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Building more Resilient, Equitable, and Inclusive Communities

Crystal Bergemann, Senior Advisor for Climate


September 13, 2022


Last year, an estimated 1 in 10 homes were impacted by some form of natural disaster. Grand Isle, Louisiana saw 100% of homes damaged and 40% destroyed after Hurricane Ida. Boulder County, Colorado lost 1,000 homes in December from the Marshall fire and middle Tennessee had over 700 homes inundated by flash flooding when up to 15 inches of rain fell over a six-hour period on August 21st. The reality is that tens of millions of American households live in areas that are impacted by severe weather with low-income families most likely to live in the areas most at risk.

Housing that is vulnerable to climate hazards exacerbates America’s housing crisis. Disadvantaged communities are often disproportionately impacted because they are in areas historically underserved and underinvested and reside in areas more prone to natural disasters. Formerly redlined neighborhoods have fewer trees, more pavement, and less accessible greenspace, which makes them hotter and more prone to flooding. Historically, low-income housing was built on the cheap land, often in flood-prone areas, which also makes these households more susceptible to having services such as transportation, food, and health cut off during flooding. Couple those facts with residents that face financial, health, and environmental challenges from discrimination, these communities are less likely to recover and more likely to suffer long-term impacts when severe weather and natural disasters strike.

As a nation, we have an incredible opportunity when tackling the climate crisis to at the same time build more resilient, equitable, and inclusive communities. HUD believes that climate resilience starts with access to quality, affordable housing that is protected from natural hazard risk. Under the leadership of Secretary Fudge and President Biden, HUD is taking action to secure a more resilient and sustainable future with affordable housing that will withstand future climate challenges.

HUD has adopted an ambitious Climate Action Plan that commits the agency to roughly 100 actions across every major office in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The actions outlined in the Climate Action Plan help ensure Americans struggling to access quality affordable housing will have access to energy efficient and resilient housing. Ensuring equitable access to sustainable, affordable housing will help end the history of low-income Americans and those who suffer the burdens of systemic racism and residential segregation from being forced to live in areas unduly impacted by natural hazards.

HUD works with communities through several programs to increase housing and community resiliency. To address flooding issues, HUD requires those receiving Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insurance to have flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. HUD is also examining potential modifications to environmental review policies to ensure future housing is in areas with lower flood risk or has flood mitigation measures in place. Additionally, HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development helps communities address climate and environmental justice through flexible grants for community and economic development. HUD is also responsible for managing the federal government’s single largest investment in low-income community resilience and recovery through its multibillion-dollar Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program. This investment helps to create the resilient housing and infrastructure US neighborhoods and cities need to combat and adapt to climate hazards. The President’s 2023 Budget supports permanently authorizing the CDBG-DR program so that this critical resource can be deployed more efficiently and equitably with future natural disasters.

Mt. Vernon, Washington is an example of this work where the city leveraged a $1 million HUD Section 108 loan guarantee to fund a FEMA certified flood wall that also serves as a linear park along the waterfront. This wall and recreation infrastructure protects the city’s historic downtown which had suffered major flooding every 3 – 5 years. The downtown is now outside FEMA’s 100-year floodplain and since the floodway improvements were completed in 2014, Mt Vernon Washington can make residential and commercial investments in its downtown core without fear of flooding.

Mt. Vernon, Washington project funded with a HUD Section 108 loan guarantee
Mt. Vernon, Washington project funded with a HUD Section 108 loan guarantee
Mt. Vernon, Washington project funded with a HUD Section 108 loan guarantee

HUD has created a library of resources including the Community Resilience Toolkit and activity implementation guides to help communities explore how to use their HUD funding to address local climate and environmental justice concerns. These implementation guides offer step-by-step instructions on how to use HUD funding to undertake specific climate resilience actions, including nature-based solutions and resilient single-family retrofits.

These actions start with intentional community engagement. HUD has published the Citizen Participation and Equitable Engagement toolkit to help grantees effectively and meaningfully engage with citizens and communities. This toolkit advances HUD’s commitment to ensure the benefits of climate resilience are experienced by those most impacted, bringing the community to the table as partners and decision makers.

Yes, we need to build more quality, affordable housing – but we also must do so with intentionality toward building more resilient, equitable communities as we continue to face natural disasters. HUD will continue to be a resource and partners for communities struggling with climate impacts because we cannot achieve community resilience without ensuring all citizens have access to sustainable, affordable, and resilient housing.

Joseph Baietti and Alexis Pelosi contributed to this blog post.