Friday, July 17, 2015

Climate resilience and equity in low-income communities

By Emily Brown, National Housing Conference


On July 9, the Center for American Progress and the National League of Cities hosted a discussion about “Building Climate Resilience for Equitable Communities: City, Federal and Tribal Perspectives.” Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), gave the opening remarks. The panel featured perspectives from local and tribal government with Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City and Chairwoman Karen Diver of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa as well as perspectives from the federal government with Harriet Tregoning, principal deputy assistant secretary, Office of Community Planning and Development Resilience, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Mustafa Santiago Ali, senior advisor to the administrator for environmental justice in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In Director Donovan’s opening remarks he spoke of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and new initiatives to ensure that low and moderate income communities are protected from the effects of climate change. Low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change including rising sea levels and more intense storms. Tribal communities are some of the most impacted because changing climate can jeopardize their access to traditional foods, threatening public health, food security and cultural wellbeing. Recent initiatives are beginning to address these inequities:
  • The new Resilience AmeriCorps program, a public-private partnership with the mission of helping communities plan and carry out climate resilience measures. 
  • The newly announced Obama Administration initiative to expand access to solar energy for low- and moderate-income communities including 300 megawatts of clean energy from solar panels on public housing developments.  
Efforts to better plan for disasters and climate change are changing to better serve vulnerable populations. In the past, HUD’s community disaster recovery efforts prioritized returning communities to normalcy. However, noted Tregoning, putting people back exactly how and where they were prior to a disaster doesn’t make sense in terms of planning for future climate disasters. It makes more sense to plan for a changing climate and changing economy, which is exactly the thought that inspired HUD’s new National Disaster Resilience Competition

On another note, as Senior Advisor Ali explained in his remarks, one vital aspect of ensuring that communities remain strong in the face of climate change is involving residents as equal partners during the decision-making processes. Communities are frequently aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Residents know how well their neighborhood is served by public transit and what resources they can access. This valuable local knowledge can help policymakers and advocates more effectively empower a community to meet its needs and to weather the effects of climate change. Additionally, due to the historic prioritization of physical infrastructure, social resiliency is an undervalued but fundamental piece that impacts how communities heal in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Along with community empowerment, the discussion highlighted the importance of cross-jurisdictional partnerships and regional collaboration, and underlined the fact that each community will have a different approach to climate resilience. A webcast of the discussion is available online

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