Climate change increases risk for tenants ”Yale Climate Connections
In 2000, nearly 8,000 affordable housing units in the United States were threatened by annual coastal flooding. By 2050, that number could increase to 24,518, according to a recent analysis by Climate Central.
The nonprofit science journalism organization has found that unless emissions decline, rising waters will pose increasingly serious challenges for low-income tenants across the country. The United States already faces a serious shortage of affordable rental housing; climate change threatens to worsen this situation.
Ten years ago, global warming was not a major topic of discussion in housing policy circles, says Andrew Aurand, vice president of research at National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC. But as climate impacts have become increasingly visible, the situation has changed.
“There is a growing awareness of [links between] affordable housing and climate change, ”Aurand said in an interview. “The affordable housing field is increasingly aware that we need to dig deeper into this issue, and then what are some of the policy solutions. “
Rent and risk: a difficult recipe
Even before climate change kicks in, American tenants face significant disadvantages compared to homeowners. As a group, they have lower incomes and are forced to fight for affordable housing in an extremely tight market. In a recent report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition noted that many of the nation’s most common jobs, including health assistants and catering waiters, pay less than what a full-time worker needs to comfortably pay rents at home. market rate. No state in the United States has an adequate supply of affordable properties; meeting demand would require the addition of millions of units across the country. Worse yet, the federal government consistently underfunds housing assistance programs; 75% of eligible Americans receive no government assistance.
As a result, tenants often have no choice but to live in poor quality housing in neighborhoods struggling with inadequate infrastructure and high environmental risk. But these sub-optimal conditions don’t always translate into a manageable rent – in fact, low-income tenants often pay up to half their wages for housing, preventing them from saving in an emergency. . In some cases, unforeseen costs or reduced hours lead to roaming.
When rental housing is affected by disasters such as floods or storms, residents have little say in when and how repairs are made. Research indicates that these properties recover from storms more slowly than owner-occupied structures. In the absence of public subsidies, they often simply disappear from the market after damage has occurred, further reducing the overall supply of cheap housing.
Global warming will accentuate these challenges, as the Climate Central study clearly shows.
Most at risk: low wages and people of color
Common disaster relief practices often provide little comfort to low-income tenants; in fact, they can make their lives more difficult over time. In a 2018 article, sociologists Junia Howell and James Elliott argued that damage from natural hazards increases wealth inequality in the United States, in large part because public and private authorities prioritize middle-class homeowners in post-disaster relief efforts. While homeowners may receive insurance payments or low-interest loans after a disaster, tenants are often forced to move expensive, often to more expensive homes. “These findings are disconcerting because such damage is widespread; they are expected to increase dramatically, and FEMA aid – as currently administered – appears to exacerbate the problem, ”the authors note.
These challenges disproportionately affect people of color. America’s modern housing system reflects the legacy of Jim Crow laws and policies, redlining, and other racist practices that have prevented minorities from buying homes in desirable neighborhoods, and therefore building the home equity, a major source of generational wealth.
In a review of 2015 data, the US Census Bureau reported that due to racial discrepancies in property and retirement accounts, white households had an average net worth of $ 139,300, while black and Latino households had $ 12,780 and $ 19,990. , respectively.
Given these and other structural failings, people of color are disproportionately represented among low-income renters in the country. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 20% of black households, 18% of Indigenous households and 14% of Latino households are very low income renters. Among white households, this figure is 6%.
Policy responses depend on overhauling disaster risk and relief
One solution to protecting tenants in a changing climate is to rethink disaster relief, ensuring it targets those who need it most. For example, FEMA offers financial assistance to cover damage to physical property, but only above a certain dollar threshold. “We have seen cases where very low income tenants sustain significant damage to their own property, but this does not reach a level of value that FEMA recognizes as a significant cost,” said the coalition’s Aurand for the lodging. “But it’s important for the very low income tenant.”
Since real estate speculation and gentrification contribute to the loss of affordable housing before and after disasters, tenant protection measures such as rent controls and community-centered planning can help too. While critics say rent control leads to unintentional reductions in affordable housing, the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge, a program affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council, maintains that rent control has proven to be a tool. useful. “Data from states like Massachusetts and New York have shown that rent controls can offer important protections to residents of rapidly gentrifying communities, allowing residents to stay in their homes,” the group argued. . in a brief of 2018. “Likewise, a recent study of rent control and just cause eviction policies in Berkeley and Santa Monica, California has protected social and economic diversity in these cities.”
Strengthening disclosure laws to require landlords to notify potential tenants of disaster risks can also help. Today, only a handful of states require disclosure of flood risk, according to a recent article in the Florida Bar Journal. The authors write that in the absence of information about potential dangers, communities cannot adequately prepare for disasters … and tenants cannot avoid inflationary prices that ignore the total risk of living in a property. particular.
One of the most important ways to protect low-income tenants from climate impacts, Aurand points out, is simply to provide them with better housing options. Improving government rental assistance programs and building more high-quality, low-cost units across the country could go a long way in protecting vulnerable households as temperatures rise and weather events increase. extremes are multiplying.
“We need more investment in affordable housing to get started,” he said. “We need a safety net for these tenants even in normal times.”