Rental Housing at Risk From Environmental Hazards

From wildfires to hurricanes, environmental risks pose a threat to around 40 percent of U.S. rental units.

March 10, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

More than 17 million rental units across the United States are at risk of "substantial annual losses" from environmental hazards, warns the Joint Center for Housing Studies' American Rental Housing 2022 report. According to Sophia Wedeen, who outlines the report's findings, this represents about 40 percent of total occupied rental units in the country.

"Areas with substantial expected annual losses are geographically widespread, reflecting the variety of acute and chronic environmental hazards that impact every part of the country." While California and the West Coast face high wildfire risks, Gulf Coast states are threatened by hurricanes and flooding. "California has the largest number of rental units at risk, with 4.5 million rentals (76 percent of the state’s occupied rental stock) located in census tracts with at least moderate expected annual losses due to likely hazards."

Wedeen notes that renters in manufactured homes are at especially high risk. "Manufactured units are also more likely to be classified as structurally inadequate by HUD than other types of rental units, and therefore may be especially vulnerable to loss due to hazards."

As the effects of climate change worsen, some rental units will become uninhabitable, requiring a "massive federal and local investment" to preserve and adapt existing stock, says the report. "In the short term, damage from hazards will almost certainly drive up the cost of repairing and rebuilding rental units. Reducing the time to build replacement rental housing after a natural disaster and increasing the availability of post-disaster financial assistance for renters are both urgent priorities."

Wednesday, March 9, 2022 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University

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