Extreme Weather Hurts Low-Income People Most

Waves from Hurricane Sandy crash onto the damaged Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills, N.C., Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 as Sandy churns up the east coast. Hurricane Sandy continued on its path Monday, as the storm forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets, sending coastal residents fleeing, and threatening a dangerous mix of high winds and soaking rain.   
National Journal
Aug. 19, 2013, 12:12 p.m.

Low-in­come com­munit­ies are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by ex­treme weath­er, ac­cord­ing to a re­port out Monday from the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress that of­fers policy re­com­mend­a­tions to shore up in­fra­struc­ture and pro­tect against fu­ture dam­ages.

The re­port, “A Dis­aster in the Mak­ing: Ad­dress­ing the Vul­ner­ab­il­ity of Low-In­come Com­munit­ies to Ex­treme Weath­er,” states that neigh­bor­hoods where a ma­jor­ity of res­id­ents live at or be­low the poverty line are ill-pre­pared to deal with fal­lout from storms and oth­er weath­er-re­lated dis­asters. As a res­ult, ex­treme weath­er hits low-in­come com­munit­ies harder.

“While many de­scribe storms and oth­er ex­treme weath­er as ‘so­cial equal­izers’ that do not dif­fer­en­ti­ate based on eth­ni­city, race, or class, the truth is that these events ex­acer­bate our un­der­ly­ing eco­nom­ic in­equit­ies,” writes Tracey Ross, the re­port’s au­thor and a seni­or policy ana­lyst with the cen­ter’s Poverty to Prosper­ity pro­gram.

Ross uses su­per­storm Sandy to il­lus­trate her point. The ma­jor­ity of New York City storm-surge vic­tims were low-in­come renters, she writes, cit­ing a stat­ist­ic provided by the Fur­man Cen­ter for Real Es­tate and Urb­an Policy. Res­id­ents of sub­sid­ized high-rise apart­ments were trapped in­side their homes in large num­bers dur­ing the storm, of­ten be­cause they had nowhere to go and no way to leave. In oth­er cases, eld­erly or dis­abled in­di­vidu­als liv­ing at or be­low the poverty line were stran­ded in­side high-rise towers when power out­ages put el­ev­at­ors out of ser­vice.

To pre­vent these out­comes in the fu­ture, the re­port of­fers a num­ber of policy re­com­mend­a­tions aimed at strength­en­ing the re­si­li­ence of low-in­come com­munit­ies to ex­treme weath­er. The re­port sug­gests pub­lic-hous­ing au­thor­it­ies ret­ro­fit ex­ist­ing struc­tures to guard against storm dam­age. It notes, however, that renov­a­tion can lead to rent in­creases and re­com­mends ex­pand­ing avail­ab­il­ity of the Low In­come Hous­ing Tax Cred­it to off­set a rise in prices.

The re­port also calls on poli­cy­makers to ad­dress eco­nom­ic and en­vir­on­ment­al risk factors. It sug­gests mak­ing dis­aster-mit­ig­a­tion in­sur­ance more af­ford­able for low-in­come in­di­vidu­als and re­com­mends re­stored fund­ing for the Low In­come Home En­ergy As­sist­ance Pro­gram, which saw a 30 per­cent cut in its op­er­at­ing budget from 2011 to 2012.

Ross also points out that “fol­low­ing a dis­aster, one of the im­me­di­ate con­cerns of fam­il­ies is food se­cur­ity,” and em­phas­izes the im­port­ance of safe­guard­ing the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, oth­er­wise known as food stamps, as well as the re­lated Dis­aster Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram, or D-SNAP. The re­port also urges ex­tend­ing be­ne­fit pay­out peri­ods for dis­aster un­em­ploy­ment as­sist­ance and un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pro­grams.

In a fi­nal note of warn­ing, Ross writes: “We can­not con­tin­ue to ig­nore our na­tion’s hous­ing crisis, the en­vir­on­ment­al justice is­sues that con­tin­ue to plague our com­munit­ies, and the grow­ing eco­nom­ic in­equal­ity that in­hib­its our coun­try’s growth. Re­si­li­ency in low-in­come com­munit­ies is an in­vest­ment we can and must make.”

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