Millions of Rental Homes at Risk from Environmental Disasters in the U.S.

A recent report published by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies has revealed a staggering number of rental homes located in areas prone to environmental disasters. By combining data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) National Risk Index with the American Community Survey, researchers have found that millions of rental units are at risk. This article takes a closer look at the findings uncovered in the study and provides some insights on how renters can protect themselves against climate-related hazards.

Concentration of Risky Rental Units

Harvard researchers have identified that several states across the United States have high-risk locations where more than 2,000 rental units are concentrated. Notably, California and Florida appear to have a higher concentration of rental homes exposed to potential environmental disasters such as wildfires, flooding, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Analyzing the results, Sophia Wedeen, a research analyst focused on rental housing at the Joint Center for Housing Studies, explained that the map demonstrates “the number of rental units that are located in areas that have at least moderate risk.”

California and Florida’s Rental Housing Risks

  • In California, about 4.6 million or 77% of the state’s rental stock is situated within census tracts or neighborhoods anticipated to experience annual economic losses due to climate-related hazards.
  • Florida has approximately 2.4 million rental units at stake, which amounts to almost 89% of its rental stock.

The FEMA risk assessment factors enabled the researchers to examine the combination of an area’s likelihood of economic loss from natural disasters along with the number of rental homes present in those locations.

Understanding Risk and Insurance Policies for Renters

As climate-related risks continue to affect more regions in the United States, it becomes crucial for renters to be aware of their exposure and understand the available insurance policies covering such hazards. Jeremy Porter, head of climate implications research at First Street Foundation, suggests that the “best thing that renters can do is make sure what types of products are available to protect their property but then also … understand risk.”

Possible Measures to Secure Rental Homes

  1. Renters’ insurance: This form of coverage typically protects personal belongings from theft or damage but may also include protection against certain natural disasters. Renters should thoroughly analyze their renter’s insurance policy to determine its extent of the coverage.
  2. Flood insurance: Standard renters’ insurance policies often exclude flood coverage. Those residing in areas prone to flooding should consider purchasing additional flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or a private insurer.
  3. Earthquake insurance: Similar to flood insurance, earthquake coverage usually isn’t included in standard renters’ insurance policies. In case of living in an earthquake-prone region, tenants should seriously consider acquiring separate earthquake insurance.
  4. Wildfire protection: Although most renters’ insurance policies cover damages caused by wildfires, individuals should confirm the specifics of their policy, especially if they live in areas with high wildfire risk.

Preparing for Climate Hazards: A Collective Responsibility

While there is a lot that individual renters can do to minimize potential losses due to environmental disasters, there is an increasingly pressing need for collective action. Housing providers and governments bear a major responsibility in ensuring safety standards and offering solutions for renters exposed to climate-related risks.

Initiatives that Can Help Safeguard Rental Units

  • Building code improvements: States and localities should adopt stringent building codes, especially in disaster-prone areas. Ensuring structures are resilient to environmental risks can significantly reduce potential losses.
  • Disaster mitigation programs: Governments should invest in public-private partnerships for retrofitting existing rental housing stock and infrastructure, thereby decreasing the vulnerability of communities exposed to hazards.
  • Information sharing: Landlords and property managers ought to actively share information about prevailing climate risks with their tenants. This helps residents make informed decisions regarding their safety and ensures that they fully understand the implications of residing in high-risk areas.

In conclusion, understanding and preparing for environmental disasters is not only a burden for people renting homes but also a collective responsibility for the whole community. By working together, we can build a more resilient future against the growing threats posed by climate change.