Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

 

Equitable Recovery Tools

Equitable disaster recovery tools are legal and policy mechanisms that aid in creating strategies that incorporate equity in both short- and long-term recovery from a disaster for frontline communities. Equitable recovery consists of implementing laws and policies that help to remove existing barriers to recovery solutions for frontline communities and others, addressing affected communities’ needs, and collaborating with communities to get the desired solutions. It is important that need- and impacts-assessments are conducted along with community convenings, which will engage the community in a visioning process and address the recovery efforts of those directly affected. Recovery is a broad cross-sectional concept that incorporates housing, infrastructure, small businesses, individual assistance access, land use and redevelopment, and health concerns across affected communities. Equitable recovery is most likely to be achieved when its design is informed by those directly affected and aids those same people in achieving safety and normalcy after a disaster. Equitable recovery should strive to — at the very least — make a frontline community whole while simultaneously making it more resilient in the face of disasters to come.

A key feature of equitable recovery tools and policies is the creation of a participatory model for community members to contribute to their own recovery. These tools also intersect with many sectors of the economy including energy democracy, public health, infrastructure, and housing; help reduce involuntary displacement of people in the days, months, and years following the disaster; seek to balance the preservation of the original community and culture with the increased resiliency of core community assets; and remove barriers for low-income homeowners to get federal and state assistance available to adequately recover.

Considerations of Equitable Recovery Tools

Economic

  • Who pays for restoration and redevelopment after a disaster is always a major issue. Options include the federal, state, or local governments, nonprofits, or individuals and businesses.
  • Increased prices for essential items during a time of recovery make necessities inaccessible for many frontline communities who are most in need.

Environmental

  • These types of tools deal with recovering from a specific climate disaster and its consequences, while (usually) attempting to implement policy or legal changes so that the catastrophic consequences will not be repeated.
  • Recovery tools often include incorporating more resilient, energy-efficient technologies and retrofits into redevelopment to mitigate future disaster impacts.

Social/Equity

  • After climate disasters, there are often displacement issues most heavily among frontline communities. 
  • Low-income households are often financially unprepared for a disaster event, and thus do not have the resources saved that are necessary to recover from an event. 
  • Before implementing relocation tools, it is important to determine if/how disadvantaged communities will be affected by these types of laws and regulations. 
  • Successful recovery plans that are released and implemented directly after a disaster should incorporate community engagement. Post-disaster redevelopment plans should focus on a just recovery in the most adversely affected communities first.

Administrative

  • Building communities back after a natural disaster involves coordinating a lot of moving pieces including short- and long term policies and projects among a number of partners and stakeholders including federal and local governments, businesses, community-based organizations, non-profits, and NGOs among others. 
  • Recovery in many communities depends, at least in part, on local businesses reopening. Local business owners should be heavily involved in the development of any just recovery plan or strategy.

Legal

  • Legal questions may arise regarding ways to qualify for and spend federal money, and whether changes from previous construction are allowed as part of a new project. For example, can redevelopment occur in less vulnerable areas; etc. 
  • The successful design of redevelopment in a legally enforceable way must require consideration of climate disasters into the future.
  • Depending on the tool used, different agencies, legislators, etc. have the power to implement these rules and there are also questions of who has related enforcement powers. 

Lessons Learned

  • Climate displacement is a huge issue for frontline communities. In instances where a neighborhood can be safely redeveloped and does not require that residents consider a buyout or otherwise relocate, strategies that emphasize keeping people in their homes to prevent climate displacement should be prioritized. However, where movement to a safer location is necessary, community engagement and support are essential.
  • If policymakers implement regulations — such as zoning laws or expedited permitting — that prohibit rebuilding or redevelopment in environmentally vulnerable areas, they need to ensure that specific, disadvantaged communities are fully taken into consideration and protected.
  • The best recovery plans are those that not only ensure that a community rebounds from a disaster event, but also that the community is prepared for future, similar climate events. Thus, recovery strategies should include policy and resources that facilitate future mitigation, prevention, and preparedness for these communities.
  • Local governments should actively work to support and engage in integrated planning with community organizations that can assist communities before and after an extreme weather event. This can help ensure transparency, and build a sense of trust between the local government and the community it is assisting.

 

Related Resources

 
Equitable Recovery, Equitable Resilience

This white paper from Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) describes the roles that community organizations play in responding to natural disasters, as well as the accomplishments and challenges relating to this work. With natural disasters related to climate change occuring at increasingly frequent rates, community organizations provide critical emergency aid and recovery services. Furthermore, these services can help reduce the recovery gap within communities, as underlying economic, social, and housing factors and public policy decisions create disparities which are exacerbated through natural disasters. Drawing on interviews with various organizations in California, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Texas, this paper reviews the different strategies that these groups use and puts forth some recommendations for policy changes that may be necessary to advance equity in recovery and resilience.

Lessons from the Storm: Climate Displacement Three Years After Hurricane Sandy

This report by the Center for American Progress assesses the recovery of New York and New Jersey’s middle- and low-income communities three years after Hurricane Sandy. The report analyzes the challenges encountered by state and city leaders to help reduce displacement of people in the days and years following the storm, as well as innovative policies that emerged to prevent future extreme weather and climate displacement. The Center also highlights the important role that community groups play as citizen first responders, liaisons to government officials, and in long-term housing and recovery efforts. Recommendations are given for city and state climate resilience planning in order to avoid displacement, and equitably strengthen communities through: (1) Efforts to fortify hard and soft infrastructure; (2) Programs that prioritize keeping or returning people to their homes to prevent climate displacement; (3) Analysis, support, and integrated planning with community organizations that can assist communities before and after an extreme weather event; and (4) Initiatives to incorporate affordable housing needs with climate resilience and anti-displacement measures.

Our Power Puerto Rico: Moving Toward a Just Recovery

In 2019, Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) released the Our Power Puerto Rico report which utilizes a case study on the rural farms of Puerto Rico to demonstrate how the Just Recovery model can be utilized to help the island recover from 2017’s Hurricane Maria which devastated Puerto Rico’s agriculture. Just Recovery is a model centered on the frontline communities to response, recovery and rebuild from climate accelerated disasters. The model is created through the accumulation of hands-on cases conducted by Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), which is an organization with 67 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations, and supporting networks. The goal is to lay the groundwork necessary to activate community participation in both immediate emergency responses and long-term rebuilds. It also emphasizes that the process must be led by those who have been treated unequally in real life — such as the queer, trans, working-class, folks of color, disabled, immigrants, and/or femmes on the frontlines. This allows frontline communities to build their own power, agency, and self-determination while achieving climate adaptation. The report also includes a list of practical steps for conducting the Just Recovery model.  

Annexing and Preparing Higher Ground Receiving Areas in Princeville, North Carolina Through Post-Disaster Recovery Processes

In 2017, the Town of Princeville, North Carolina engaged experts and communities in a long-term, comprehensive planning process to annex a 53-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain to develop a safer, higher ground area where residents, structures, and infrastructure can be relocated. After experiencing flooding impacts from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Princeville was selected as one of six municipalities in North Carolina to receive technical support and funding from the state through the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. To tailor to the residents’ needs, Princeville held workshops to develop potential strategies together with the communities. Princeville provides an example for other municipalities either in a pre-or post-disaster context for how to balance the preservation of original townships history and culture while dealing with flooding vulnerabilities and increasing the resiliency of core community assets and services through adaptation actions. As done in Princeville, local governments may consider options for relocating vulnerable residences and community facilities and services, including by annexing new land where sufficient higher ground land within existing municipal boundaries is not available to reallocate critical land uses and maintain local communities, tax bases, and economies.

The Texas Title Project

The Texas Title Project was a two-year program that began in 2013 after Hurricanes Dolly and Ike hit Texas, wreaking havoc, especially on lower-income communities. The Texas Title Project worked to address the problem that low-income homeowners in the area often had regarding clear titles to their land and property. In clearing any issues relating to these titles, homeowners then became eligible for federal government rebuilding assistance. Essentially, the Project had a threefold mission: (1) To clear titles for those homeowners and families that participated in the program; (2) To develop a general model for providing these types of legal services that could be implemented in the future, when another disaster occurred; and (3) To study the barriers that existed that prevented low-income homeowners from having a clear title, especially in areas that are disproportionately affected by disasters. During the two years it was operational, the Project provided services for more than 350 families seeking disaster recovery assistance in East Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

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