Are Urban Planners Staying Silent on Climate Gentrification?

Holmdel, New Jersey, moved its affordable housing to flood-prone land, raising a question about planners' ethical obligations to speak up against such moves.

June 10, 2022, 6:00 AM PDT

By LM_Ortiz


New Jersey’s Holmdel Township settled a seven-year battle over its Fair Housing obligations, and subsequently planned 300 low-income housing units to be placed on wetlands and flood-prone lots. This occurred not in the 1950s but during the pandemic, and less than a decade after Superstorm Sandy brought flooding and devastation statewide. Initially the units were to be sited at Bell Works, a sprawling former corporate campus, seen on Apple TV’s “Severance,” that is now a massive redevelopment project. Instead, the units were moved off campus with the approval of the township council. In January, Holmdel filed with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for a waiver to redevelop a wetland lot, the new location for some of the low-income housing units.

Transferring the “affordable” income developments to precarious circumstances should have raised red flags. In a state where storms like Sandy are a recurring threat—the remnants of Hurricane Ida last year killed more people in New Jersey than in any other state—it is unlikely Holmdel officials do not understand the risks from floods and storms.

Holmdel’s recent actions perpetuates something called “climate gentrification.” Sheila Lakshmi Steinberg, Ph.D., of University of Massachusetts Global, describes climate gentrification as valuing certain properties over others specifically based on a property’s ability to accommodate settlement and infrastructure in the face of climate change. This deepens racial and socioeconomic divides, as areas of land that cannot withstand these changes are left to the less affluent. Recent death and devastation on Staten Island from storms like Ida and Sandy, and the location of certain housing stock, can be linked to climate gentrification.

How It Began

Holmdel Township is a wealthy suburb of New York City. Its median household income is $149,432. Roughly 77 percent of Holmdel’s 17,000 residents are white, and nearly 90 percent of Holmdel’s housing stock is owner-occupied homes, which have a median value of $661,800.

Plans for low- and moderate-income housing came about through compliance with a 2019 Fair Housing settlement (as the township’s affordable housing obligations have spanned decades of legal challenges). Today, Holmdel’s ordinances have evolved to harness affordable-housing “linkage” ... 

Monday, May 9, 2022 in Shelterforce Magazine

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