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Bay Area Regional Interim Housing Framework

Social and economic anchors, a sense of place, and a strong connection to "home" are some of the critical factors that explain why survivors of disaster usually wish to remain in or return to their impacted communities. While the permanent housing stock is recovered, communities need support from local governments to ensure community and economic recovery. The San Francisco Bay Area lacks a regional comprehensive and integrated framework for interim post-disaster housing that sustains community populations and promotes regional resiliency.


A comprehensive regional post-disaster interim housing framework built to support the whole community will help decision-makers reduce complications associated with a disaster-related diaspora and a loss of a sense of place in the immediate and long term. It encompasses a framework of specific interim housing solutions supported by a thorough examination of policy considerations and funding and implementation mechanisms. Finally, it is a framework vetted by jurisdictional and regional stakeholders and partners based on five planning premises that harmonize best practices, innovative urban planning solutions, and integration of regional catastrophic planning concepts:

  • Unified, collaborative objectives
  • Whole community effort
  • Solutions tailored to each community
  • Space for innovation
  • Operationalized framework


The San Francisco Bay Area region possesses a unique social, economic, and cultural character that appeals to both existing residents and newcomers alike. Key industries in the region are expanding at a steady rate, bringing an influx of new residents to the Bay Area’s continually growing population. Coupled with the geographic limitations on housing development, the desire for housing near areas of industry has created an increasingly stressful housing market for many communities. Long-range efforts such as Plan Bay Area 20401 (an update to Plan Bay Area 2013) are already underway to address the challenges of a growing population using an integrated and strategic approach to improving transportation and land use policies and increasing housing options. While these efforts consider natural hazards at an appropriate level, their primary focus is the changing nature of populations in urbanized areas. A post-disaster interim housing framework for the region requires a deeper dive into the region’s risk landscape and a specific focus on best practices and lessons learned from past and ongoing post-disaster housing recovery efforts.



Interim housing refers to post-disaster housing solutions that cover the transitional phase between emergency shelter and permanent housing. Interim housing solutions are intended to provide individuals and families a greater level of privacy, safety, security, and independence than many forms of emergency shelter until permanent housing can be secured. Federal guidance generally defines this period as up to 18 months after a disaster, but the Bay Area may need solutions that cover a much longer timeline to meet the region’s diverse housing needs.

Much of the Bay Area is exposed to a variety of natural hazards that can cause new or drastically exacerbate existing housing challenges, from ground shaking and liquefaction caused by seismic activity, to increased flooding due to sea level rise. While parts of the Bay Area are known for many progressive building regulations in general, most housing has been constructed to a life safety standard, rather than a structural standard that will immediately support safe “sheltering in place” by disaster survivors.

Because of this and other anticipated habitability issues, HAZUS2 modeling performed in 2009 predicts that around 404,300 households in the 12 Bay Area UASI counties will be displaced due to a combination of factors including infrastructure damage, lack of potable water, and/or the lack of electrical power. HAZUS modeling predicts San Francisco alone will have 116,800, or 28.9% of all affected Bay Area households. Past (and ongoing) disasters show that substantial recovery is difficult to achieve without the ability to preserve the character of disaster-impacted communities, retain the population, save and attract businesses, and maintain the associated tax bases (sales, property, income). It is incumbent upon local governments to take an active role in helping displaced residents return and reestablish support networks to accelerate the pace of economic recovery, and, most importantly, restore a sense of place and security in the community.

This is especially challenging in a region like the Bay Area, where employment patterns, demographics, and geography play a significant role in establishing the priorities, demands, and resources available in the recovery landscape. Bay Area jurisdictions (both cities and counties) may find themselves internally pressured to establish these priorities individually “in silos” but this approach may not prove to be an adequate solution for populations that live, work, and commute through multiple jurisdictions. The region is vastly diverse, and it is expected that neighboring jurisdictions may have drastically different priorities in the aftermath of a disaster.

We also know that the region’s population is highly mobile with the highest national percentage of mega-commuters4, and that such populations rely on the entire region, not just the jurisdictions where they live or work. For such populations, significantly different or contradictory priorities guiding recovery where they live and where they work may influence their decisions about remaining in or returning to their communities, hindering both social and economic recovery.

Given the interconnected nature of its jurisdictions, the Bay Area has the best chance to recover successfully as a whole region, with priorities that are developed by and socialized among the region’s jurisdictions. This recovery step will require flexibility and the ability to adapt on the part of both residents and jurisdictions, especially when transitioning from emergency shelter to permanent housing. Specifically, when it comes to policies regarding interim housing, the Bay Area will need a variety of solutions that are comprehensive, reflective of local conditions, address the diverse needs of the whole community, and respect the autonomy of and choices made by local governments and communities, an integrated and collaborative framework.


To some, the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita created a perception that very limited options are available to state and local governments for survivor support. Truly, the federal response was an extreme reaction to overwhelmed local governments that lacked a state emergency management infrastructure capable of supporting an unprecedented number of local governments simultaneously. While California has a strong history of effective responses to noteworthy events, it is only through thorough planning that a coordinated multi-jurisdictional effort can effectively provide the full range of housing options necessary to care for a large and diverse displaced population. Knowing their communities best, local officials must seize the opportunity to regain and improve their quality of life post disaster. Historically, local governments have expressed concerns about absorbing new populations, especially considering increased post-disaster operating costs that are not reimbursable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance program or other resources. A regional planning process to develop and implement interim housing solutions can be a crucial step in assisting jurisdictions in setting and de-conflicting priorities, confirming and managing expectations, and, ultimately, promoting the efficient and effective maximization of assistance to meet survivor housing needs.

In 2011, the Bay Area UASI funded a San Francisco Bay Area Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Interim Housing Plan to address the operational phase of the Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Mass Care and Sheltering Plan and establish a regional planning strategy for post-disaster interim housing. Although this plan was developed using guidance that followed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, interim housing concepts and programs have since evolved, particularly after Superstorm Sandy. In addition, the 2016 update to the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF) provides further advanced guidance on housing recovery on a federal level that can help to inform the activities and considerations for housing recovery on a localized level. Interim housing planning efforts in the Bay Area region would be greatly improved by incorporating new guidance and best practices and lessons learned from more recent large-scale and catastrophic events, as well as benefit from operationalizing the concepts that drive the framework.


Social, environmental, and economic drivers of change have been at work reframing the historic approach to emergency planning and disaster recovery in communities worldwide from the goal of disaster-resistance to that of disaster resilience. A key characteristic of a resilient city is one that can maintain or recover its population after a significant disruption. To realize this outcome, it is necessary to provide the affected population with safe and adequate housing solutions, based on the specific needs of individuals and families. This range of activities will extend beyond the period of emergency sheltering, in which survivors will access government-sponsored temporary shelter facilities, “shelter in place” in their own homes, shelter outside the impacted area with family or friends, acquire rental units, or seek alternative means of reasonable shelter. When looking to transition out from emergency sheltering, a survivor diaspora can result when entire families cannot find housing in their community that meets their typical needs, such as elder and child care, the needs of school-aged children, and proximity to supportive services. In addition to traditional emergency shelters, communities may increase their resilience with innovative, creative alternatives to providing interim housing, minimizing further disruption and displacement of survivors.


One of the more recent and visible examples of post-disaster housing restoration challenges is the post-Superstorm Sandy recovery effort. Efforts to replace and rehabilitate housing are still underway in multiple states and urban areas, where we can observe the different level of success jurisdictions have had with meeting the impacted communities’ needs and expectations. Jurisdictions with strong political representation certainly benefitted from the increased spotlight on their needs, but it is really those jurisdictions with the plans, processes, and mechanisms already in place to guide recovery that were able to seamlessly plug into aid and access funding for restoration. Jurisdictions that had to develop these capabilities on an ad-hoc basis were more likely to get caught up in bureaucratic bottlenecks, which occurred due to the complexity of the housing restoration process, programmatic inefficiencies of disaster recovery aid (such as having to apply and provide documentation separately for each type of aid available), and the competing priorities of neighboring jurisdictions. As in other post-disaster processes, having a vetted plan in place can significantly accelerate the speed of acquiring recovery funding, but competing for the same resources can cause contention between jurisdictions. Because of these challenges, pre-incident planning to develop recovery mechanisms for housing should occur on a broader regional level, which would provide individual jurisdictions greater insight into regional capabilities, inform accurate expectations, and provide an environment for testing innovative solutions. At a local level, developing a local post-disaster interim housing plan that reflects the regional interim housing framework would provide the granular detail necessary to implement effective local solutions.


As we further observe post-hurricane recovery throughout the country, we find that another distinct barrier to expedited housing recovery takes the form of unclear or even conflicting land use and housing construction regulations and laws, which can delay aid or shut down construction projects altogether. Louisiana’s Shelter at Home Program, enacted to recover housing damaged in the 2016 floods, is currently struggling to navigate the different requirements for building permits prior to conducting temporary repairs and managing locally adopted code variations across 129 local jurisdictions.

In accordance with civil rights requirements, failure by a jurisdiction to include appropriate provisions for populations with disabilities and other access and functional needs in publicly funded housing reconstruction or building replacement projects could cause Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits or similar litigation and delay construction. In other instances, federal aid programs may only cover restoration to pre-disaster condition, even when newer codes mandate substantial upgrades.

In planning for a regional interim housing framework in the Bay Area, jurisdictions will need a thorough understanding of California regulations and any jurisdictional amendments that may constitute additional layers of complexity, in addition to tools that can help them facilitate the strategic planning process and expedite reconstruction. Jurisdictions will need to inventory the legislative and regulatory limitations and resources that will affect all levels of planning, re-planning, re-zoning, and reconstruction, such as property condemnation laws, permitting, health and safety regulations, building material regulations, zoning, and others – all while maintaining a regional perspective.

In the Bay Area, jurisdictions may also choose to implement the best practices and concepts developed by the Bay Area UASI in the Disaster Recovery Permit and Regulation Waiver Toolkit. Jurisdictions will also need to understand and know how to plug into the funding mechanisms that will likely be available in the form of federal assistance programs that may also include opportunities for mitigation.


The post-disaster housing landscape in the Bay Area will inherently be a multi-jurisdictional and intergovernmental challenge. Lessons from past disasters show that housing recovery is most effective when housing solutions are developed and administered at the local level and supported by a coordinated regional planning effort. Single-jurisdiction post-disaster interim housing plans generally do not account for the interconnectedness and interdependence within the region, and although solutions developed for a single jurisdiction can apply to other similar jurisdictions, they often do not.

Most of the region already faces a housing – especially rental housing – shortage that is certain to be exacerbated by a disaster as housing units become unavailable due to structural damage. Urban areas, such as San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, will be hard-hit as multifamily housing is lost. While damaged singlefamily residences in areas with ample open space may be replaced temporarily with recreational vehicles or manufactured housing units (MHUs), high-density urban areas will require solutions that meet the needs of many in a smaller footprint. Considering that there are 12 counties comprising the Bay Area Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) with a total of 116 incorporated towns and cities, it would be challenging for the region and a Statecoordinated Housing Task Force to respond effectively to the unique housing needs of each community in the region without the benefit of comprehensive pre-disaster planning. The San Francisco Bay Area recognizes this problem, having devoted time and resources to the development of a Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Interim Housing Plan. While the plan is a good start, it was written prior to the creation, execution, and evaluation of new innovative housing solutions developed to respond to the needs of disaster survivors after several relatively recent large-scale and catastrophic disaster incidents. Additionally, while the plan effectively defines many of the concepts for how to coordinate the implementation of an interim housing solution in the region, it does not operationalize those concepts into executable actions.

A regional interim housing framework will help jurisdictions identify their challenges, anticipate their post-disaster needs, and create an inventory of resources and solutions that serve their populations while minimizing bottlenecks and competition with their neighbors. This planning effort reflects the five concepts derived from best practices and lessons learned.


Hinging on the common goal of meeting the housing needs of survivors and retaining and sustaining residents throughout the recovery period, jurisdictions will likely set specific goals and objectives that will inform their housing strategies. The goal is to keep and sustain survivors in their homes and communities, but barring that, to prepare for, facilitate, encourage, and support their return. Considering the high mobility of Bay Area residents, and the expected state of transportation infrastructure following a catastrophic earthquake, jurisdictions may have to grapple with temporarily losing residents to their places of employment. The difference in the pace of recovery throughout the region may be in how temporary, interim housing solutions transition into permanent ones. Both best practices and lessons learned from past disasters show that having a unified, collaborative regional interim housing framework built with the engagement of all parties helps to define short- and long-term objectives, communicate expectations, and capture opportunities for improved community recovery planning.


While local governments are generally responsible for providing life-sustaining services and commodities to the impacted public, including emergency shelters, the larger community, defined as the residents along with government resources, owns the recovery process. History shows how inadequate community engagement can hinder the speed of recovery and, in some cases, even exacerbate pre-disaster housing problems. Given the essential nature of available housing for community recovery and its complexity, the Whole Community concept must move to the next level: strategies that inform a regional framework must be validated by the community and wholly supported and even introduced by the community. For jurisdictions to equitably serve their entire community, this must include all populations at a greater disadvantage in a disaster: individuals with disabilities and other access and functional needs, low-income and ethnic populations, minorities, and others destabilized by the disaster. Without a sustained, proactive, and multi-lateral community outreach campaign, jurisdictions could fail at their mission to support the community’s self-sufficiency, ultimately undermining the recovery effort.


The complex nature of providing interim housing and re-establishing permanent housing in the Bay Area inherently means no one solution will fit all communities. When considering interim housing solutions, jurisdictions will have to consider a variety of factors in deciding what suits their community best. Factors include habitability standards, household size, inclusion of people with disabilities and other access and functional needs, seismic risk, soil type, topography, residential density before the disaster, tenure (owners or renters), social and cultural considerations, transportation, land use, land availability, security, the environment, how long the temporary housing is anticipated to be used, regulatory considerations, and others.

Interim Housing Solutions

  • FEMA Sheltering and Temporary Emergency Power (STEP)Program
  • Short-term rentals
  • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)
  • Manufactured Housing Units (MHUs)
  • Containerized Housing Units (CHUs)
  • Travel trailers and recreational vehicles
  • Modular homes panel homes

Interim housing may take the form of temporary repairs to original housing, potentially with relaxed habitability standards or temporary code amendments, in support of sheltering at home. It may be shortterm or medium-term (no-lease or month-to-month) rentals while the original form of housing is repaired. It may include changing laws regarding tenant occupancy of ADUs, such as backyard cottages, granny flats, and in-law units, and temporary permit waivers for unofficial, but habitable units. It may include MHUs on the same property as the damaged original housing, or off-site. It may involve a combination of several of these solutions. These, and many other, potential solutions should be inventoried and deliberated with input from the community and captured into a regional interim housing framework.


The post-disaster landscape can sometimes provide decisionmakers and planners an opportunity for innovation that cannot be overlooked to expedite recovery. This topic is largely discussed in terms of local land use, building, and repair ordinances, which tie directly into interim and permanent housing. This certainly applies to flexibility to adapt concepts and plans to the unique circumstances of each disaster. Nevertheless, the opportunity for innovation in housing and community planning can extend beyond the technical; especially in tense and stressful circumstances interim housing, it can include re-imagining how communities interact through transportation, place-making, and local services. For example, Superstorm Sandy displaced many residents in New York City that the lack of shelter space prompted the City of New York to implement FEMA’s STEP program, and following the extremely destructive Wine Country wildfires of 2017, the City of Santa Rosa implemented new laws and permit fee breaks regarding ADUs to increase rental housing availability while safeguarding against speculation.


Following long-studied local disasters as well as recent disasters throughout the country, a great deal of valuable literature and guidance has been produced to provide best practices, strategies, and frameworks for tackling post-disaster housing challenges. The Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Interim Housing Plan provided a basic concept of operations for regional interim housing, following a catastrophic earthquake. Since then, however, new laws, policies, and guidance has been issued, and lessons were learned from the response and recoveries to Superstorm Sandy, California’s recent wildfires, and other large incidents have caused an evolution in thinking about how the nation should conduct interim housing operations.

While the Regional Catastrophic Earthquake Interim Housing Plan contains concepts that can serve as a basis for operational planning at the local and regional levels, the further operationalizing of these concepts into a regional interim housing framework will require integrating jurisdictional objectives, local ordinances and capabilities along with state laws and regulations directly into a regional framework. Operationalizing a regional interim housing framework will require a critical analysis of the following:

  • Statutory authorities and roles and responsibilities of the local government Operational Area (OA)
  • Process for local jurisdictions to coordinate with the OA
  • Process for the regional task force to address interim housing
  • Options for local governments to deal with housing authorities considering that some local housing authorities are local government entities, some are non-profits, and others are regional entities
  • Statutory authorities, roles, and responsibilities of the state government
  • Descriptions of wraparound services and how those are services coordinated with social services agencies and voluntary agencies
  • Descriptions of how jurisdictions can provide for the unique needs of people with disabilities and people with other access
  • Examples of policies to be created or waived to facilitate an efficient execution of the framework
  • Statutory authorities and roles and responsibilities of the federal government
  • Descriptions of the programs and services that the federal government can provide and requirements for funding and implementation


The key insights discussed above provide an overarching conceptualization

and pathways to creating a regional post-disaster interim housing recovery

framework and operational plan. The process can be divided into initiatives,

each corresponding to a key insight, although most key insights will apply to

all phases and tasks.







The following resources and references were reviewed for key insights to form the basis of an approach to a post-disaster interim housing strategy that will serve the region as a whole while maintaining a focus on local priorities and community needs.




  • Hurricane Katrina, 2005
  • Greenburg, KS, tornado outbreak, 2007
  • Joplin, MO, tornado, 2011
  • Hurricane Sandy, 2012
  • Louisiana floods, 2016
  • Tubbs and Nuns (Wine Country) Fires, 2017


We are a leading global provider of emergency response services for clients at all levels of government. Since 1979, we have been on the forefront of emergency management innovations, helping communities plan for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against significant disasters. To support a community’s preparedness efforts, APTIM provides planning, training, and exercise services on a wide variety of subjects, including mass care and interim housing solutions. We have supported the response to disasters all over the world, having provided 1,200,000+ million meals, and were the first to market with FEMA’s STEP program, providing temporary repairs to 20,000+ residences in New York City after Superstorm Sandy.

Our recovery services include repair and restoration of public infrastructure projects, as well as grant management support for $17+ Billion in federal grant funds. In addition, we have installed 40,000+ MHUs and managed major housing restoration programs in multiple states. Finally, our support to mitigation projects ranges from the elevation of single-family homes to the completion of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal in Louisiana, the largest infrastructure design-build project ever undertaken by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

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