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 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 was a record year for climate-related catastrophes in the US. More than 40%Many Americans lived in areas that were affected by a federally declared disaster. 20 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 banThe lasted (in various forms) from the onset and fall of the pandemic to 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. Wages in Houston are rising at the moment. Just 2 percent.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that, of America’s largest cities, Houston faces some of the most acute Climate change: Threats. 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 stock.
Houston is a city dominated by renters. As such, disaster protections are very limited and homeowners often receive more funds for recovery. In the face of emergency, renters are more than three times less likely to be able to afford to flee—and the ones who can are at greater risk of being kicked out of their homes if they become damaged, according to the report. Historically, landlords had been allowed to have free rein. Evict tenants under the guise of remodeling and rebuilding battered homes and apartments following disasters.
Not only are rental units (and renters) more threatened by climate change—they’re also less likely to see the improvements the housing sector needs to adapt to and slow global warming. Tenants don’t have the right to force their homes to be retrofitted to improve energy efficiency or disaster resilience because they lack ownership rights. The report states that landlord surveys from the past two years suggest that some owners have delayed maintenance spending, including structural repairs since the pandemic.
Additionally, renter-occupied properties consume less energy that owner-occupied ones, but they are more energy efficient. We offer less likely to have energy-efficient measures put in place to help lower residential fossil fuel emissions. As landlords and property ownership groups base decisions on profit margins, “property owners have little incentive to improve the efficiency of their units because they often do not pay for utilities” and “do not directly benefit from investing in efficiency retrofits,” the report states.
However, the report’s authors argue that government spending priorities can help address these problems. “The pandemic has brought the long-simmering rental affordability crisis to the fore,” Harvard research associate Whitney Airgood-Obrycki wrote in a blog post about the report, but “the nation has the opportunity to pull millions of households out of poverty, address longstanding inequities in housing delivery, and ensure that every household has access to a decent and affordable home.”
The report argues that the federal government should enact “far-reaching” measures in both the short and long terms. It calls for increased funding for emergency assistance and eviction prevention programs. This has saved millions of families from being evicted in 2020. The report also proposes more federal subsidies for low-income tenants’ home weatherization projects and rebates for energy retrofits—elements once expected to be included in the Build Back Better Act.
By creating this “housing safety net,” the report argues, the country’s most vulnerable residents will remain sheltered in the face of potentially life-altering severe climate events.