NRDC senior program advocate Sasha Forbes explains what it means to be displaced by climate change and why cities must invest in long-term housing affordability—and a self-sustaining future—for their low-income communities and communities of color.
The cycle is all too familiar: Affluent residents move into lower-income neighborhoods in cities and make their mark on the area’s character and culture. Property values and the cost of living rise in tandem. While the process of gentrification may revitalize under-resourced neighborhoods, the skyrocketing costs of living displace longtime residents and businesses, leaving a new demographic to enjoy the benefits.
As climate change starts to play a more significant role in where we live, it has become a trigger for gentrification and displacement in its own right. Coastal cities that lie on the frontlines of global warming have seen an influx of investments to improve climate resilience. The efforts to redevelop or build new structures that can withstand the impacts of intensifying storms, flooding, erosion, and sea-level rise may inadvertently pose new threats to low-income communities of color.
On the other hand, the lack of equitable investment in low-income communities leaves people even more at risk for climate change impacts when the development model maintains a do-nothing status quo. The same consequence can happen when high-income households relocate from flood-prone coastal properties to higher-elevation cities, displacing the residents there. Extreme weather events fueled by global climate change can also rapidly reshape a city’s identity and people’s cultural connections to places they call home.
There are a few ways you can look at the causes of climate gentrification. Sasha Forbes, a senior program advocate in NRDC’s Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program, breaks them down.
The Lure of Higher Ground
Increasingly, high-income households are moving away from coastal properties to avoid threats like sea-level rise and erosion. The lurking impacts of the climate crisis “are pushing people inland onto communities that have been rooted there and have endured disinvestment, racism, and inequality and are now under the threat of gentrification and displacement,” Forbes explains. Meanwhile, even owners of more-resilient coastal properties are eyeing properties farther from the shore due to expenses associated with climate change, such as the rising cost of flood insurance.