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The Northridge Earthquake: Community-based Approaches to Unmet Recovery Needs

Bolin, R.; Stanford, L.
Disasters (Journal)

March 1, 1998

The 1994 Northridge, California earthquake has proven to be one of the most costly disasters in United States history. Federal and state assistance programmes received some 681,000 applications from victims for various forms of relief. In spite of the flow of US$11 billion in federal assistance into Los Angeles and Ventura counties, many victims have failed to obtain adequate relief. These unmet needs relate to the vulnerability of particular class and ethnic groups. In response to unmet needs, a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have become involved in the recovery process. This paper, based on evidence collected from hundreds of in-depth interviews with the people involved, examines the activities of several community-based organisations (CBOs) and other NGOs as they have attempted to assist vulnerable people with unmet post-disaster needs. We discuss two small ethnically diverse communities in Ventura County, on the periphery of the Los Angeles metropolitan region. The earthquake and resultant disaster declaration provided an opportunity for local government and NGOs to acquire federal resources not normally available for economic development. At the same time the earthquake created political openings in which longer-term issues of community development could be addressed by various local stakeholders. A key issue in recovery has been the availability of affordable housing for those on low incomes, particularly Latinos, the elderly and farm workers. We discuss the successes and limitations of CBOs and NGOs as mechanisms for dealing with vulnerable populations, unmet needs and recovery issues in the two communities.