How Climate Change Exacerbates the U.S. Affordable Housing Crisis

Post Storm Recovery Brings Issues of Inequality in Opportunity and Racial Disparity

An August 2019 Next City article highlights that “Climate Change Is Already Amplifying the Affordable Housing Crisis.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Noah Patton, Housing Policy Analyst and Dan Emmanuel, Senior Research Analyst at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition about the effects of climate change on the U.S. Affordable Housing Crisis.

Patton discussed how the recent stronger, more disastrous storms such as tornadoes in the Dixie belt and flooding in Houston are having an impact on the affordable housing crisis. More often than not, affordable housing, not housing affordable to wealthier households, lies in the path of destructive storms.

New Jersey has seen the impact of severe storms with the slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy. NJFuture released The Long Road Home report in 2018 which includes the results of interviews with Sandy impacted households on their struggle to return to permanent homes of their own.

The Jersey Shore towns of Beach Haven and Long Branch are just too examples of communities that lost badly needed affordable housing stock. And the housing stock being rebuilt is often out of reach for very low-income families.

It is critical that we ensure that there is an adequate supply of rental housing before a disaster and to plan for how that housing can be recovered post-disaster. There are federal programs available to help landlords recover rental housing.

Modular housing in the form of mobile homes park house lower income households and lie in the path of storms. Lower income and historically Black and African American neighborhoods are also often disproportionately impacted, at risk of storm damage and lack the infrastructure to withstand the damage.

And after a storm hits, homeowners with the disposable income to rent an apartment in the short term while they rebuild their homes can price low-income renters including voucher holders out of the rental market. Patton points to the “double-whammy” effect. The rental market tightens just as displaced low-income renters need affordable homes more than ever.

If a landlord ha the opportunity to rent an apartment to a voucher holder or a wealthier renter who can pay more in rent, that landlord will rent to the wealthier renter. That is why it is important to activate programs like the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), which provides the lowest-income survivors with the rental assistance and wrap-around services they needed to get back on their feet.

American Progress published the article, “A Perfect Storm: Extreme Weather as an Affordable Housing Crisis Multiplier” which discusses how extreme weather events fueled by climate change are exacerbating the intertwined crises of affordable housing and homelessness and thus require timely intervention by federal, state, and local governments. The author of this article points out that “This combination of high living costs and a lack of affordable housing only exacerbates the impacts of extreme weather events for the frontline communities struggling to find shelter in a changing climate.”

“One of the reasons we wanted to write something like this was because, I think, people get caught up in thinking and hearing that climate change is some kind of distant threat,” says Heidi Schultheis, a co-author and senior policy analyst in the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP. “It feels a little bit intangible. We don’t see it affecting our day to day lives. We really wanted to bring home to people that this is not a distant threat. This is very much happening right now.”