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Disproportionate Devastation: The Impact of Natural Disasters on Low-income Communities

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Within a period of two weeks, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma swept through the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Texas and the Southeast, causing mass displacement, billions of dollars in damages, environmental contamination, the unfortunate loss of many lives and concern throughout our community, as many residents worried about the safety of their loved ones. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), over the past forty years, the frequency of weather and climate-related events has more than doubled. As natural disasters continue to escalate in regularity and severity, we must better understand how such incidents impact the United States’ most vulnerable residents.

Each year, natural events displace approximately 22 million individuals. While endangering all community members, forced relocation drastically impacts low-income residents who lack the financial means to travel and afford a long-term stay away from home. As recently reported by The Associated Press, to achieve a safe distance from tracking storm systems, at-risk residents often require access to transportation to reach local shelters or harbor communities, as well as the ability to pay for food and temporary living accommodations. The economic strain of evacuation on those who cannot afford such expenses can also be compounded by pre-existing financial obligations. For instance, many low-income residents must still pay rent or mortgages, even if unable to return to their residences, and ultimately make ends meet, even if unable to return to their workplaces. For those that live paycheck-to-paycheck, recuperating the cost of natural disasters can be a difficult, devastating journey.

In the aftermath of natural disasters, impoverished communities must also confront widespread structural damage. As observed by the Center for American Progress, homes and rental units offered at lower rates tend to be older and in substandard condition, providing little protection or resistance against severe weather patterns. More easily damaged by earthquakes, flooding, debris and high winds than their wealthier counterparts, low-income communities generally require significant aid and time for full recovery. This process of rehousing can also be particularly difficult for low-income renters, who statistically receive less government assistance for recovery than property owners and who may be priced out of their former neighborhoods, due to a lack of reinstated affordable housing opportunities.

With these factors in mind and Greater Boston susceptible to rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and greater precipitation, we must strengthen the physical resiliency of our neighborhoods and ensure that elderly, minority and low-income residents possess the material and financial resources they need to protect themselves against a changing climate. By continuing to advocate for the creation of high-quality affordable housing and socioeconomic equality, we hope to ensure that our most vulnerable populations are protected against the unpredictable.

We are proud to be working to develop housing opportunities for low-income households and minority residents in Boston. For more information on how you can support IBA, please visit our page:

Image courtesy of Jose Jimenez / Getty Images

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