Recovery: Immediate & Long Term

Kentucky is at a crossroads for housing affordability. Before the pandemic, before successive floods destroyed 10,000-plus homes in Eastern Kentucky, and before the tornado outbreak that leveled several towns in the western part of the state, Kentucky was already short more than 78,000 rental units for low- and extremely low-income households. This is a number that exceeds the populations of eight of the ten largest cities in the state.

The recent plague of natural disasters has brought out the best in Kentuckians across the state. Neighbors helping neighbors. Local nonprofits springing into action to provide services outside their usual scope. Volunteers traveling hundreds of miles to help comb through rubble and search for the missing. In short, people helping people.

On December 10, 2021, a violent, long-tracked tornado moved across Western Kentucky, producing severe to catastrophic damage in numerous towns, including Mayfield, Benton, Dawson Springs, and Bremen. Crossing through eleven counties of the Jackson Purchase and Western Coal Field regions during its lifespan, the tornado was exceptionally long-tracked, traveling 165.7 miles (266.7 km). It was the deadliest and longest-tracked tornado in an outbreak that produced numerous strong tornadoes in several states.

Kentucky Habitat for Humanity (KYHFH) spearheaded a 3-year disaster response initiative, Home SAFE Home, in coordination with four HFH affiliates, HFH Pennyrile Region, Bowling Green/Warren HFH. Fulton/Hickman HFH, and Ohio County HFH. All the affiliates had strong leadership and managed successful community-based programs, but none had the capacity to effectively respond at the large scale to the demanding and urgent need. Immediate assistance with capacity building as well as fundraising became the top priorities for KYHFH.

An early proposal on Home SAFE Home, created in January 2022, the disaster response initiative outlined a plan to serve 400 families in the affected counties. Many of these families served would be part of a collaborative build with other recovery-focus organizations. These families, for new homes, would be qualified due to being negatively impacted by the disaster and lack of affordable housing, not necessarily because they were displaced. Also, within the initial planning there was identified a balance of need towards critical repairs, an estimated 300 homes, which proved to be projected higher than the actual unmet need. While the HFH affiliates did some critical and minor repairs in their communities, a greater need in building new homes was determined and became the primary focus. The goal announced was 100 new homes over a 3-year period.

Recovery is a slow process, once the immediate rescue phase is completed, the urgency is stretched over days, weeks, months, even years.  And for HFH affiliates, it is not only finding the ways to serve the additional needs but doing so while staying committed to the promises to partner families and programs made prior to the disaster. 

The core strength that arose out of the tornadoes’ debris was in Habitat’s leadership. Affiliate leaders, committed to the mission, their community, and team, did not hesitate in taking on the overwhelming aftermath as did KYHFH. Additionally, it was proven throughout the response that HFH was clearly identified within their communities as a trusted resource in the recovery efforts and this gave added confidence to potential donors.

There is still much to do, but it is uplifting to know that the Western Kentucky HFH affiliates are ready to move forward and do more in the coming year, to again demonstrate God’s love into action by building homes, communities, and hope.

On July 27, 2022, very heavy rainfall hit parts of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia, including surrounding Appalachia communities. This cause large floodings in eastern Kentucky. The flooding caused 25 deaths with many reportedly missing, and damaged or destroyed more than 10,000 homes. As of December 1, 2022, there were still 829 Eastern Kentucky residents temporarily housed in state parks and travel trailers.

To put our state back on the path to recovery, state leaders in housing and community development are working to raise funding not only to restore and revitalize damaged communities but also to fund the level of long-term construction and rehabilitation necessary to address the statewide shortage of affordable housing units.

Beyond the economic benefits, affordable, quality housing is a cornerstone of healthy communities. Kentucky’s aging housing stock (52% of homes are more than more than 40 years old) exposes our lower-income neighbors, disproportionately children, veterans, and the elderly, to dangerous toxins such as lead paint, mold, asbestos, and even radon. The recent floods and tornadoes have exacerbated health concerns while also harming the structural integrity of many dwellings. Affordable housing construction and renovation would create safe places to live for thousands more Kentuckians, improving public health and welfare across the state while driving economic development today and in future.

We continue to work not only to repair the damage from these successive disasters but also to proactively grow and strengthen our communities moving forward. This is what long-term recovery demands. Period.


For more information on KyHFH’s Home Safe Home tornado relief, including donations, volunteering, building material donations, and general information, please either call or email Executive Director Mary Shearer at 502-608-7041 or [email protected]