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Why Renters Are Uniquely Vulnerable to Climate Disasters – Mother Jones


Why Renters Are Uniquely Vulnerable to Climate Disasters – Mother Jones

Flooding from the Illinois River deluged the Lakeview Apartments in Peoria Heights in April 2013.Seth Perlman/AP

This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Climate change is on a collision course with the affordability crisis in U.S. housing—and renters are poised to fare the worst. That’s the conclusion of a new report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which found that renters face the greatest risk from climate-related disasters striking their homes. Renters are also largely left behind in efforts to upgrade and fortify U.S. housing stock. As rental demand reaches an all-time high (and prices skyrocket in tandem), the report calls for a “permanent, fully funded housing safety net” and firm measures to protect existing housing from the next major disasters.

Last year set records for climate-related disasters in the US. More than 40 percent of Americans lived in counties that experienced a federally declared disaster, and the country faced 20 different climate catastrophes with billion-dollar price tags. The year also saw record increases in rents along with generalized inflation—and  the end of the federal government’s eviction ban, which lasted (in different forms) from the onset of the pandemic until the fall of 2021.  

In Houston, Texas, where 60 percent of housing units are rented—nearly double the statewide rate—rents jumped 10 percent last year, and thousands of tenants were evicted, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Meanwhile, wages in the Houston area increased by just 2 percent. 

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that, of America’s largest cities, Houston faces some of the most acute threats from climate change. Tens of thousands of rental units in the city are at risk of being destroyed or severely damaged by climate disasters, according to the Harvard center’s analysis of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Risk Index. Nationwide the figure stands at 18 million units, or 40 percent of the country’s rental…

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