As climate-related disasters and hazards intensify, there is an increasing threat to the financial and housing stability of communities across the United States. However, households of color, low-income renters, and under-resourced communities are disproportionally burdened by these climate impacts. While this is not an exhaustive list, the examples described below bring to light larger issues of environmental inequity, where some demographics experience climate change impacts in their daily lives to a greater degree due to long-standing and historical discriminatory policies.
Households of Color
Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme heat across the United States. However, these impacts aren’t felt evenly, with many studies showing large heat exposure disparities across demographics. Formerly redlined neighborhoods, with primarily Black and Hispanic residents, are on average five degrees hotter in the summer than wealthier and whiter neighborhoods in the same city and have consistently fewer trees and parks to help cool the air. This leaves communities of color more vulnerable to the health risks of extreme heat and more cost-burdened by cooling homes to a healthy temperature. Similarly, communities of color are more likely to be located in floodplains, and flooding events disproportionately harm people of color. All these impacts can significantly exacerbate economic loss, social disruptions, and housing and infrastructure inequities.
Climate change impacts can reduce the availability of affordable housing for low-income renters, especially after high-intensity storms, flooding, and other natural hazards. These events can directly reduce housing availability because affordable housing units are often located in vulnerable areas. Affordable housing may be constructed with lower-cost materials or already in need of repairs, all of which can leave them more vulnerable to natural disasters. Additionally, the scarcity of housing options following climate-driven disasters can lead to an increase in housing prices, further exacerbating housing insecurity. Finally, federal disaster aid may be more easily accessed by homeowners, leaving renters especially vulnerable.
The climate-related housing vulnerabilities experienced by the above demographics don’t exist in isolation. Rather, communities that have been marginalized based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status often intersect. This marginalization can lead to systemic underinvestment, leaving concentrated geographic areas significantly under-resourced and thus less able to cope with climate change impacts. These under-resourced communities are neighborhoods or groups of neighborhoods within metropolitan areas, often with high population densities, where there are high percentages of people living in poverty or grappling with economic insecurity. Because of their urban locations, under-resourced communities may be especially vulnerable to urban heat islands, flooding, poor air quality, and related hazards. These climate change impacts are worse in areas with high concentrations of buildings and impervious surfaces and with minimal access to trees and green space. These impacts also lead under-resourced communities to face greater housing insecurity, energy insecurity, and heat-related illness.