Climate Change Is Already Amplifying the Affordable Housing Crisis
By Jared Brey
In Mexico Beach, Florida, where the storm made landfall and the damage was concentrated, nearly half the homes were destroyed and almost all of them were damaged. Many residents were still living in substandard housing six months after the storm, and competing for a shrunken pool of rental units with workers who had come to town to assist in the storm recovery, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Other areas of Florida were already facing challenging housing shortages. And earlier this year, as Next City reported, the state legislature once again pulled money from an affordable housing trust fund to pay for other programs, including disaster relief.
Housing damage from extreme weather events like Hurricane Michael "further compounds the nationwide affordable housing crisis," the Center for American Progress, the left-leaning D.C. think tank with close ties to the Democratic Party, wrote in a report released earlier this month called A Perfect Storm: Extreme Weather as an Affordable Housing Crisis Multiplier.
"Efforts to address the devastating impacts of natural disasters … have thus far failed to consider the threat multiplier effect that more extreme weather and scarce supply of affordable housing has on frontline communities — those most likely to experience the worst and first climate impacts," the report says. "Solutions that offer only temporary relief in the wake of disasters and/or are directed to wealthier households and homeowners will perpetuate the loss of affordable housing stock that, when damaged, is often demolished rather than rebuilt. Moreover, they will increase displacement, housing poverty, and homelessness."
Catastrophic weather events are becoming more frequent. In the last three years, for example, weather events like storms, floods and wildfires that caused at least $1 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation, doubled the yearly average during the period between 1980 and 2018.
"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."
The report cites a March study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition which shows a nationwide shortage of 7 million housing units for low-income renters. That shortage disproportionately harms low-income communities of color and people with disabilities. Natural disasters not only exacerbate homelessness by destroying existing housing, but they also have outsized mental and physical health impacts on people who are already experiencing homelessness, the report says.
The report, which was published six months after the United Nations Security Council held a discussion about climate change as a global "threat multiplier," makes a number of recommendations for ways that the federal government as well as state and local policymakers can "build strong, healthy, fair, accessible, and affordable communities that are resilient to future climate change impacts." Congress, for example, should direct HUD and FEMA to coordinate evacuation efforts and housing assistance in the wake of national disasters in racially equitable ways and in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, the report says.
Congress should also expand federal funding for rental assistance and homelessness services programs, it says. In addition, leaders at the state, local, and federal levels should invest in climate resilient infrastructure and community development projects that don't create displacement, while adopting design guidelines that account for greater extreme weather risks. Specifically, the Center calls on Congress to pass the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019, which would address the equitable disaster funding recommendations, and for HUD to fully implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which would require housing authorities to address local segregation.
States and cities also need to acknowledge the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and plan for them, says Valerie Novack, the 2019 Portlight Fellow for the Center's Disability Justice Initiative, and a co-author of the report. For many cities, damages from weather events that impact housing aren't even big, headline-grabbing tropical storms or hurricanes, but more workaday floods or storms that can happen on a regular basis, Novack says. And governments also need to acknowledge the time it takes to recover from the biggest disasters.
"If it really takes us a decade to recover, and these events aren't going to slow down, then what's the reality of the scope of recovery year to year?" Novack says.
Heidi Schultheis says that while the authors didn't conduct original research for the report, they sought to compile existing information in a way that emphasized the racial justice and disability justice aspects of the climate-change and affordable-housing challenges.
"The people most impacted are really those with the least power," Schultheis says.
Guillermo Ortiz, a research assistant for energy and the environment at the Center for American Progress and lead author of the report, says the report is meant to build a case for federal action on the twin crises of climate change and affordable housing so that cities and states can respond more quickly and holistically to extreme weather events.
"We can develop recommendations and solutions, but ultimately, we need political will here in D.C.," Ortiz says. "Eventually folks on the ground are going to have to deal with these things one way or another, and we want to make sure they have the resources to act at the local level."
This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to the thrice-weekly Backyard newsletter.
Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.
This story originally appeared in Next City. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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