disaster. Successful engagement depends on each grantee’s commitment to conducting citizen participation with an equity lens. Consequently, this toolkit supports grantees in going beyond federal requirements to reach equitable engagement in the process of rebuilding a community. Meaningful and effective engagement throughout the citizen participation process can shape program design and focus resource allocation in geographic areas where critical resources can transform historic inequalities, amend long-standing injustices, and embed greater resilience for future disasters.

The CPEE Toolkit provides grantees with recommendations for conducting inclusive and equitable engagement that will inform and help create programs for the whole community, with a special emphasis and a targeted approach on historically vulnerable and underserved areas. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The strategies provided in this toolkit should be tailored to the specific, carefully identified characteristics and needs of all local communities.

This toolkit will support grantees in creating an engagement approach that will result in:

  • The identification of unmet needs not captured by standard data sources
  • Funding priorities that reflect the diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic needs of communities
  • Coordinated and transparent decision-making that consistently includes diverse communities
  • Programs that promote access for diverse populations
  • A strong foundation for conducting future citizen participation processes that can be enhanced over time with new lessons learned

CPEE Plan Steps

Select each step to learn more. Guidance on using the step feature.

Before You Begin: Self-Assessment Questionnaire

The self-assessment questionnaire will help grantees think through whether their disaster recovery programs have advanced equity. This self-assessment is simply for grantees to quickly evaluate what steps have already been taken and where there is potential room for improvement; no responses will be recorded or tracked.


Has your organization, jurisdiction, or community, including leadership, made a written commitment to non-discrimination in disaster recovery programming?

A. Yes
B. No

Have your previous citizen participation processes sought to specifically identify and engage racially and ethnically diverse people, members of protected classes, socially vulnerable people, and the hardest-hit members of disaster-impacted communities?

A. Yes
B. No

Do you keep a contact list of diverse community leaders and organizations whom you have engaged in past strategies, and have you met with them at least once in the last year?

A. Yes
B. No

Can you identify an instance in past disaster recovery or other community development-related processes when you incorporated input from potential program recipients that significantly changed program design?

A. Yes
B. No

Have you implemented previous federal or local funding allocations in a manner that addressed historic inequities and increased disaster resilience in vulnerable communities?

A. Yes
B. No

Have you documented past complaints or negative impacts reported by residents or stakeholders and used that feedback to improve internal program policies and procedures?

A. Yes
B. No

Did you answer YES to all 6 questions?

A. Yes
B. No

Please proceed to Step 1: Shift the Mindset, which explores the importance of advancing equity throughout the CDBG-DR lifecycle, going beyond citizen participation requirements to build back stronger and more equitable communities.

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