Deciding Not to Rebuild After Climate-Related Disasters
There is an extreme, persistent lack of affordable housing in the U.S. There is also an accelerating host of climate-related changes to our landscape—severe heat and drought, increased violent storms, rising sea levels, and worsening flooding. Each is a significant challenge on its own, but the lack of affordable housing and the increase in climate-related changes are related in many ways.
Lower-income households have historically been forced to live in less desirable areas—often flood-prone ones—making them more vulnerable to climate change-aggravated disasters. And where they have settled on higher ground, they may find themselves pushed out by wealthier people who are also fleeing sea level rise. Aid for recovery from frequent and severe disasters is often apportioned slowly and inequitably, compounding these problems. Meanwhile, in a cost-conscious industry, finding the funds to build affordable homes that are resilient to storms and flooding is an ongoing challenge.
While there are cities, states, and municipalities that are doing their best to make all sorts of buildings resilient, officials are usually responding to weather-related events rather than preemptively looking at issues like expected sea level rise, says Guillermo Ortiz, who formerly served as a researcher with the Center for American Progress and now works as the sustainability and diversity educational programs manager at the University of California. And when it comes to affordable housing development, the main concern is still about building more units. This is shortsighted thinking, says Ortiz. If you build 100 affordable units and then lose them in the next storm, you haven’t improved the situation.
Officials in areas like North Miami, Florida, and Princeville, North Carolina, are taking a different approach—they’re deciding not to rebuild on land that has seen its fair share of flooding and instead, they are focusing on buyouts, building on higher ground, and other mitigation efforts.