A Perfect Storm: Extreme Weather as an Affordable Housing Crisis Multiplier

On August 1, 2019, the Center for American Progress published “A Perfect Storm,” a report which analyzes the relationship between the affordable housing and climate change crises, and presents 5 policy recommendations for building more resilient and prepared communities. The report explores the intersection of diminishing affordable housing and rising homelessness, as well as the disproportionate impacts extreme weather events have on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. Authors of the report assert that local, state, and federal policymakers must take action to build strong, healthy, accessible, and affordable communities in the face of a changing climate.

Although the effects of climate change will continue to contribute to housing shortages and homelessness, local, state, and federal entities have tools that can mitigate these effects. The authors offer 5 key recommendations for helping frontline communities deal with the effects of extreme weather:

Support equitable evacuation and disaster recovery for all survivors: Congress should direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to coordinate to ensure equitable evacuation services and timely assistance that comply with federal and state laws and standards, including the Fair Housing Act’s disparate impact standard. Moreover, Congress should direct FEMA and HUD to collaborate more effectively to ensure the streamlined operation of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) following disasters.

Invest in federal rental assistance and homeless assistance programs: Congress should expand funding for federal rental and homeless assistance programs to help meet the needs of low-income renters and curb homelessness. As of now, federal rental assistance programs are funded at levels that meet the needs of only the 1 in 4 households that are eligible for housing assistance. Furthermore, the federal government should take a direct role in the large-scale production of 1 million high-quality, affordable rental homes over the next five years for families across the income spectrum to account for increasing demand.

Prioritize equitable housing policies and just community development: State and local leaders should invest in equitable and resilient community development, prioritizing low-income communities, people of color, and people with disabilities that are at increased risk of experiencing higher incidents of human and financial loss in extreme weather events. Local, state, and federal governments can invest money and resources into public transportation, open spaces and parks, broadband internet, and access to information, food, energy grids, and water and wastewater systems to create more equitable communities. Additionally, local governments in these areas should implement anti-displacement measures, such as “right to return” policies (allowing residents to return to communities following dislocation as a result of gentrification), meaningful community involvement in investment efforts, and tenant protections in order to keep people in their communities as they are made more resilient.

Invest in resilient infrastructure: Federal and local leaders should invest in improving the design and resilience of new and existing infrastructure. While HID has a role to play in increasing housing affordability, resilience, and equity, other entities — particularly government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — could use levers at their disposal to strengthen resilience standards. Congress must provide states with the necessary technical and financial resources to build infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather events, thereby increasing environmental and economic returns on investment. This policy recommendation includes more specific sub-recommendations: Congress should create state future funds; city leaders should adopt or improve design guidelines to account for changing climate conditions and extreme weather risks; Congress should reform the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) program; and Congress should strengthen federal building requirements to reduce flood risks.

Increase funding for disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation strategies: Federal policymakers should substantially increase funding for mitigation and adaptation initiatives to equip state and local leaders with the resources and knowledge necessary to build resilience to the impacts of climate change. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, every $1 invested in pre-disaster mitigation saves $6 in recovery and rebuilding costs. Congress should track the implementation of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, legislation which amends several sections of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act in order to improve FEMA transparency and accountability, enhance pre-disaster planning and mitigation, and strengthen disaster response and recovery efforts. Congress has a critical role in tracking the law’s implementation through reviewing FEMA’s implementation of the DRRA, and directing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study detailing the effects of DRA-related changes to federal assistance on past and future disaster events. Furthermore, Congress should increase funding for FEMA’s Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning (MAP) program to ensure that flood maps reflect the best available science and account for future climate risks.

Due to racial inequities such as historic housing discrimination and residential segregation, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color tend to be disproportionately areas prone to flooding, high heat exposure, pollution, other climate impacts, and often lack the resources to overcome these environmental risks. Through investment in programs that reduce and prevent homelessness and increase housing affordability, policymakers can help prepare communities and people from extreme weather conditions. A national shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters highlights the housing disparities for communities of color and disabled people that are also more at risk to face the increasing and devastating impacts of climate change. The housing and climate crises are compounding, and people in positions of power must adopt equitable climate solutions to build more resilient communities and homes for everyone.

Publication Date: August 1, 2019

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