Supporting recovery after a disaster

Glossary of Terms


Housing counseling agencies (HCAs) are well positioned to help homeowners and renters after a disaster. With their knowledge of local resources and programs and relationships with clients, HCAs can help clients manage their post-disaster financial situation and navigate the complexities of disaster recovery assistance programs.

Why read this toolkit? This guide outlines the key actions that HCAs should take post disaster to ensure they can resume operations quickly and expand services as necessary to assist their clients in recovery. For information regarding what agencies need to do in advance of a disaster, see the companion guide on preparing for a disaster.

Who should use this toolkit? HCAs, Intermediaries, State Housing Finance Agencies, and Multi-State Organizations that want to play an active and effective role in recovery should use this guide.

What is in this toolkit? This guide provides guidance on what HCAs should do following a disaster. Actions post disaster include:

  • Implementing plans to resume and maintain operations
  • Coordinating with local partners to implement effective post-disaster programs in the community
  • Helping clients address their individual recovery challenges
  • Identifying opportunities for housing counseling services

Housing counseling works. The primary objective of HUD’s Housing Counseling Program is to educate families and individuals in order to help them make smart decisions to improve their housing situation. HUD-approved Housing counseling agencies have played key roles in the recovery from many disaster events, including Superstorm Sandy; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Irma, and Maria; and other events such as wildfires, earthquakes, and flash floods. Housing counselors receive training that enables them to help disaster survivors maintain or obtain safe, affordable housing. With some additional training, housing counselors can also help address a wide array of disaster recovery issues facing clients.


Organizational Recovery

Resume agency operations quickly and safely


When disasters strike, housing counseling agencies (HCAs) will put their emergency response plans and continuity of operations plans (COOP) into action to ensure that staff and clients remain safe, operations continue, and clients are assisted as soon as possible. View the companion guide on Preparing for a Disaster to learn more about the differences between an emergency response plan and a COOP.

Emergency actions. The agency should activate their Emergency Response Plan as early as possible. Immediately take the planned steps to protect staff and facilities. This may mean evacuation, shelter in place, or lockdown.

In the hours and days following the emergency event, the agency should assess the exact nature of the event. Agency personnel named in the Emergency Response Plan and COOP, should determine the potential impacts of the event on agency operations. The Emergency Response Plan will help the agency assess whether the disaster event has damaged facilities, impeded access to the agency, or affected staff’s abilities to carry out basic functions. Procedures outlined in the Emergency Response Plan activate the COOP. The agency should also contact their HUD point of contact to apprise them of their operational plan. If the agency determines that it is unable to resume operations and carry out its housing counseling plan, it may submit a temporary inactive status request to HUD or HUD intermediary in writing.

Immediate recovery. The agency should take actions described in the Emergency Response Plan and the COOP to restore normal operations.

  • Contact local public emergency services. Before visiting any facilities, contact local public emergency services to ensure that it is safe to send a facilities manager to assess the facility’s safety and resume operations.
  • Assess facility safety. Prior to entering any facilities, make sure a trained professional clears the building and surrounding area and deems them safe for re-entry.
  • Contact staff. Use the agency’s Communication Tree established in the Emergency Response Plan to begin contacting staff. When contacting staff, describe the agency’s current status, ask staff how they are, if they can get to work, and if they need any time off.
  • Determine short-term operational plans. Based on the condition of facilities and availability of staff, consider if operations can continue. If the agency determines that it is unable to resume operations and carry out its housing counseling plan, it may submit a temporary inactive status request to HUD or HUD intermediary in writing. If possible, the written temporary inactive status request should include documentation of evidence of the condition(s) that rendered the agency incapable of carrying out its housing counseling work plan (HUD, Handbook 7601.1, Chapter 6-5, A&B, 2010). If the agency determines that operations may continue, follow the procedures for resumption of operations.

Resumption of operations. As the situation normalizes, follow the COOP to transition to normal operations.

  • Restore facilities and equipment. Once facility operations are restored, you can begin salvaging equipment and making repairs. Document any damages and file an insurance claim as soon as possible.
  • Communicate with staff. Share frequent updates with staff so that they can resume their regular work smoothly.
  • Take care of staff needs. Keep in mind that staff may have been impacted by the disaster. They may have damaged homes, transportation issues, or childcare concerns. Be mindful of your staff’s physical and emotional needs and stay attuned to burnout.


Community Recovery

Design and implement post-disaster programs and service offerings


As housing counseling agencies (HCAs) stabilize their own organizations, they can participate in a broader community response and offer critical support to recovering community members.

Consider the recovery services needed. In the aftermath of the disaster, the need for client services increases. The agency will have new clients whose housing and finances were destabilized by the disaster, while existing clients will likely need additional assistance. Post-disaster housing counseling services may be extensive. The Overview of Housing Counseling Disaster Recovery Services provides a comprehensive summary of challenges clients face after a disaster, a list of services to consider, and guidance on implementing post-disaster services.

Conduct active outreach. Community members will not know where to go for help. To reach clients and offer counseling services, HCAs should:

  • Post flyers on bulletin boards at disaster shelters, lending institutions, service providers, and temporary spaces being used for disaster recovery purposes to advertise services and warn people of potential scams. A Housing Counseling Flyer Template is available to help you create an effective, customized disaster recovery flyer.
  • Reach out to existing clients by phone, email, text, and social media.
  • Team with partners in the social service network who will refer their clients for housing counseling.
  • Coordinate with partners to advertise online and on the radio.

Work in partnership. Build on partnerships developed prior to the disaster and establish new ones as appropriate. Consider the full range of partners for disaster recovery.

  • Consider what potential programs those partners may want to offer based on client needs. For example, the housing and community development agency may not realize there is a significant need for rental assistance. HCAs can help them understand that need and partner with them to connect clients to rental assistance programs.
  • As HCAs work with partners, formalize relationships as appropriate. It is best to execute a written agreement with a clear scope of work.

Access disaster resources. Following a disaster, HCAs may have access to additional resources. See the Federal Disaster Recovery Resources At a Glance and Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources. Agencies can help clients access resources that will help them obtain rental, mortgage and tax relief, find temporary housing, and apply for government recovery programs. Your agency should begin looking into what resources you think will be most useful to your clients. Resources will be available from different government agencies and nonprofit organizations.


Client Recovery

Address the post-disaster housing and related counseling needs of existing and new clients


Housing counselors can help clients navigate the disaster recovery process, access recovery resources, keep their finances in order, and develop plans to repair their home and avoid foreclosure or eviction.

Key areas where clients are likely to need help post disaster are summarized in the Checklist on Counseling for Recovery. Use this checklist to walk clients through topics including:

  • Financial assessment and planning. Counseling can help households address their post-disaster financial situation and avoid deepening financial losses and debts. HCAs can help clients:
    • Assess the client’s post-disaster financial situation.
    • Address income, credit and debt issues.
    • Develop an Action Plan to clarify the client’s needs and goals and determine action steps.
    • Work with lenders and landlords to negotiate mortgage or rent forbearance, credit card payments, or eviction avoidance. Note that every lender may have different requirements on forbearance so before clients enter into any agreements, they should contact their mortgage company/servicer and consult with a housing counselor. They should not enter into forbearance unless necessary.
    • Safeguard against fraud and scams.
  • Post-disaster resources and procedures. Counselors can help their clients access appropriate resources from government programs and insurance companies. Help clients:
    • Understand post-disaster programs that provide funding to temporarily or permanently relocate to safer housing.
    • Provide guidance for filing insurance claims.
  • Rebuilding process. Clients may need information and guidance regarding the rebuilding process. Help clients:
  • Meeting other health and wellness needs. Clients (and agency staff) may be facing disruptions in all facets of their life, including inability to access their usual doctor and medications, lack of steady income to pay for standard living expenses, challenges to mental health, and other needs. Housing counselors can refer clients to other social services and cope with trauma.

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Organizational Recovery

Emergency Response Plan Guidance (PDF)

Mitigate the short term damage to your agency and ensure that the COOP can be put into practice.

Access the Spanish Version of the Emergency Response Plan Guidance

Housing Counseling COOP Template and Instructions (DOCX)

Prepare your agency to continue its essential functions across a broad spectrum of emergencies.

Access the Spanish Version of the COOP

Community Recovery

Overview of Housing Counseling Disaster Recovery Services (PDF)

Leverage information about common post-disaster issues and the counseling response.

Turn to a Housing Counseling for Help Flyer Template (PDF)

Outline the information and services offered specifically by your Housing Counseling Agency.

Partners for Disaster Recovery (PDF)

Assess current partners and identify new ones.

Federal Disaster Recovery Funding Resources (PDF)

Help your clients navigate federal funding sources to apply for funding quickly and correctly.

Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Resources (PDF)

View a list of common resources for disaster preparedness and recovery.

Client Recovery

Counseling for Household Recovery (PDF)

Gear your counseling toward your client's recovery needs.

Counseling on Insurance Claims (PDF)

Assist your clients with assessing damage and filing insurance claims.

Counseling on Working with Contractors (PDF)

Provide resources for your clients to effectively hire and supervise a contractor.

Counseling for Healthy Homes after a Disaster (PDF)

Teach your clients how to safely address post-disaster hazards such as mold and lead hazards.

Avoiding Post Disaster Scams and Frauds (PDF)

Safeguard your clients against fraud and scams.

Coping with Trauma Post Disaster (PDF)

Help your clients link to other social services and cope with trauma.

Basic Home Maintenance (PDF)

Ensure your client learns the measures they can take to prevent disaster damage and save on costs following a disaster.