Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit

Many local governments and community-based practitioners are incorporating principles of equity into their climate adaptation planning and implementation. This toolkit highlights best and emerging practice examples of how cities are addressing disproportionate socioeconomic risk to climate impacts and engaging overburdened communities. This toolkit will further explore how cities are moving beyond equitable adaptation planning and implementing policies that address both social equity and climate resilience. The toolkit is intended to aid local governments and community-based organizations nationwide that are centering equity in their adaptation initiatives. In comparing promising practices and case studies across cities, the toolkit draws lessons from different approaches and provides frameworks to help practitioners craft similar legal and policy options for their own jurisdictions in ways that will help them advance equitable responses to the impacts of climate change.


People from diverse backgrounds sit around a table at a public workshop talking
Public engagement session for RhodeMap RI.
(Credit: Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program)

Statement of the Problem: Implementing Equitable Adaptation 

Two of the biggest challenges facing the United States are the social inequalities that put the health and well being of marginalized populations at risk and climate change. The effects of climate change —including rising temperatures in urban areas, more polluted air, and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme storms — will disproportionately affect overburdened and low-income people and communities who are already facing significant economic and social challenges. A community’s success or failure in preparing for the impacts of climate change will be measured by how it is able to address the needs of those on the frontlines of impacts and those already suffering from a range of challenges including lack of economic opportunity, racism, and pollution. Currently, many climate change adaptation plans and policies do not consider the specific needs of frontline communities and resilience does not take a holistic view of the challenges that communities face in implementing solutions that provide multiple benefits to people, the environment, and the economy. The following section highlights the key considerations in developing an equity framework to address the unique vulnerabilities that low-income communities face in developing equitable adaptation planning and implementation strategies.

Structural and Institutional Racism and Marginalization

Underlying the disproportionate risks faced by certain communities are long histories and deeply embedded patterns of structural and institutional racism. Social, economic, and political systems in the United States have routinely advantaged white and wealthy residents. For example, U.S. slavery and racial segregation that lead to education and job disparities, lack of investment in public transit and other services, and race-based housing segregation and exclusionary zoning practices are among the many policies that have contributed to landscapes in which low-income, black and brown people and immigrants live in places more susceptible to sustained exposure to air pollution and water contamination with limited access to healthcare. These systems lead to the marginalization of these communities, which is defined as “the process of according less importance to something or someone moved away from the inner workings of the group.”See footnote 1 Marginalized communities are "groups of people who face systemic disadvantages, exclusion, and barriers to opportunities, resources and power based on their identities," including but not limited to black, indigenous, and people of color, immigrants, persons with disabilities, and poor and/or low-income communities.See footnote 2

Marginalized communities, also referred to as disadvantaged communities, may also be affected disproportionately by actions to address the underlying causes and impacts of climate change, if they are not implemented through policies that consider existing inequalities.See footnote 3 Public policy has often reinforced rather than reversed these existing inequities as wealthy residents have more influence in the political process and have more power to combat undesirable policies and land uses in their neighborhoods.See footnote 4 Structural racism is directly related to existing city processes that can be changed by publicly recognizing the roles policymakers play in creating and reinforcing structural racism and by policymakers actively seeking to implement policies that reduce inequities.

Climate Change and Disproportionate Impacts

Two women joyfully play colorful drums as part of an art installation in Little Haiti, Miami.
Community members play drums at an interactive art installation in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami. In 2018, the City of Miami passed a Resolution focused on studying and addressing climate gentrification and climate impacts on low-income communities.
(Source: Little Haiti Cultural Complex)

The effects of climate change — including rising temperatures in urban areas, more polluted air, and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme storms — disproportionately affect overburdened and underserved people and communities who are already facing significant economic and social challenges. Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth.See footnote 5 A community’s success or failure in preparing for the impacts of climate change will be measured by how it is able to address the needs of those on the frontlines of impacts and those already suffering from a range of challenges including lack of economic opportunity, racism, age, disability, and exposure to pollution, among other factors. Implementing adaptation equitably presents an opportunity to make social and economic equity a central driver of a city’s adaptation approach.

Climate change is often described as a threat multiplier, a concept particularly applicable to social inequities. For example, people already struggling to pay a high electric bill will find it more difficult to do so when they experience more frequent heat waves and/or snow storms. Finding safe and stable housing will be even more difficult if most of the affordable housing stock for low-income residents is located in flood-prone areas more frequented by extreme weather.

Low-income communities and communities of color tend to be located closer to major sources of pollution, such as congested highways, polluting power plants, and toxic oil refineries. Residents tend to breathe air with higher than normal levels of particulate matter, and consequently have higher rates of asthma. People of color also face greater exposure to toxins that can cause cognitive problems in children, including lead. Immigrants often share the same problems of exposure to environmental degradation as they tend to live in similarly underserved communities and also face limited access to political power. Frontline communities are typically made up of historically marginalized populations. 

Frontline Communities

Frontline communities include people who are both highly exposed to climate risks (because of the places they live and the projected changes expected to occur in those places) and have fewer resources, capacity, safety nets, or political power to respond to those risks (e.g. these people may lack insurance or savings, inflexible jobs, low levels of influence over elected officials, etc.).See footnote 6 Frontline communities are those that experience the “first and worst” consequences of climate change. These are often communities of color whose communities were placed in the least desirable areas of cities, often with high exposure to climate impacts like flooding. These can be low-income communities, whose neighborhoods often lack basic infrastructure to support them and who will be increasingly vulnerable as the climate changes. But these are also communities of people who immigrated to the United States, including legal immigrants, refugees, and undocumented immigrants who may or may not be native English speakers. Frontline communities include but are not limited to:

Children play in jets of water that spring up in a splash park in a city center in Philadelphia.
Children cool off playing in a splash park in Philadelphia. (Credit: Albert Lee @urphillypal, Source: City of Philadelphia)
  • People of color
  • Low income
  • Immigrants
  • Those at-risk of displacement
  • Senior citizens
  • Populations experiencing homelessness
  • Outdoor workers/climate-vulnerable labor 
  • Incarcerated populations
  • Renters/Subsidized housing tenant
  • Unemployed/Underemployed
  • Youth
  • Persons with disability and 
  • Chronically-ill/Hospitalized people.

Solutions: Centering Equity

Defining Equity in the Climate Adaptation Context

As a first key step, implementing equitable climate adaptation approaches involves strengthening community resilience while ensuring that equity is integrated into policies and practices. For the purposes of this toolkit, equity is defined as an approach based in fairness designed to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources. In the climate context, to be truly resilient, communities must have the resources to prepare for the changes that are already being seen on the ground and increase community capacity to withstand impacts and recover quickly after extreme weather events that will happen with greater frequency and intensity with a changing climate. In practice, this means ensuring building equity into climate resilience planning and implementation, addressing the disproportionate impacts that affect frontline communities, and working to dismantle barriers that have prevented frontline communities from thriving. This involves both inclusive processes that give frontline communities opportunities to shape decisionmaking and a deep investment in implementing the programs and policies that frontline communities ask for and need. Importantly, these programs and policies should address not only climate risks but also pervasive stressors, such as lack of educational and economic opportunity and threats from displacement and gentrification. Therefore, in the context of this toolkit, equity will be broken down into two aspects:

  1. Procedural Equity addresses the commitment to communities having a voice in decisionmaking processes and that adaptation planning and implementation are done through diverse and inclusive engagement processes.
  2. Substantive Equitable Outcomes are sought through implementing policy solutions and programs that seek to more fairly distribute access to the benefits of programs and investments and seek to remedy historic underinvestment in communities.

City Roles and Efforts to Address Equity through Planning and Policy

Cities across the United States are increasingly focused on resilience, as climate impacts begin to occur more often. But time and time again, post-disaster recovery demonstrates that frontline communities are not benefitting from these efforts. Whether it be from policies and law that directly create negative outcomes for frontline communities like displacement in the eye of disaster or indirectly, like displacement caused by gentrification, it is time to ground resilience and adaptation work in equitable processes and strive for equitable outcomes for those most vulnerable to climate impacts.


Purpose and Methodology of the Toolkit

To help communities address the challenges of climate resilience and social inequality, the Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) partnered with leading experts and practitioners to develop an Equitable Adaptation Toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help local policymakers address these challenges. The toolkit features promising practices and substantive policy solutions for achieving equitable outcomes through city resilience initiatives and that can provide replicable examples for an array of communities and community-based organizations. The toolkit provides a single place where community-based organizations and cities can explore best and emerging practices for centering equity in planning processes and policy options for advancing equity and climate resilience goals. It also provides case study examples of community-driven planning initiatives and legal and policy solutions that have been advanced through community-driven planning. There is no “one size fits all” approach for ensuring equity in community resilience policies and programs. To help decisionmakers and practitioners tailor approaches to their specific jurisdictions, legal contexts, and needs, the toolkit also includes analytic frameworks to help users weigh policy tradeoffs and navigate potential legal challenges.

A screenshot of a zoom call with GCC staff and advisors for the toolkit. There are 25 diverse participants from community-based organizations, non-profits, and other experts.
GCC brought the authors and advisors working on the toolkit together for a virtual roundtable to discuss and inform the toolkit’s development in March 2020.

GCC developed the toolkit through a collaborative process that was informed by an advisory group made up of representatives from community-based organizations, cities, and subject-matter experts in the areas of housing, public health, finance, community engagement, water, and energy; representatives from community-based organizations leading adaptation efforts in their own communities; and members of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). As a web-based resource, the toolkit will be dynamically updated to keep pace with new developments and remain easily accessible.

About the Toolkit

The toolkit is organized into four major sections: 

(1) Introduction to the Problem and the Need for Equitable Climate Adaptation Solutions;

(2) Procedural Equity: Tools for Planning, Engagement, and Governance;

(3) Equitable Adaptation Policies & Programs: Implementing Equitable Adaptation; and 

(4) Funding Tools: Paying for Equitable Adaptation. 

Each section includes chapters that explore the legal and policy tools that encourage equitable processes and outcomes associated with the referenced subject matter. Each chapter has Considerations and Lessons Learned sections that include the primary takeaways from each example. These findings capture the approaches and tools that other local policymakers and communities may consider when developing or implementing their own equitable adaptation strategies.

The chapters included explore promising practices, and feature case studies, and substantive policy solutions for achieving equitable outcomes in the relevant subject matter areas. Some case studies are in fact resources to guide practitioners in this work. Case studies are meant to be representative of best and emerging practices that present learning opportunities for other communities and local governments looking for local equitable climate adaptation solutions. Not all case studies fully encompass the best-case scenario and no two municipalities or communities are alike. As a result, the toolkit seeks to take the lessons learned from case studies presented and apply them to individual situations. Collectively, these case studies present a suite, although not an exhaustive list, of legal and policy tools that can be used to facilitate equitable adaptation efforts.

Policymakers, practitioners, and community members leading, engaging in, or participating in the work presented in this report informed the case studies in this toolkit. No statements or opinions, however, should be attributed to any individual or organization included in the Acknowledgements section of this report. It is also important to note that the programs and planning processes described in each case study are ongoing and the content included in this toolkit is current as of June 2020.


Authors and Acknowledgements

Authors and Project Management and Oversight

This toolkit was co-authored by Georgetown Climate Center staff and consultants. Between 2018 and 2020, Tiffany Ganthier, Institute Associate, Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center served as the project manager facilitating the development of multiple elements of the Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit, including: legal and policy research and writing; partner outreach and engagement through one-on-one interviews and group workshops; and external review processes.

This toolkit was co-authored by Georgetown Climate Center staff and consultants: 

  • Tiffany Ganthier, Institute Associate at the Georgetown Climate Center, project manager and primary author of the Introduction, Community Engagement, Resilient Energy, and Disaster Preparedness Response & Recovery Chapters.
  • Lisa Anne Hamilton, Adaptation Program Director at the Georgetown Climate Center, primary author of the Governance and Data & Metrics chapters.
  • Annie Bennett, Senior Associate at the Georgetown Climate Center, primary author of the Natural Resilience chapter.
  • Katherine Mccormick, Institute Associate at the Georgetown Climate Center, primary author of the Economic Resilience chapter.
  • Anne Perrault, Senior Fellow at the Georgetown Climate Center, primary author of the Finance chapter.
  • Joel Smith, Independent Consultant and expert on climate change policy, primary author of the Resilient Water Chapter. 
  • Sara Hoverter, Staff attorney and Adjunct Professor at the Harrison Institute for Public Law of the Georgetown University Law Center, primary author of the Public Health chapter.
  • Jennifer Li, Staff Attorney and Adjunct Professor at the Harrison Institute for Public Law, Georgetown University Law Center, primary author of the Resilient Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement chapter.
  • Jessica Grannis, Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and Coastal Resilience Director at National Audubon Society, primary author of the Community Land Trusts section of the Housing chapter.

Additional written contributions and editorial and project oversight were provided by Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center; Lisa Anne Hamilton, Adaptation Program Director, Georgetown Climate Center; and Joseph Kruger, Director for Research and Strategy, Georgetown Climate Center, and Rekha Radkrishnan, Independent Consultant provided additional editorial support. 

Significant research and writing contributions for the case studies and Adaptation Clearinghouse entries included in the toolkit were provided by Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate at the Georgetown Climate Center, and Ju-Ching Huang (S.J.D. candidate), Jamaldeen Tonzua Seidu (LL.M.), Caroline Flibbert (B.S) and Riley Donlin (B.A), Research Assistants, Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University Law Center, and Alex Votaw, (J.D. candidate) Harrison Institute for Public Law at Georgetown University Law Center. 


The authors would like to thank the Kresge Foundation for its generous support and guidance, and without whom the Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit would not have been possible. 

We are also grateful for the collaboration of the following individuals for taking the time to serve on the Expert Advisory Group, speak with us, review drafts, and provide insights that were invaluable in helping to inform the Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit and Case Studies: 

Advisory Group

  • Nathaly Agosto Filion, Newark, NJ Department of Sustainability
  • Kristin Baja, Urban Sustainability Directors Network 
  • Omar Carrillo Tinajero, Center for Community Investment 
  • Ronda Chapman, Policylink 
  • Mayra Cruz, Catalyst Miami 
  • Zelalem Adefris, Catalyst Miami 
  • Melissa Deas, DC Department of Energy & Environment 
  • Anthony Giancatarino, Movement Strategy Innovation Center 
  • Eunice Ko, NYC Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resilience 
  • Victoria Ludwig, US Environmental Protection Agency 
  • Surili Patel, American Public Health Association
  • Clyde Thompson, DC Equity Advisory Group 
  • James Williams, Fair Share Housing Center
  • Adam Gordon, Fair Share Housing Center
  • Dave Rammler, Fair Share Housing Center 
  • Matthew Gray, Cleveland, OH Office of Sustainability

We would also like to thank the following individuals for taking the time to provide review previous drafts and provide helpful feedback and guidance: 

  • Joel Smith, Independent Consultant
  • Josh Sawislak, Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions
  • Vernice Miller Travis, Metropolitan Group 
  • Charles Lee, US Environmental Protection Agency 
  • Sasha Forbes, Natural Resources Defense Council 
  • Marissa Ramirez, Natural Resources Defense Council

We also appreciate the diligent work of the following individuals who helped us finalize and publish the toolkit: Peter Rafle, Communications Director, Caren Fitzgerald, Communications Associate, and Kelly Cruce, Consultant, Georgetown Climate Center.

No statements or opinions contained within this toolkit or affiliated case studies or entries in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse should be attributed to any individual or organization included in the above Acknowledgements. 

For comments or questions about the Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit please, contact climate@georgetown.edu.


Procedural Equity

Tools for Planning, Engagement, and Governance

A woman stands at the front of a classroom and speaks animatedly while five other individuals stand beside her and listen. There is a map of the community in front of her and a poster paper behind her that reads "Community agreements" and lists house rules for the meeting. The first three lines read "1. One diva, one mic (una diva, una microfono), 2. Make space, 3. Silence Phones" the rest of the list is not visible.
(Credit: ACT LA: Alliance for Community Transit Los Angeles)

As a first key step, implementing equitable climate adaptation approaches involves strengthening community resilience while ensuring that equity is integrated into policies and practices. In practice, this means ensuring building equity into climate resilience planning and implementation, addressing the disproportionate impacts that affect frontline communities, and working to dismantle barriers that have prevented frontline communities from thriving. This involves both inclusive processes that give frontline communities opportunities to shape decisionmaking and a deep investment in implementing the programs and policies that frontline communities ask for and need. Importantly, these programs and policies should address not only climate risks but also pervasive stressors, such as lack of educational and economic opportunity and threats from displacement and gentrification. 

Procedural Equity addresses the commitment to communities having a voice in decisionmaking processes, and that adaptation planning and implementation are done through diverse and inclusive engagement processes.

The following chapters explore tools that ensure decisionmaking processes are centered in equity.


Community-Driven Engagement Processes


People sit around a table looking at maps of their community.
Jerome Ave Community Workshop, Bronx, NY 
(Credit: NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development)

Many climate change adaptation plans and related policies do not currently consider the specific needs of frontline communities.See footnote 7 Approaches to resilience have not traditionally taken a holistic view of the social, economic, and cumulative environmental challenges that communities face. As a result, governments often overlook the needs of the marginalized and underrepresented communities when planning and implementing climate adaptation solutions even though these communities are the most vulnerable to climate impacts. In recent years, an increasing number of governments have recognized the value of community engagement but unfortunately, when governments and decisionmakers do engage communities, it is typically at the end of the decisionmaking process.See footnote 8 Rather than investing in robust and authentic community engagement at the earliest stages of project design and planning, decisionmakers often engage in community consultation as an afterthought by simply “checking the box” once the planning process is substantially completed. When decisionmakers engage in such cursory “checkbox” community engagement, projects are often finalized without incorporating any community input and may not reflect the preferences or values of the affected community and may even reinforce systemic inequalities.See footnote 9 

Many governments have now begun to recognize the need to work with communities to remedy these inequities. A plan’s success or failure in preparing for the impacts of climate change will be measured by how well it is able to address the needs of those on the frontlines of impacts and those already suffering from a range of social and economic challenges including lack of economic opportunity, racism, and cumulative exposure to pollution. Therefore, to effectively build equity into climate resilience planning and implementation, policymakers can prioritize the disproportionate impacts that affect frontline communities and work to dismantle barriers that have prevented frontline communities from thriving.

Underlying the disproportionate risks faced by certain communities and the under-representation of those communities in decisionmaking processes are long histories and deeply embedded policies and practices that reinforce structural and institutional racism. Structural racism is a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often-reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial inequality.See footnote 10 Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage.See footnote 11 Social, economic, and political systems in the United States have routinely allowed privileges to be associated with “whiteness” and wealthy residents.See footnote 12 For example, the legacy of U.S. slavery and racial segregation has led to disparities in the quality of education and access to job opportunities.See footnote 13 The policies and practices that have reinforced systemic and institutional racism have in turn contributed to barriers to the right to vote that have led to the underrepresentation of communities of color in decisionmaking.See footnote 14 

Three women sit on one side of a table with a blue table cloth and an array of pictures on the table. A woman stands on the other side of the table pointing to an informational poster and talking as the other women listen to her.
Our Voice, Our County: Environmental Community Fair in Wilmington, California
(Source: OurCounty, Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office)

Before policymakers can create adaptation policies that address the needs of marginalized communities, efforts must be made to recognize the policies, patterns, and practices that have contributed to and reinforced racial disparities. The systemic marginalization of communities is rooted in fundamental perceptions of the importance of communities of color that are reflected in how policymaking is developed and the resulting outcomes. Marginalized communities, also referred to as disadvantaged communities, are groups of people who face systemic disadvantages, exclusion, and barriers to opportunities, resources and power based on their identities, that includes, but is not limited to black, indigenous, and people of color, immigrants, persons with disabilities, poor and/or low-income communities.See footnote 15 The very definition of marginalization, “the process of according less importance to something or someone moved away from the inner workings of the group, highlights the fact that policymakers make a choice to regard the needs of marginalized communities as secondary considerations.”See footnote 16 Structural racism is directly related to existing institutional processes that can be changed by publicly recognizing the roles policymakers play in creating and reinforcing structural racism and by policymakers actively seeking to implement policies that reduce inequities.See footnote 17 

An equity-driven approach to developing solutions to climate impacts should seek to disrupt and reform unequal power dynamics that reinforce social, economic, and political disparities. By engaging stakeholders who typically have been overlooked and discounted in policymaking due to existing systemic barriers, adaptation planning can reflect the cultural values and preferences of the community.See footnote 18 Community engagement processes may also help policymakers identify and dismantle existing patterns in policymaking and increase the likelihood that policies will benefit those most in need of policy interventions. When policymakers commit to practicing Procedural Equity, planning and implementation efforts are executed with ongoing and inclusive community engagement to give a diverse group of community voices a role in decisionmaking.See footnote 19 Executing this commitment includes giving frontline communities opportunities to shape decisionmaking while making significant investment in implementing the programs and policies that frontline communities ask for and need. This includes adopting measures that encourage inclusive community engagement. For example, policymakers can invite trusted leaders in the community to participate and provide a sense of comfort for others who do not have a traditional decisionmaking role. Other efforts include offering translators or translated materials that reflect the demographic make-up of the community to overcome language barriers. These are all meaningful steps in achieving effective community engagement.See footnote 20

A meaningful community engagement process that involves affected frontline communities at the earliest stages of decisionmaking can increase the effectiveness of governmental planning processes and improve the likelihood that proposed projects are implemented. By engaging the community at an early stage and throughout the planning process, policymakers can gain significant insights from public input while decreasing the likelihood that a project will face negative opposition from a community. Ultimately, a meaningful engagement process will also build social cohesion within the community that improves relationships among neighbors.See footnote 21 Bottom-up approaches ensure that government plans and implementation strategies for climate adaptation solutions are working towards the greater good of the communities affected. 


Local governments are increasingly incorporating principles of equity, environmental justice, and social vulnerability into climate adaptation planning and solutions. Currently, local procedural laws may at best require local legislators to merely inform or consult with the public about a policy decision rather than adopting more robust forms of public participation at the earliest stages of planning.See footnote 22 As a result, the public’s ownership and control over decisions are kept to a minimum. Legislative bodies at the local level, such as county boards of supervisors and municipal city councils, pass laws and policies on a wide range of issues. Local legislation has a huge influence on all sectors relevant to climate adaptation planning. Local legislative bodies make decisions on budgeting, and decisions that affect the quality, affordability, and accessibility of public transportation, housing, parks, and open space, waste management services, and water and energy utilities.See footnote 23 Local policymakers can use a number of strategies and tools around budgeting, public participation laws, and planning to ensure more equitable engagement and representation of all residents in the policymaking process.

A woman signs up for participatory voting in Chicago. She kneels on the floor in front of a table, leaning on the table to fill out a form, while another woman on the other side of the table helps instruct her. A blue banner with white text hangs on the wall and reads, "Vote Here. It's time for you to decide how your tax dollars will be spent in your community!"
Participatory budgeting vote in Chicago 
(Credit: Participatory Budgeting Chicago)

Budgeting is one of the most important responsibilities performed by local governments because it involves allocating limited financial resources to support the delivery of key public services.See footnote 24 A community engagement strategy should also be considered a key public service and included in local government budgets at the outset of climate adaptation initiatives. The participatory budgeting process has emerged as one strategy for encouraging community engagement at each stage of the project development process. The process is collaborative at every stage and provides residents a platform for direct input to weigh in on decisions about how public funds should be spent to strengthen neighborhoods. When local governments allocate funds for participatory budgeting, the annual budget is more likely to reflect the values of the community and the shared vision, strategies, and priorities for the future. 

Local governments can also revise their public participation laws to authorize and support more meaningful forms of community engagement.See footnote 25 Local governments can also look to adopt more successful and participatory formats for public meetings, including meetings of the city/town/county council, school board, planning and zoning boards, and other elected or appointed bodies. Policymakers can also delegate decisionmaking power to government-designated groups like commissions and other programs to co-design policies and services in direct partnership with local residents. Local governments can also adopt guides, principles, and protocols that direct staff about how and when varying methods of engagement should be used and in which situations. Face-to-face meetings between policymakers and residents and neighborhood online forums are examples of Innovative practices that can and should be used to facilitate deliberative engagement.

Local governments can also assess existing plans to determine whether there are additional opportunities to include mechanisms to foster community engagement. Governments can use a number of existing plans, programs, and laws to provide communities a seat at the table and a voice in the earliest stages of the process. State and federal laws often mandate how often localities must update their comprehensive plans, master plans, and hazard mitigation plans.See footnote 26 In many instances, certain provisions of those laws require some level of public participation in the planning process. Plans include policies, strategies, and actions to meet a jurisdiction’s future goals for their community, touching on a wide range of issues like housing, transportation, land use, economic and community development, parks and open space, environmental quality, and public safety.See footnote 27 

Community engagement efforts can provide key information to policymakers to help understand the priorities, needs, and concerns of communities to ensure policy strategies are designed with those concerns in mind.See footnote 28 Community engagement also increases the likelihood that proposed projects achieve their intended benefits. In addition, when policymakers take steps to mandate community engagement processes, the community is more likely to support proposed projects because they have a stake in project outcomes.See footnote 29 

Policymakers have an opportunity to address the inclusion of community engagement strategies in the assessment of comprehensive plans to inform land use and development decisions and in the development of hazard mitigation plans. Hazard mitigation plans are required for state and local governments to receive disaster recovery aid from the federal government in the aftermath of a presidential disaster declaration.See footnote 30 By incorporating community engagement into local hazard mitigation planning, a local government can create opportunities for community input around cross-sector decisionmaking processes.

Key Players 

Key players in effective community engagement will vary with every process because no two communities are alike, and solutions will not look the same. That said, meaningful community engagement will generally require collaboration among community members and organizations, businesses, and multiple levels of government. These different stakeholders will have roles to play in advancing equitable solutions to climate impacts through meaningful community engagement and will be affected by these outcomes as noted below.

  • Community membersCommunity members are those who directly experience impacts of climate change in their own neighborhoods and have firsthand knowledge of how potential solutions will address those impacts. Community members who will be directly impacted by a project should be involved in all aspects of decisionmaking, planning, and implementation of solutions.
  • Community-based organizations Existing community-based organizations that are already engaging in equity-based activism or are likely to be leaders in the community, regardless of area of work, are critical partners in decisionmaking. Community-based organizations provide local expertise and, as known entities in the community, are likely to garner the trust of residents to represent community interests.
  • Community businessesBusinesses located within communities or looking to come to communities may have similar and different resilience challenges when compared to residents in frontline communities. Businesses may experience vulnerabilities due to property ownership and may face business continuity challenges caused by climate-related impacts. Businesses should also be involved in climate impact solutions, as they may need to make necessary changes in order to adapt to impacts and align those changes in a way that does not undermine the effectiveness of policy interventions.
  • City AgenciesCity agencies (including, for example, environment, sustainability, and public works agencies) will also have roles to play in advancing community engagement as a mandate for planning and implementing specific adaptation strategies including energy resilience. The scope of responsibilities for city agencies will vary by city depending on the enabling statutes, regulations, and existing programs. City agencies often administer funding programs or offer incentives that support investments in climate adaptation (among other things) that can be used to enhance community engagement.See footnote 31Elected officials (mayors and city councilmembers) often also have some authority to appoint leadership to direct the allocation of resources in achieving resilience goals. For example, appointed commissioners can pass regulations governing how commissions regulate the local water utility.See footnote 32
  • Facilitators Facilitators can help bridge the gap between government policymakers and community members by effectively creating channels for communication throughout engagement processes. Facilitators provide and protect a space for community representatives to share their input and experiences by listening to and referencing their input. 
  • Resource Partners Resource partners help to build the capacity of communities and practitioners in various fields. Comprehensive adaptation strategies benefit from the input and resources of multiple agencies. Cross collaboration across sectors and government agencies can support their respective parts of the projects to foster climate impact solutions.

Procedural Equity Principles and Action Items

There are a number of procedural equity principles that influence decisionmaking and include discrete tasks that should be implemented to ensure that community engagement mechanisms are included in adaptation planning processes.

Principle #1: Center Equity

Local governments can center equity when beginning planning processes and implementing resilience initiatives.

Principle #2: Support Empowered Communities 

By including the insights and first-hand knowledge of community members, policymakers can incorporate community insights into decisionmaking about project objectives and outcomes while building capacity and knowledge about climate impacts and potential adaptation solutions. 

Principle #3: Engage Effectively

When local governments hold effective engagement convenings and processes to collect input from all valued experts, including community members, the project is more likely to achieve desired outcomes and communities are more likely to benefit from the outcomes. 

Principle #4: Be Accountable and Transparent 

Be accountable and transparent about promises and outcomes of engagement. 

Principle #5: Build Social Cohesion

Design engagement processes with a goal of building a socially cohesive society that is one that works toward the well-being of all members, promotes trust and belonging, and provides opportunities for upward social mobility.

Principle #1: Center Equity

Local governments can center equity when beginning planning processes and implementing resilience initiatives. Points of action may include:

  • Assess and acknowledge existing barriers to equitable outcomes including the marginalization of certain communities and examples structural and institutional racism; 
  • Work with community groups to co-define the vision and scope of a community-driven engagement process;See footnote 33 
  • Build flexibility into the process because effective community engagement requires a variety of approaches for different communities to accomplish a variety of community goals and objectives; 
  • Respect racial and cultural diversity and work with existing community networks and partnerships rather than drawing solely from the perspectives of agency staff;
  • Design a process with the goal of building true and authentic trust in relationships with communities; and 
  • Dedicate funding for all activities to ensure that engagement processes are equitable and inclusive of different voices.See footnote 34

Principle #2: Support Empowered Communities 

By including the insights and first-hand knowledge of community members, policymakers can incorporate community insights into decisionmaking about project objectives and outcomes while building capacity and knowledge about climate impacts and potential adaptation solutions. Points of action may include:

  • Begin community engagement processes with activities designed to share knowledge about the relevant issues in play with broad-based community participation; 
  • Use planning processes to empower communities by building collective knowledge with a goal of identifying and dismantling institutional barriers;
  • Utilize innovative methods to engage with community members like community committees or commissions;
  • Provide opportunities to hear from a diversity of perspectives to build consensus around resilience and sustainability initiatives;
  • Facilitate community committees to provide an opportunity for the government to come to the table to listen and learn, rather than convince and persuade; and
  • Facilitate partnerships with community committees to support government agencies with co-design recommendations to reflect community expertise and the realities of government.

Principle #3: Engage Effectively

When local governments hold effective engagement convenings and processes to collect input from all valued experts, the project is more likely to achieve desired outcomes and communities are more likely to benefit from the outcomes. Points of action may include:

  • Treat community members as authentic partners and value their expertise in collaborations;
  • Create open spaces for dialogue throughout processes to allow a diversity of voices to be heard and actively considered;
  • Convene all affected and necessary parties in effective communication methods where all have time to be heard;
  • Make community convenings convenient to encourage the engagement of all affected and necessary parties through diverse and innovative methods of outreach including:
    • Making accommodations around alternative means of advertisement, hosting workshops and convenings outside of standard work hours, hosting gatherings in an easily accessible location or providing transportation to attendees, serving food, and providing childcare to those interested.
  • Come to the table ready to listen and learn from the community, rather than convince and persuade.

Principle #4: Be Accountable and Transparent 

Be accountable and transparent about promises and outcomes of engagement. Points of action may include:

  • Design planning and implementation processes to solicit community input early and throughout, rather than asking for input after a plan is already developed;
  • Include community outreach at the outset of the processes;
  • Keep communities engaged throughout all levels of planning and implementation to demonstrate that they too have an instrumental role in the process and outcome;
  • Evaluate the process of engagement by outlining potential or agreed-upon next steps and share the findings and conclusions of the evaluation and next steps with the community; and
  • Design next steps to address community concerns and take into consideration that those concerns may not align with the initial ask.

Principle #5: Build Social Cohesion

Design engagement processes with a goal of building a socially cohesive society that is one that works toward the well-being of all members, promotes trust and belonging, and provides opportunities for upward social mobility. Points of action may include: 

  • Understand the characteristics of the community and build personal relationships with community members; 
  • Identify existing or potential areas for growth and build on communities current strengths;
  • Ensure that all voices of the community are heard by being representative and inclusive;
  • Exchange experiences and skills with community leaders;
  • Build partnerships between key stakeholders and focus on maintaining partnerships in the long term; and
  • Incorporate cultural and social activities into community engagement processes.

Ends vs. Means Goals: The Path to an Equitable Community Engagement Process Around Climate Adaptation

End goals define outcomes where you are unwilling to compromise — they describe exactly what you want. In this instance, the end goal is to create an equitable and community engagement process around climate change adaptation. Means goals, on the other hand, create value in the processes along existing paths to reach your end goal. 

This chapter analyzes four means goals that are accompanied by case studies that capture methods for: 

  1. Utilizing general frameworks and guidance;
  2. Making community engagement law;
  3. Accounting for the costs of equitable community engagement; and
  4. Creating environmental benefits via community engagement. 


Utilizing General Frameworks & Guidance

The following resources and case studies provide general frameworks and guidance for practitioners working to implement climate adaptation solutions with meaningful community engagement processes. The following resources provide step-by-step actions to guide practitioners at all points of the community engagement process and provide tools to gauge the success of the collaboration.

Lessons Learned

  • There are many resources available to guide community engagement processes.
  • Practitioners should use guidance from like-minded organizations to begin their processes.


Making Community Engagement Law

The following resources and case studies provide examples of state statutes and municipal ordinances that mandate public participation under law. Legal mandates guarantee opportunities for community members to have a say in the climate adaptation measures proposed by state and local government and related entities.

Lessons Learned

  • Policymakers should institutionalize practices that support meaningful and inclusive engagement processes.
  • Practitioners can identify sustainable and flexible funding sources that can be used to support prolonged engagement processes and provide needed community support (e.g., childcare, food, stipends, travel, translation).
  • Legislation can require planning processes that adopt principles of procedural equity.


Accounting for the Costs of Equitable Community Engagement

The following resources and case studies provide examples of how practitioners paid for and used community engagement processes while building the economy.

Lessons Learned

  • Effective engagement processes require dedicated funds that can be used in ways that support procedural equity (e.g., providing food and childcare).
  • Running meaningful engagement meetings may require an accessible location for the community, stipends for community members, food and drinks at the sessions, childcare, and interpreters. These and other expenses support participation and create an environment for equitable engagement.
  • Accountability requires funding for sustained engagement processes throughout the planning and implementation phases.


Creating Environmental Benefits Through Community Engagement

The following resources and case studies provide examples of practitioners using community engagement processes to implement climate adaptation solutions that create environmental benefits for the community.

Lessons Learned

  • Practitioners should design engagement processes to include communities that will be most affected by climate change and structure processes to identify community priorities and solutions that will deliver environmental co-benefits (e.g., reducing air pollution and urban heat islands).


Governance & Budgeting


Two women sit at a table as a public listening session in a school gymnasium. They are reviewing a large poster paper titled "Summary of EAG Recommendations"
Ward 7 community engagement workshop in Washington, D.C.
(Source: Georgetown Climate Center)

As climate change impacts become more intense and more destructive, state and local governments will face a variety of challenges in preparing communities to withstand those impacts. The imperative to plan for resilience becomes even more urgent for communities that face existing social and economic challenges. Climate adaptation and resilience planning policies, processes, and programs that embrace an equity framework that reflects community preferences are more likely to achieve outcomes that benefit everyone.

There is also a need to reframe resilience to focus more on human well being as the initial priority, followed by disaster mitigation strategies, and property restoration when responding to climate-induced disasters. Adopting a targeted universalism approach that “all things matter” is a good principle to anchor this new approach. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) suggests the following steps for rethinking resilience:

  • Focus on human-centered stressors before focusing on shocks to nature and property loss; and
  • Prioritize human needs to create and build connectivity as the driving priority of resilience efforts over economic disruption.

Historically, many state and local government institutions and policies have excluded women, immigrants, and people of color, among other marginalized and underserved groups, and have often reinforced inequalities through established government policymaking.See footnote 35 Programs and policies that are top-down and exclude or overlook meaningful community engagement and feedback tend to create and reinforce systemic practices that contribute to disparities. By overlooking the needs of the underserved, policymakers have, intentionally and unintentionally, contributed to sizable racial and economic disparities in access to housing, education, jobs, and healthcare among other essential services. For example, government action and inaction have established zoning ordinances that enabled redlining practices by banks and realtors dating as far back as the 1930s.See footnote 36 These laws and policies, coupled with expulsive zoning practices, have driven frontline communities into areas with higher incidences of water contamination, air pollution, proximity to solid, hazardous, and radioactive waste landfills.See footnote 37 As a result, these communities face a greater likelihood of living within or near flood zones, and limited tree canopies and thus extended periods of extreme urban heat which will intensify in an era of climate change.See footnote 38 Rising sea levels and disruptive flooding as well as overrun solid and hazardous waste sites then worsen the existing challenges that impact these communities.

People sit around a table engaged in discussion. The wall behind them is filled with post-it notes organized into categories.
Participatory budgeting planning meeting in New York City
(Source: The Participatory Budgeting Project)

There are several key characteristics of equity-based policymaking for adaptation planning and implementation. First, once equity is embraced as a priority in the adaptation planning process, policymakers can begin by identifying the communities that are most likely to be burdened with the cumulative impacts of social, economic, and environmental challenges, among other challenges, that contribute to disparities in whether the community is sufficiently able to prepare, withstand, and rebuild in response to the increased likelihood of climate change-related weather and disaster events. State and local governments can also increase the likelihood of achieving adaptation planning outcomes that benefit the entire community by identifying, targeting, and prioritizing those segments of the community that experience cumulative social, environmental, and economic challenges. Planning professionals can use data, metrics, and mapping tools to pinpoint the geographical areas most likely to experience increased climate-related impacts and the neighborhoods with the greatest social and economic vulnerabilities to identify which communities to prioritize for ongoing outreach and resource allocation.

Equity-based policymaking also calls for planning professionals to identify the systemic causes of social vulnerabilities and disparities and directs policymakers to develop programs and policies, alongside the affected communities to overcome the structural conditions, policies, and practices that marginalize communities and isolate residents from essential services, economic opportunities, and access to healthcare and other services. This can best be achieved by assigning all government agency staff engaged in resilience planning to be tasked with public engagement, not only their community engagement staff. State and local governments have an opportunity to both develop adaptation planning programs that are inclusive and create outcomes that are beneficial for all while remedying the individual programs, policies, and institutional strategies that have contributed to historic inequities.

Effective community engagement is another element critical to successful adaptation planning. Planning initiatives are still disproportionately led by state and local agencies that typically engage in community outreach at the end of the decisionmaking process.See footnote 39 Government agencies that are committed to achieving equitable outcomes recognize the importance of inviting community participation at the earliest stages of the planning process when project priorities are developed to increase the likelihood that project design is aligned with the needs of the community. By engaging the community early in the planning process, state and local governments can cultivate partnerships that provide platforms for sharing and incorporating insights from the experiences of residents. When policymakers capitalize on the wealth of knowledge captured in a community engagement process, adaptation-planning processes may reveal perspectives that debunk preconceived assumptions about priorities and strategies. Implementing community perspectives in project planning and implementation can increase the likelihood that the proposed programmatic actions will achieve outcomes that align with community values.See footnote 40 

This chapter provides an overview of (1) the elements of an equity-based framework for state and local governments; (2) how state and local governments can build capacity among policymakers and community groups to deepen the understanding about cumulative social and economic challenges unique to frontline communities; (3) how community engagement strategies can inform planning considerations and foster equitable adaptation decisionmaking and implementation; and (4) how the participatory budgeting process is emerging as a tool for procedural equity where community and governmental partnerships can achieve outcomes that reflect the intentions of a community-led process.


Communities of color, immigrants, refugees, the homeless, and the disabled disproportionately experience social, economic, health, and environmental burdens that affect the likelihood that these communities can withstand the hazards, disruptions, and displacement caused by extreme weather and disaster events. Climate change is expected to cause more frequent and longer periods of extreme heat that will further diminish air quality in areas that already experience higher than average levels of toxic air pollution.See footnote 41 Low-income communities and those with disproportionately higher incidences of medical conditions, like asthma and heart disease, often attributed to existing air pollution, are more likely to suffer lethal consequences due to prolonged periods of exposure to heat events exacerbated by climate change.See footnote 42 

Social and economic disparities become injustices when decisionmaking and policy implementation by state and local governments reinforce the programmatic, systemic, and institutional causes of unequal access to goods and services.See footnote 43 State and local governments can use the opportunity to create climate adaptation plans to ensure the fair and just distribution of resources to achieve equitable outcomes for the entire community. All stages of the adaptation process can also inform an assessment of existing emergency management programs to determine whether these initiatives overlook and possibly worsen the circumstances for specific segments of the community. 

State and local governments that adopt equitable approaches for all governmental actions are well-positioned to adopt an equity framework for governing state and local responses to climate change. Organizations like the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national network of government professionals, work to support jurisdictions that are committed to achieving racial equity in communities.See footnote 44 GARE provides resources, tools, and issue papers that capture best practices for government employees interested in integrating racial equity into routine decisionmaking. Similarly, the Multnomah County Health Department of Portland, Oregon, developed an Equity Impact Review Tool, known as the Equity and Empowerment Lens (E&E Lens) to improve the quality of health services and policymaking by developing a process to ensure that decisionmaking is informed by inclusion and justice considerations.See footnote 45 In both instances, a racial equity framework provides a strategic approach to directing systemic, institutional, and programmatic change; builds organizational capacity to create experts equipped to collaborate with community-based organizations; and provides a process, informed by data and community input to set goals and measure project outcomes that benefit the community.

Equity-based approaches typically include three key commitments.See footnote 46 First, by creating processes that are transparent, fair, and inclusive, local governments can enhance procedural equity by increasing civic engagement opportunities with a goal of addressing the causes and effects of historic inequities. Second, when governments are engaged in fostering distributional equity, their agencies adopt processes that fairly distribute resources, benefits, and burdens and prioritize the allocation of those resources to those with the greatest needs. Lastly, when local governments make a commitment to structural equity, adaptation-planning initiatives can prioritize the need to correct past harms and prevent future unintended consequences.See footnote 47 Furthermore, the community engagement process ensures that neighborhood knowledge and lived experiences inform the decisionmaking and implementation processes throughout the adaptation planning process. 

Even with a commitment to incorporating an equity framework, decisionmakers can mitigate the negative impacts of policymaking in a vacuum by building collaborative partnerships with community-based organizations for ongoing engagement that informs desired results and performance measures. Planning tools that include a process for community-led assessments of the effectiveness of the project and its implementation holds governments accountable for ensuring outcomes that benefit the community. The Results-Based Accountability (RBA) tool, also offered by GARE, provides a seven-step framework that supports a community-led process by establishing indicators for a project’s performance to determine whether a project is having the intended impact once implemented.See footnote 48 Holding policymakers accountable in a transparent manner for the outcomes of a planning and implementation process increases the likelihood that governments are fully informed about whether a project works to either reinforce or dismantle systemic, programmatic, and institutional sources of inequality. Adopting these recommendations increases the likelihood that every member of the community has what is needed to be resilient and withstand the impacts of climate incidents regardless of race, gender, income level, age, primary language, or disability.

 Key Players 

  • Residents and Community Leaders: To ensure a diversity of perspectives, project participants should represent the neighborhood(s) and reflect the multicultural, multilingual, and multi-generational perspectives of residents while capturing a statistically significant representation of their social and economic experiences.
  • Government Agency: The state and/or local government agencies representing the initiative that has the authority to design, plan, and implement the projects or ideas developed in partnership with the community can provide oversight and technical expertise to the process throughout.
  • Subject Matter Experts: Subject matter experts can be included to educate project participants about the challenges and opportunities of proposed projects. Experts can refute or ensure the viability of proposed projects based on the likelihood that project ideas can achieve intended outcomes.
  • Community Knowledge Broker: An experienced community advocate, or knowledge broker, can serve as a resource to the project team and help identify organizations and community members that are best suited to inform the process.
  • Project Manager: An entity that can provide general third-party external support over the process can support both the community and the local agency throughout the process.
  • Facilitator: A professional with expertise in meeting facilitation can be retained to develop meeting agendas and lead and moderate discussions while providing a record of the process and its
  • Evaluator: An evaluator monitors the engagement process to identify relevant data, metrics, and tools to evaluate participation, project targets, and outcomes. The Evaluator typically establishes a framework for measuring, managing, and collecting information about project outcomes once implemented to produce a final report to the Project Team.
  • Elected Officials: Elected officials often provide leadership to direct the drafting of municipal ordinances or state law that allocates discretionary funding to engage in a participatory budgeting or governance process. Elected officials can remain engaged in the ongoing community visioning sessions, review proposed outcomes, and determine whether there are additional legislative or regulatory measures that can be adopted to best support the conclusions of the community and facilitate the successful implementation of the project.

Capacity Building for Policymakers and Community-based Organizations

Men and women sit around a table discussing; there is a large piece of paper that runs across the table with lots of small writing, signifying they've been brainstorming and planning.
A D.C. Ward 7 Equity Advisory Group meeting in April 2018 (Source: Georgetown Climate Center)

A commitment to embracing an equity-centered approach to policymaking begins with building capacity both at the governmental and at the community level. For state and local governments, building capacity includes ensuring that programs and projects are supported by the staff, training, and resources to advance equity in adaptation planning. Third-party consultants can also provide assistance to agency staff to train them to develop a vocabulary to articulate and identify equity issues, cultivate equitable approaches to engagement, assess community capacity, and recommend policy considerations to ensure planning strategies are aligned with community needs. Local governments can address the introduction and development of equity perspectives by hiring more inclusively and participating in training that directs decisionmaking with an eye to structuring activities that are aligned with the needs of the community. Organizations like the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN),See footnote 49 the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE),See footnote 50 and the Center for Social InclusionSee footnote 51 have developed professional training programs to provide planning staff with the skills and training to understand how to talk about racial equity and implement equity principles at every level of community engagement and decisionmaking. 

Capacity building is equally important at the community level to ensure that existing community knowledge is shared and supported throughout the planning process. State and local governments can ensure that community-based organizations have access to experts, technology, staffing, and training to ensure that there is sufficient infrastructure to fully participate in a community engagement process. Agencies can also provide the staff and tools to collect data from the community for input into future planning. Philanthropy can play a critical role in providing the financial resources to ensure that community-based organizations have access to facilitators, childcare, catering, and interpreters among other services during the community engagement process. In many instances, the budgets of state and local planning offices cannot support these services even though it is an essential element to meaningful community participation.

Coordinating staff and community to engage on a continuous basis provides critical feedback for planning initiatives while creating social cohesion that serves as infrastructure to overcome social isolation. By developing procedures and networks to ensure ongoing community participation and feedback, policymakers will be establishing new procedures for the adaptation planning and implementation process that favor collaboration over the top-down, agency-led approaches that typically exclude the community from the decisionmaking process and reinforce social isolation and racial inequality. Over the course of time, partnerships between government agencies and the community can foster the trust that is key to effective implementation of climate adaptation plans.See footnote 52 The more familiar people are with each other and trust each other, the faster the planning and implementation processes will move and the more likely it is to be successful. As a result, efforts to build trust become as important to the adaptation process as ensuring that the project implementation achieves its intended outcomes.

Capacity building at the governmental and community levels contribute to the effectiveness of community engagement and can strengthen partnerships between the agency and the community. Supporting these partnerships can increase the likelihood that adaptation planning and policies are aligned with community needs.See footnote 53 Adaptation planning processes can include consultant-led training to build the capacity of policymakers and community-based organizations to identify the causes of systemic injustice and the structural conditions that reinforce inequalities.See footnote 54 Participants in these trainings are better positioned to develop policies to overcome racial injustice and engage in an open dialogue about racial inequality that strengthens the partnership between policymakers and the community. Capacity training and support also establish a foundation for more transparent dialogue that is more likely to capture the needs of frontline communities while fostering mutual trust and accountability.

The organization Race Forward developed a Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA), which provides an organization with the opportunity to conduct a systematic examination of how different racial and ethnic groups will likely be affected by a proposed action or decision.See footnote 55 REIAs can assist policymakers with tools for minimizing the unanticipated adverse consequences of programs, policies, and budgetary decisions. The assessments are implemented prior to enacting a new proposal in the same way that environmental impact statements or fiscal impact reports are conducted. Although more commonly used in the United Kingdom than in the United States, a growing number of cities like St. Paul Minnesota, have developed racial equity assessment toolkit alongside training for staff to examine how race and equity informs the development of policies and the way that the city provides services to residents.See footnote 56 


Community Visioning

At the earliest stages of an adaptation planning process, state and local policymakers can invite residents to provide input about project objectives, intended benefits, and outcomes. Community visioning is a process and planning tool that gives residents the space and opportunity to express their vision for the future of their community. Guided discussions take place in a series of meetings, workshops, and listening sessions that offer residents a platform for discussion in an open environment. By offering residents an opportunity to voice their goals and priorities for their neighborhoods, the community visioning process informs land-use decisions and planning priorities while giving residents ownership over the decisionmaking in their neighborhoods.See footnote 57

At a public engagement session, four women sit around a table discussing while one writes their ideas down on a poster-sized notepad with a red marker. Behind the woman writing is a poster on a tripod that says, "Our County" and has a picture of a child examining a plant, and a map of the county. There are other tables in the background having similar conversations.
Our Voice, Our County: Environmental Fair + Expo in Commerce, California. (Credit: OurCounty, Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office)

The discussion sessions in community visioning processes can inform the foundational documents, including theories of change, mission statements, and wish lists that can provide guidance about the intended benefits of a new project or initiative. When planning professionals share initial data, metrics, and strategies for adaptation plans, feedback from community visioning processes can help assess, and possibly reframe the goals for a proposed project. The initial presentation of data and evidence-based justification for the project may also include proposed metrics to measure the effectiveness of the project once implemented.

Community visioning can also inform the likelihood that zoning ordinances, capital improvement programs, and other local government initiatives are aligned with the community's experience in their neighborhoods and the cultural values of the residents.See footnote 58 Third-party experts or consultants can provide assistance to determine whether there are any legal or policy barriers to implementing the project and provide education and outreach to residents about prospective solutions. Project leads that assess and react to community responses to proposed plans can determine whether or not the agency’s initiatives are consistent with the prevailing interests of the community, and if not, make revisions to realign project design and outcomes with the will of the community.See footnote 59 The success of the community visioning process benefits from efforts to assemble a broad-based representation of community, agency capacity and technical expertise to ensure that all parties are equipped with the data, metrics, tools, and other educational materials to complement community knowledge and inform project development and implementation.

Steps for the Community Visioning Process

Once the project team and resident outreach have been established, each step in the community visioning process provides an opportunity for the project participants to gather neighborhood insights and develop a clear and consistent focus on the goals and outcomes of the process.

  • Set outcomes: The community visioning process begins with the intent among all parties that adaptation planning and project selection will align with the neighborhood’s vision for its future. Some community visioning processes begin with a vision of the outcome.See footnote 60 Through dialogue, residents can work from the desired end result to the current state of affairs to inform decisionmaking about the step-by-step initiatives needed to reach that end result. In addition, the community visioning process can identify and align the direct and indirect benefits of project implementation and ensure that the needs and cultural values of the community are captured in the metrics for measuring the success of the project. At this stage, project participants may also address ways to avoid the systemic and programmatic contributors to the conditions that have created the harms that the project is intended to resolve.
  • Involve Stakeholders to Collect & Analyze Additional Data: Equally important to setting the desired outcomes for the community visioning process is establishing data and metrics to measure whether the proposed outcomes of the planning and implementation process are achieved. Data and metrics may be collected and developed through a combination of both qualitative and quantitative data collection processes that can include criteria to indicate the effectiveness of reaching the communities facing environmental, economic, and social challenges. Data and metrics may also indicate whether the community engagement process has strengthened the likelihood of achieving the indirect benefits of the project (e.g. democratic participation through enhanced voter and community participation in a participatory budgeting process). The collection of data can include tracking mechanisms that ensure that agency participants are accountable and support efforts to continue to communicate with and involve stakeholders.
  • Ensure Partnerships with Community-based Organizations: When local governments partner with leading community-based organizations that play a leadership role in the community and in neighborhood associations, decisionmaking is better informed by the prevailing concerns and insights of the community. By including these key participants in the decisionmaking process, adaptation planning is better informed by participants who can provide insights about the use of a potential site, the unique challenges that the community confronts, and potential solutions that may have impacts that exceed the narrow solutions initially contemplated in the planning process.
  • Report Back Mechanism: A report back mechanism can include a process for sharing information learned at each stage of the community visioning process. Periodic reporting provides opportunities to share findings from the collection and analysis of data and metrics that can provide evidence to confirm and clarify project priorities and improve the likelihood of success. The report back mechanism is also a way to hold government agencies accountable for determining how effective the project planning and implementation were in achieving the intended result.See footnote 61 A report back mechanism also provides a useful tool for ensuring transparency throughout the process. Furthermore, the community is more likely to participate in an ongoing and meaningful way with a periodic feedback mechanism in place. 


Participatory Budgeting

A woman signs up for participatory voting in Chicago. She kneels on the floor in front of a table, leaning on the table to fill out a form, while another woman on the other side of the table helps instruct her. A blue banner with white text hangs on the wall and reads, "Vote Here. It's time for you to decide how your tax dollars will be spent in your community!"
Participatory budgeting voting event at Taft High School in Chicago.
(Credit: Participatory Budgeting Chicago)

The Participatory Budgeting process has emerged as a compelling and effective procedural equity tool to combine elements of state and local planning processes with effective community engagement. All over the country, a number of municipal governments now allocate a portion of their budgets for the purpose of funding community-led projects to improve parks and playgrounds, among other the spaces within neighborhoods, according to community preferences and priorities. During a participatory budgeting process, residents vote for a project and the council member or alderman supports the funding and implementation of the project and all aspects of neighborhood engagement to gather input and provide feedback.See footnote 62 Typically, public budget and revenue policy and processes are top-down and do not include the participation or insights of underrepresented communities. Without community engagement or an equity framework shaping decisionmaking, top-down processes are more likely to perpetuate racial and economic justice.See footnote 63 Furthermore, participatory budgeting emerges as an effective alternative to processes that reinforce social exclusion by including communities at every stage of the planning processes in a manner that is more likely to align project design and objectives with the priorities articulated by the community.

Although the majority of participatory budgeting processes are government initiated, the incorporation of community engagement at each stage of project development provides a platform for direct input by residents to influence the expenditure of public funds. The process is collaborative at every stage and allows residents to work in partnership with local policymakers. Participatory budgeting processes have the added advantage of fostering democratic participation by providing residents with an opportunity to vote on proposals and projects in a way that brings traditional decisionmaking closer to the lived experiences of the community.

When communities participate in an ongoing participatory budget process, the process is more likely to provide opportunities for better access to public services, greater spending on sanitation and health services, and to achieve reductions in infant mortality and improvements in overall community health.See footnote 64 Communities that are directly impacted by a myriad of social and economic challenges can offer first-hand perspectives about the present, lived realities that can inform how public money should be allocated in the community. This approach can also apply to planning efforts to prepare for climate-related extreme weather events and disasters to direct resources where they are most needed while mitigating the structural causes of social and economic inequalities.See footnote 65 

How local governments reach out to the community influences the likelihood of effective planning and implementation. Research indicates that the way community engagement processes are conducted is closely linked to the very social and economic indicators at the heart of equity-based project design. For example, in-person, face-to-face outreach is critical to reaching traditionally marginalized communities. Community members who engage with project managers and agency professionals online are more likely to be English speaking with higher incomes in comparison to those who hear about a participatory budgeting process through a community group, door knocking, or from a school.See footnote 66 A commitment to equity-based policymaking identifies and distinguishes among several outreach methods and selects outreach methods based on the approach that is more likely to capture a representative sample of the neighborhood. Of course, all of these outreach approaches are more challenging in an era of COVID-19, but efforts should be undertaken to reach underserved community members in outreach.

When governments engage in a participatory budgeting process, policymaking is more likely to reflect the needs and preferences of the community. While pursuing an equity-centered approach to adaptation planning may not resolve all of the structural conditions and systemic causes that have created present-day racial inequalities, a participatory budgeting process that is grounded in community engagement can mitigate the patterns in policymaking and implementation practices that contributed to inequality and social isolation. For example, when residents can directly influence how tax dollars are spent, those resources have a greater chance of being allocated in a more equitable way while increasing the efficiency of tax spending.See footnote 67 Overall, the participatory budgeting process is more likely to incorporate diverse voices in decisionmaking in a way that allows residents to play a meaningful role in the governance and spending in their own neighborhoods.

Participatory budgeting processes are also becoming an increasingly accepted way to bridge the knowledge gap between local agencies and community residents. Community endorsement of participatory budgeting processes has also contributed to the increased popularity of government partnerships. These programs increase transparency and provide a process for disseminating information to the community while narrowing the gap between policy priorities and neighborhood priorities.See footnote 68 Both the process and the favorable outcomes from the participatory budgeting process have been essential in fostering relationships between local government and community organizations.

Elements of a Participatory Budgeting Process

The following provides an overview of the common elements of a participatory budgeting process:See footnote 69

  • Project Initiation: Once the municipality and its council members have allocated funding, often discretionary funding, for the participatory budgeting process, the community is invited to offer project ideas to address a particular problem or neighborhood challenge that the project can resolve.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Data, metrics, and tools can serve several critical functions throughout the process. Initial stages for climate adaptation projects can include the use of data, metrics, and tools to identify and prioritize neighborhoods using a number of indicators including climate data, geographic area, demographics based on U.S. Census data, social and economic vulnerability indices, and environmental screening tools. These and other factors can provide critical data to develop the initial scope and objectives for the project. Data and mapping tools can help to identify and target areas most in need of policy intervention and provide ongoing metrics to measure community participation, feedback, and project effectiveness. The tracking and assessment of data can also provide a basis for justifying or rejecting proposed policy options. Community participation in the collection of stories and experiences can also provide valuable information that captures what quantitative data might not sufficiently capture. 
  • Community Visioning: Establishing a forum for community dialogue can inform the direction and impetus for plan development and provides a basis of understanding about whether or not the intended benefits of project outcomes reflect the will of the community. When the community is included at these initial stages, residents and local governments are more likely to develop partnerships to share responsibilities in a way that keeps the process open, transparent, and accessible to all participants.
  • Support and Build Neighborhood Capacity: Policymakers can establish a steering committee that assigns project managers to establish the goals, rules, and procedures of the participatory budgeting process while overseeing the entire process. Project managers can target community events and assess places and times to meet community members and recruit volunteers so that the project and process details are accessible. An equity-based approach to community engagement planning considers a time and place for events that encourage broad participation. For example, events held in the evenings or on weekends are more likely to have resident participation than during the 9-5 workday Monday through Friday. Project managers can facilitate the engagement between public officials and the community by coordinating logistics and disseminating information for each stage of the engagement.See footnote 70 Project managers are also charged with ensuring that appropriate expertise is retained to address the necessary education, legal and policy support before, during, and after project implementation. For example, project managers may be charged with retaining a third party who can assist with negotiating the terms of a community benefits agreement between a developer, community group, and any other relevant party.See footnote 71 Other responsibilities may include overseeing the process or acting as an advocate for community interests. Project managers may also recruit resident volunteers who can also play an important role in developing initial ideas by working closely with city agencies to assess the feasibility and cost of projects.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Program managers can ensure that the community engagement process reflects the multicultural, multilingual, and multigenerational composition of the neighborhood to capture a full range of perspectives. A diverse range of neighborhood perspectives is critical to capturing community knowledge and the experiences of residents but often requires supplemental funding to ensure that essential services (e.g., interpreters, childcare providers) are available to foster participation. When project managers are committed to equitable participation by working to attract and support a truly representative segment of the community, project processes and outcomes are more likely to benefit the community in ways that are aligned with community needs and values. 
  • Plan Development: The staff of planning offices may initiate a plan with direct and ongoing collaboration with the community, but the ideal process will include opportunities to refine goals and objectives based on the input and insights about how to allocate funds based on community needs.
  • Community Voting on Proposed Projects: In the voting phase of a participatory budgeting process, several project ideas are placed on a ballot.See footnote 72 Project managers can provide several voting locations and opportunities for online input. Youth and non-residents can participate to increase community engagement and therefore reach traditionally underrepresented members of the community.
  • Plan and Project Implementation: The majority of participatory budgeting processes include an opportunity for communities to vote on the proposed projects that were contemplated in the community visioning process. The project with the most votes from the community wins and the government commits to implementing winning projects.See footnote 73 Community voting to select a project provides an opportunity for democratic engagement that reflects the prevailing preferences of the community and overcomes some of the historic causes of social isolation.

Outcomes to Participatory Budgeting

Overall, the participatory budgeting process can contribute to direct and indirect benefits in the furtherance of projects and plans that mitigate the causes of social and economic inequalities while preparing frontline communities for the challenges of climate impacts. The process provides an opportunity to increase the likelihood that resources are allocated equitably and prioritizes the needs of communities. The participation by local governments and agency staff on an ongoing basis provides a mechanism for engagement that increases the transparency and accountability that fosters trust between the government and the community.

Considerations of Governance Practices & Participatory Budgeting


  • The participatory budgeting process may include opportunities for jobs and job training programs as a critical outcome of the project selection and implementation process.
  • Policymakers may consider interagency cooperation to include the department charged with executing economic development programs alongside planning and sustainability departments charged with adaptation planning.
  • State and local governments can adopt legal and policy directives that government agencies contract with Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) whenever possible in the acquisition of goods and services to support adaptation planning measures.
  • State and local governments may allocate a portion of their budgets for the participatory budgeting process. Additional appropriations may be necessary for the implementation and maintenance of the project. Larger scale projects may require state authorities to include adaptation projects and programs in their bonding programs. 


  • Participatory budgeting projects have been an effective way to engage communities burdened with cumulative exposure to environmental impacts.
  • The majority of participatory budgeting projects that have been successfully implemented show that voters tend to select projects that will improve the natural environment to benefit the local community.
  • Communities that select green infrastructure projects in participatory budgeting processes experience multiple co-benefits. Additional tree cover can both mitigate urban heat impacts and reduce stormwater impacts and flooding.


  • Community-driven engagement processes that incorporate community considerations at the earliest stages of the project planning process are more likely to foster collaborative engagement between local governments and the community. When the community and local officials are partners rather than opponents, the planning process is more likely to achieve project outcomes than without community participation.
  • Community-driven solutions to adaptation challenges that are fostered through undertaking measures that enhance transparency and accountability build on community knowledge and promote democratic participation.
  • Engaging in participatory budgeting processes can foster civic engagement among residents that can build an infrastructure for outreach for future voting and civic participation.


  • State and local governments may need to engage across several jurisdictions to coordinate any regional considerations that may arise out of the participatory budgeting process.
  • Collaborative planning approaches between policymakers and the community can foster transparency and accountability in the allocation of public funding that will lead to more successful and enduring solutions. This will require more frequent opportunities for authentic community engagement in the administrative process.


  • State and local governments can pass legislation or municipal ordinances that can allocate funding for participatory budgeting processes.
  • Ordinances and statutory language that mandate equity-based approaches to planning and implementation can include provisions that mitigate the root causes of inequities while achieving best practices in adaptation measures.
  • Policymakers may also need to bring in legal expertise to address any provisions concerning land-use and zoning that may arise in the course of project planning.
  • From an equity perspective, policymakers can identify existing regulations that reinforce disparities among residents and repeal laws, and overturn policies and zoning ordinances that have reinforced systemic disparities in areas with concentrated pollution or greater vulnerability to climate impacts.

Lessons Learned

  • Community engagement at the earliest stages of project development increases the likelihood that planning objectives are achieved and that the process includes a mechanism for transparency and accountability at each stage of the project planning process.
  • When state and local governments have the opportunity to allocate discretionary funding for community-led or participatory budgeting processes, the collection of data and metrics can help forecast the likelihood that the funded and proposed planning processes will achieve their intended objectives.
  • To facilitate broad participation in participatory budgeting processes, especially among residents who have typically been underserved or may not otherwise participate, officials — in collaboration with community volunteers — can create specialized demographic committees. These targeted arrangements can help to ensure maximum participation within neighborhoods by emphasizing the importance of these community members’ voices.
  • Encouraging successful participation in this type of budgeting process also requires that officials make accommodations for community members and voters wherever possible. For example, in Chicago, the Participatory Budgeting Committee holds voting sessions on potential projects over several days and at different times, so that more people have the opportunity to cast their votes. State and local officials can also ensure that mobile voting stations are put in places that have higher concentrations of historically underrepresented populations. Food and other services are also provided to help incentivize participation.
  • Participatory budgeting programs can assist city officials in executing their responsibilities to serve their communities. By regularly engaging the public in meetings and workshops, the participatory budgeting process provides city officials with ongoing opportunities to educate residents about projects and interact with the constituents they have sworn to help.


Data, Metrics & Monitoring Tools


Best practices in equity-centered adaptation planning processes include data-driven decisionmaking with direct community participation. However, data-driven approaches can have both positive and negative impacts. On the positive side, data, tools, and metrics about geographic, social, economic, and environmental characteristics of a region can identify areas vulnerable to climate-related weather events and disasters, and pinpoint communities most in need of support to respond to those events. These tools can be very valuable in helping policymakers develop and prioritize planning initiatives and direct resources to protect and prepare those residents most likely to experience increased incidences of flooding, storm surges, and extended periods of extreme temperatures. 

On the other negative side, planning processes that rely exclusively or too heavily on data and technical experts may reinforce patterns of social exclusion because of top-down, mainstreamed processes that are inaccessible to traditionally marginalized populations.See footnote 74 To avoid the problem of reinforcing disparities, therefore, policymakers should pair the benefits of data-guided decisionmaking with substantive community engagement at each stage of the adaptation planning process. 

A woman demonstrates how to test water quality samples by holding up a test tube and demonstrating to four people gathered around her.
Community water testing workshop in Detroit
(Source: We the People of Detroit)

The data needed to inform equitable adaptation strategies include measurable indicators about the demographic and geographic characteristics of the area and the stories of communities living in that area. Some of the important data is quantitative, such as the numbers of residents of a certain race, age, gender, and income level.See footnote 75 However, to capture the unique characteristics, perspectives, and knowledge of the community, those numbers need to be combined with qualitative data, or information typically collected through surveys, focus groups, and in-person interviews.See footnote 76 

It is important to include the community in the collection of both quantitative and qualitative data. That offers an important opportunity to share the motivation for policy initiatives and to build a constructive relationship between the community and policymakers. It also enables policymakers to take advantage of a broader base of knowledge to improve decisionmaking for adaptation programs and to increase the likelihood that programs will achieve their intended outcomes. In addition, the collecting and tracking of data enables periodic review and analysis to evaluate how effective the programs are in reducing vulnerability to climate risks. These processes can also inform fiscal decisionmaking about whether the investments in adaptation projects are aligned with the intended goals and objectives that serve the best interests of the community.

This chapter provides an overview of (1) the data sets that provide information about the areas most likely to face extreme climate-related weather events; (2) data and mapping tools that identify areas that have historically suffered from exposure to environmental pollution, social and economic factors; and (3) the measures that policymakers have adopted to ensure that communities have the access to technology to contribute to policymaking.


Data, metrics, and mapping tools can support decisionmaking, planning, and policymaking in a number of ways. First, as the science and modeling of climate change data becomes more granular, policymakers have more accurate tools to help identify the populations on the frontlines of climate change.See footnote 77 Second, the development of data, mapping, and screening tools can be used to layer information about climate-vulnerable geographical areas with social, economic, environmental, and census data to provide a more complete description of the challenges and burdens that residents may face within climate-vulnerable areas.See footnote 78 These tools can also identify the areas where there has been a history of cumulative environmental impacts and violations under environmental law. Low-income communities and communities of color that live in or near industrial areas are likely to suffer from greater incidences of health problems including cancer, heart attacks, and asthma, due to prolonged periods of exposure to toxic air and water.See footnote 79 Data and mapping tools enable policymakers to identify and prioritize these communities and develop planning interventions to mitigate the risks that additional environmental stresses may place on already burdened communities. Together, data and mapping tools allow policymakers to identify the areas and populations most in need of policy intervention while providing an evidentiary basis for prioritizing adaptation-planning strategies that address racial, social, and economic inequalities.

Data-driven decisionmaking also provides planning professionals with the tools to set measurable goals, establish benchmarks for performance, and quantify the effectiveness of policy outcomes.See footnote 80 Data and mapping tools have been especially critical to policymakers designing projects that prepare communities for climate-related risks. For example, researchers at Arizona State University have used climate data from the National Climate Assessment on the increased frequency of extreme heat events and have identified the health risks to the homeless population in Maricopa County, Arizona.See footnote 81 Given that extreme heat is already the leading cause of heat-related death in the United States, planning professionals are now using that data to develop adaptation strategies to protect public health and improve access to drinking water and cooling centers. The collection of cooling center data will provide planning professionals with essential information to determine whether their public health interventions are successfully reducing mortality in the homeless population.See footnote 82 Here, data and metrics help to monitor, track, and report the progress of policies intended to mitigate cumulative environmental harms.

The process of collecting qualitative data, through workshops, surveys, and face-to-face interviews can also provide valuable information to policymakers while cultivating community relationships. Participatory research techniques, including community-based participatory research methods (CBPR), like citizen science projects or photovoice, where cameras are put into the hands of residents to document their surroundings,See footnote 83 enable residents to document community perspectives and become part of the critical knowledge that contributes to meaningful adaptation solutions. The information collected should become part of an asset map that identifies both historic hazards within the community and the places and structures that may have the potential for becoming an anchor for climate resilience solutions. 

In addition to ensuring that the community has sufficient opportunity to participate in focus groups, workshops, and other community-based research projects to shape the priorities of policy interventions, policymakers have also recognized the importance of ensuring that residents have the technology and tools to remain engaged with local governments. Digital equity programs that improve access to broadband, laptops, and digital training tools provide a number of co-benefits to communities.See footnote 84 When the community has access to online tools, policymakers have greater access to residents and direct channels for feedback about the effectiveness of policy initiatives.


Quantitative Data

For Adaptation planning, data sets can include quantitative or qualitative data or a mix of both. Quantitative data typically includes census data that detail the unique demographic information including population, household, and transportation relevant to a particular geographical area. In the adaptation-planning context, quantitative data can assist policymakers with capturing the historic frequency of weather events and patterns affecting specific geographic areas and the social and economic characteristics of the populations that live within those areas. This data can also help to identify the frontline communities that are most in need of policy interventions to protect residents from climate-related weather and hazard events. The following provides examples, but not an exhaustive list, of the types of quantitative that has assisted policymakers with adaptation planning.

Climate Data

A screenshot of the climate.gov webpage hosted by NOAA, displaying a map of the US that shows a projection of average temperatures under a stabilized emissions scenario. The Pacific Northwest is shaded mostly light blue, while the rest of the country is mostly light to medium orange, with a deeper red color signifying greater temperature increases in the southern United States.
An example of climate data maps available from NOAA on climate.gov. This map shows a 2012 projection of projected daily average temperature for each month from the 2020s through the 2090s, based on a stabilized-emissions future.
(Credit: NOAA)

Developing an understanding of the climate-related weather threats a community can face is a critical first step in effective adaptation planning. In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is the government agency responsible for monitoring patterns in the nation’s climate.See footnote 85 NOAA collects and reports on forecasting and weather trends while tracking changes in historic patterns.See footnote 86 NOAA coordinates among several federal agencies to build and sustain several datasets that record weather and climate data. This data typically includes sub-daily (for many stations), daily, monthly, seasonal, and yearly measurements of temperature, precipitation, and wind among other weather variables.See footnote 87 NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) provides free public access to climate and historical weather data information on the Climate Data Online (CDO) website.See footnote 88 The site provides access to search, data, and mapping tools that can provide users with weather patterns matched with geographic data. 

NOAA’s collection of online climate data sets also contributes to the findings in the National Climate Assessment (NCA). The NCA report is the U.S. Climate ‘State of Union’ that assesses long-term trends in U.S. climate and projects future changes in climate impacts.See footnote 89 These assessments have been instrumental in synthesizing the effects of climate change on water resources, land use, and biodiversity among other categories across eight geographic regions. The assessments provide scientific data and analysis that informs policymaking to direct more effective decisionmaking.

As a part of the interagency coordination of climate information, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) also provides a platform for key climate information in the form of indicators that contribute to the NCA, including greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, temperatures across land and sea, and the extent of Arctic sea ice.See footnote 90 Scientists use long-term consistently collected data to develop these indicators that can assist local, state, and federal policymakers to prepare for, take action on, and improve community resilience.

Geospatial Information System Software (GIS/PPGIS)

Since the 1990s, policymakers have embraced Geospatial Information System Software (GIS) to capture geographic and spatial data to produce maps and data to provide imagery, features, and base maps that allow policymakers to monitor and map a given area for research and analysis and identify spatial patterns.See footnote 91 There are options to use either open source software or commercial GIS mapping.See footnote 92 GIS information enables a range of options policymakers can use to forecast, manage, and respond to events and trends that can inform adaptation planning, project selection, and implementation.

There are many entities outside of U.S. federal agencies that are layering data with geospatial tools to develop maps and new models to predict areas and activities susceptible to climate-related risks. For example, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has created and updated a data platform called Aqueduct.See footnote 93 Aqueduct tools identify and evaluate water risks including floods, droughts, and stress to help advance best practices in water resource management. The tool provides global decisionmakers with access to hydrological models and maps that identify areas of current and future water stress.

Other proprietary resources that capture climate-related risks include the Four Twenty-Seven databases.See footnote 94 These climate models capture simulations of the Earth’s future conditions and future trends in temperature and precipitation. Four Twenty-Seven designed these models to assist companies with assessing the risks of wildfires, sea-level rise, and water stresses as it relates to business practices. The Bloomberg MAPS database is another platform that assembles over 200 datasets on infrastructure, communications, weather, and natural catastrophes to help the world’s leading banks assess climate risk exposure in their loan portfolios.See footnote 95 Although these resources are intended to help companies address threats to supply chains and critical infrastructure, state and local policymakers may find these databases helpful in assessing potential financial risk due to lost tax revenue caused by disruptions in commercial activity within their jurisdictions.

Policymakers can add an additional layer of information to traditional GIS data by including information collected by the public. Volunteered Geographic Information and the development of Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) are platforms for geographic information science that increases the data available for mapping and other graphic representations to inform decisionmaking.See footnote 96 These software tools allow individuals to provide community input about geographic data that assigns value from a community perspective that enhances the quality of data available to inform adaptation planning. The integration of both quantitative and qualitative data provides an equity-based approach by taking into consideration the first-hand perspectives of the community to capture the true insights and lived community experiences to inform decisionmaking.

Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI)

A map of the US titled, "Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards" showing data from 2010-2014. The map shows parts of the US signifying social vulnerability to environmental hazards based on the Social Vulnerability Index, with red counties indicating high vulnerability, white indicating medium, and blue indicating low. There are notable red clusters in the southwestern United Stated and Florida, and notable blue clusters where Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado meet, and along the east coast.
Social Vulnerability to Environmental Hazards map for the United States (2010-2014) based on the Social Vulnerability Index. (Credit: Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute, University of South Carolina College of Arts & Sciences)

The Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) is a program that layers geospatial data with 15 U.S. census variables to provide policymakers with the tools to analyze a community’s socioeconomic vulnerability to potential environmental hazards and disasters. Developed by the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University at South Carolina, the index is a publicly available tool that synthesizes county-level socioeconomic and demographic data and is useful as an indicator in determining the differential recovery potential from natural disasters. The population characteristics included in the modeling captures the cumulative impacts of social and economic factors as indicators about the likelihood that a community can withstand and recover from climate-related events. Characteristics including gender, race, ethnicity, employment statistics, social dependence, education, and medical services can inform policymaking by identifying segments of the community or specific neighborhoods or locations that would most likely benefit from policy interventions. Policymakers can then use the data to identify racial, economic, and social disparities to align policy goals and planning objectives to meet the unique needs of the community. 

When adaptation plans are informed by data sets and mapping tools, including the SoVI databases and maps, state and local governments have scientifically substantiated information to generate estimates for the amount of supplies needed including food, water, medicine, and bedding to prepare for climate-related weather events among other policy interventions. Policymakers can use the SoVI databases to inform decisionmaking about where resources are most needed and how emergency personnel can best assist people in the event of a sudden climate event. The social vulnerability index can be useful to researchers, planners, and practitioners to inform policymaking and may increase the likelihood of achieving equitable outcomes.

Environmental Justice Screening Tools: Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EPA EJScreen)

Environmental Justice (EJ) screening tools provide adaptation policymakers with a method for targeting and prioritizing the needs of communities burdened with existing cumulative social, economic, and environmental health-related challenges. EJ screening tools compile demographic data and geographic data with environmental indicators of toxic exposure and environmental effects to capture the cumulative vulnerabilities of frontline communities.See footnote 97 For example, research has shown that communities of color are more likely to experience higher incidences of cancer risk from air contaminants and contaminants in drinking water.See footnote 98 These tools provide a snapshot of the cumulative impacts of environmental exposures and population vulnerabilities and provide a method for assessing racial and ethnic disparities by geographic area. These methods inform decisionmaking and policy design by providing quantitative data that explicitly pinpoint those communities most in need of support to withstand ongoing and sudden climate-related events.

At the state and federal level, several agencies have developed and/or adopted environmental justice screening tools to direct policy initiatives. In 2015, EPA released the EJSCREEN to assist policymakers with the tools to ensure that programs, policies, and resources consider the needs of communities with higher incidences of environmental burdens such as higher levels of exposure to toxic air or toxic water.See footnote 99 The EJSCREEN’s 12 EJ indices combine demographic information with environmental indicators that include such data as exposure to ozone, proximity to traffic, proximity to Superfund sites, and proximity to hazardous waste facilities. The platform also provides access to color-coded maps, bar charts, and standard reports.See footnote 100 

Environmental Indicators



Hazard Risk

 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)

 Traffic Proximity & Volume

 Neurodevelopmental Hazard


 National Priority List Sites (NPL)

 Toxic Cancer Risk

 Lead Paint

 Risk Management Facilities

 Toxic Respiratory Hazard

Direct Water Discharges (NPDES)



National Air Toxic Assessment/ Diesel in the air



California and Maryland have developed and incorporated similar tools in their policymaking. The CalEnviroScreen is a tool developed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) that maps the “burden of pollution from multiple sources in communities while accounting for potential vulnerability to the adverse effects of pollution.”See footnote 101 OEHHA developed the tool to aid CalEPA with prioritizing the needs of the state’s most burdened communities in administering environmental justice grants, assisting with compliance of environmental laws and reclamation activities, and identifying sustainable economic development opportunities.See footnote 102 While other tools, like the SoVI, only have socioeconomic factors, the CalEnviroScreen includes public health and environmental hazard criteria in addition to socioeconomic indicators. 

In 2012, the California legislature passed SB 535, California Climate Investments to Benefit Disadvantaged Communities, where 25% of proceeds generated by the state’s cap-and-trade program and collected by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will go to projects that provide a benefit to disadvantaged communities, and at least 10% of those proceeds will fund projects within those communities.See footnote 103 Subsequently, in 2016, the California Legislature passed AB 1550 that requires at least an additional 10% of the funds go to low-income households or communities.See footnote 104 CalEPA can target disadvantaged communities using the scoring and mapping of the CalEnviroScreen, to locate census tracts with high amounts of pollution and low-income residents. One state-funded initiative is the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities (DOU) Leak-Free program which pays for leak repair in the homes of low-income Sacramento residents.See footnote 105 Recipients of the service must be homeowners and must live in areas designated by the State of California as being a “Disadvantaged Community” (DAC).See footnote 106 The characteristics of a DAC include poverty, high unemployment, air and water pollution, and the presence of hazardous wastes as well as a high incidence of asthma and heart disease.See footnote 107 Here, mapping tools can help policymakers identify communities that would benefit from policy interventions and adopt sustainable solutions to ensure access to critical resources for everyone.

Similarly in Maryland, the Community Engagement Environmental Justice and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory of the University of Maryland School of Public Health worked in partnership with the National Center for Smart Growth and developed an environmental justice-screening tool for the State of Maryland.See footnote 108 The Maryland Environmental Justice Screen (MD EJSCREEN) provides a resource for identifying, visualizing, and analyzing areas with environmental justice concerns in the state of Maryland. The tool introduces an EJ score or a percentile ranking of areas within the state that reflects the average pollution burden with average population demographic characteristics relative to neighboring areas, state, or country averages to capture the environmental justice risk.See footnote 109 Demonstration workshops that followed the launch of the tool gave community members an opportunity to provide feedback. The MD EJSCREEN can provide both residents and policymakers with critical information to advocate for more parks and greener communities.

Resilience Dividend Valuation Model

One of the questions policymakers are frequently confronted with is how to quantify the costs and benefits of a particular policy solution. In the equitable adaptation context, it is often difficult to assess the value of policies using only indices or scorecards. To address this question, the RAND Corporation developed a framework for valuing the benefits and co-benefits of an adaptation intervention.See footnote 110 The Resilience Dividend Valuation Model inputs data about capital stocks that include natural and human or social resources, goods and services that may change because of resilience projects, direct benefits, co-benefits, and the costs of the project. When applied, the tool identifies the benefits of an adaptation intervention and compares the value against no intervention, or business as usual, in addition to comparing the value of an intervention instituted over a shorter or longer time frame.See footnote 111 While data limitations were noted by the authors as an impediment to capturing the full resilience dividend for certain projects, this emerging approach may help to identify the impacts of policy interventions across stakeholders to better capture multiple benefits and co-benefits and to help understand the effectiveness of equitable adaptation planning.

Application of Quantitative Data & Mapping

The following list captures a few of the current applications of data and modeling tools to locate and map the location of frontline communities for directed planning and policymaking:

  • BRACE Illinois. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) framework to assist health departments with developing climate change adaptation plans. The BRACE-Illinois project is funded by the CDC to build the capacity of the state’s public health system.See footnote 112 In preparing for climate change, the Illinois Department of Health is developing strategies to address heatstroke, asthma, waterborne illness, and disease spread among other health problems that may be worsened by climate change. BRACE-Illinois used the social vulnerability index to assess asthma deaths and ozone pollution across the state. It also used 15 U.S. Census Bureau counts and estimates to identify communities that are likely to need support when natural or human-caused disasters occur.See footnote 113 
  • US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). USACE Institute for Water Resources utilizes the (SoVI) tool to identify and assess the social vulnerability of a place given its exposure to a hazard. The Corps-specific version of the tool (SoVI-eXplorer) overlays a Social Vulnerability profile with hazard zones using GIS technology.See footnote 114 In the aftermath of the loss of life and devastation from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the Corps commissioned a report on how to increase public involvement in USACE’s flood risk management program to identify and engage socially vulnerable populations during USACE water resource studies.See footnote 115  
  • National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS).See footnote 116 The National Integrated Heat Health Information System layers NOAA Future Heat Event Data with the CDC Social Vulnerability Index data to build a data set about areas at most risk to extreme heat. The initiative provides state and local governments with the tools and reports to enhance understanding and to facilitate policy interventions to reduce the morbidity and mortality caused by extreme heat.
  • EPA National Coastal Property Model. This platform identifies areas along the contiguous U.S. coastline that are likely to be at risk from sea-level rise and storm surges and layers the projections with SoVI results to assess the potential impacts for climate events on frontline communities in coastal areas.
  • NOAA Social Vulnerability Index (2000) for Coastal Counties: The index measures and maps the social vulnerability of coastal counties.See footnote 117 A partnership with the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute and the NOAA Office of Coastal Management applies 2000 census data to coastal states.
  • The Maryland Park Equity Mapper. This tool combines layers of demographic and environmental data to determine the park equity of different census tracts, allowing users to visualize disparities in park access and quality across the state.See footnote 118 The Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) Laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Public Health in partnership with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MD DNR) and University of Maryland Center developed the tool for Geospatial Information Science (CGIS).See footnote 119 Residents and policymakers can use this tool in order to identify underserved communities that are in need of new park infrastructure and green space.

Considerations of Quantitative Data and Metric Tools


  • Data and metric tools that measure demographics and socioeconomic strata can help policymakers identify communities that are most in need of policy interventions to withstand sudden and ongoing climate-related impacts and disruption.
  • Data and metric tools can determine how and where to allocate resources to ensure communities are resilient to climate-related impacts.


  • Screening tools that pinpoint areas with high levels of air and water pollution, toxic events and historic environmental degradation can help policymakers identify and address areas with cumulative environmental challenges as vulnerable to climate-related impacts. 


  •  By using data and metric tools as a first step in the planning process, policymakers can design projects that prioritize the needs of communities that are disproportionately impacted by cumulative environmental exposure and are in greatest need of intervention in adaptation planning. 
  • Metrics also provide indicators of government accountability. Ongoing community engagement provides indications about whether the implementation of the policy was actually responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.


  • Providing communities with information about climate hazards before they occur can help local officials establish lines of communication to disseminate the information to those who are traditionally overlooked in disaster and recovery planning and outreach.
  • Cities and local governments can develop training and access to technology to facilitate community engagement and improved data collection and metric selection to build community capacity.


  • State legislation and city ordinances can direct planners to prioritize the use of specific data sets to direct agencies to include data in planning and decisionmaking.
  • Data tools that pinpoint areas of cumulative environmental degradation can provide evidence of violations of environmental law and target areas for heightened enforcement.

Lessons Learned

  • Quantitative data tools can assist policymakers with pinpointing disproportionately burdened low-income communities and communities of color, seniors, and households that are most likely to suffer from climate-related impacts.
  • Quantitative data can inform the communication strategy between local government and the community before a climate-related event occurs.
  • Quantitative data tools can inform the deployment of resources as a part of the hazard mitigation planning process and prioritize the placement of those resources.


Collecting and Applying Qualitative Data

As discussed in the previous section, quantitative data, or statistical and structural data, are valuable tools for decisionmaking but can omit valuable information about the feasibility and effectiveness of policy options in neighborhoods. Policymakers may achieve a more comprehensive assessment of community needs by placing an equal emphasis on the findings from both quantitative and qualitative data.  

A map showing the overlap of Race and Water Shutoff Policies in Southeast Michigan. It clearly shows an overlap of the areas with the harshest water shutoff policies and African American populations.
Data showing the overlap of Race and Water Shutoff Policies in Southeast Michigan (Source: We the People of Detroit)

There are a number of methods for collecting qualitative data. The most common methods include first-hand interviews, focus groups or recorded observations, and document analysis.See footnote 120 Project participants can also collect qualitative data with surveys, focus groups, and observations to develop a more nuanced profile of a community. Qualitative data is also more likely to be collected through direct community engagement and can capture insights that are representative of a range of ages, races, and income levels. Studies with data triangulation (e.g. two or more data collection methods: interviews and focus groups) typically have greater credibility and are more likely to capture subjective information and conclusions that traditionally cannot be captured by quantitative data alone.See footnote 121 

The assessment of qualitative data can also be an effective way to measure community participation and trust. Qualitative data can strengthen the nexus between community storytelling and policy metrics to measure outcomes. A designated project participant can collect data through phone interviews and evaluate the stories to develop metrics to both measure outcomes and gauge community trust. In addition, qualitative data can measure community participation to ensure that community-specific experiences and knowledge are contributing to the development of project objectives and goals. An assessment of community feedback may provide project participants with data to measure community interest as an indicator of the likelihood that the project will achieve intended outcomes. By establishing data, metrics, and benchmarks to indicate broad-based citizen participation, policymakers can enhance the likelihood that the intended outcomes will benefit frontline communities.

Community Mapping

Community mapping is a process whereby community volunteers collect observational data about their neighborhood that would otherwise evade geospatial mapping.See footnote 122 Individuals record observations about their surroundings detailing neighborhood elements including vacant or blighted housing, sidewalks, or roadway conditions. Volunteers collect data, often through a web-supported application or ‘app’, and provide valuable input to policymakers that complement quantitative data collected by planning professionals. Successful community mapping activities provide policymakers with first-hand, on the ground perspectives that would not otherwise be reflected by other forms of local, state, or federal data. For example, community mapping can answer questions like whether tenants have created a tenant organization or whether plans to plant trees on particular blocks are more likely to create safety issues than achieve the intended benefit of reducing urban heat impacts. How a parcel of land is used represents data that identifying the parcel alone through geospatial information could not provide.

The participatory mapping process requires ongoing management to coordinate volunteers and meetings, while also developing protocols and quality control. Other considerations include ensuring the availability of sustained funding to invest in the community to conduct the ongoing work.See footnote 123 Community mapping is a critical tool in equitable adaptation planning. By capturing the first-hand insights of frontline communities, policymakers can supplement quantitative data with qualitative data that can improve the likelihood that the project design outcomes are closely aligned with the needs of the community.

Community-based Participatory Research (CPBR) Methods

Community-based participatory research is a collaborative approach to research that includes the input of community members, organizational representatives, researchers, and other stakeholders.See footnote 124 Together, policymakers and community stakeholders provide information to engage the community at each stage of the research process. 

At the initial stages of a planning process, project participants can provide platforms for sharing initial census and other related data that have helped policymakers identify a set of adaptation challenges. Data walks and photovoice, two examples of community mapping, offer ways for the community to offer their first-hand perspectives to inform policymaking. Policymakers can initiate these activities by first presenting background and descriptive data in a workshop setting to introduce the community to the statistics that are driving the policymaking process. These information sessions also provide policymakers an opportunity to produce formats for data sharing including texts and graphics, to make the data accessible and provide a means for future community engagement. Second, data walks or photovoice, encourage community members to identify and capture, through pictures and stories, their surroundings to provide input and ensure that there is a robust contribution to strengthen the collective analysis and understanding of the data. Last, the information collected during the course of data walks or photovoice can help to inform policymaking and programming to address the needs of the community and can inspire collective action.See footnote 125 This initial first step in the education and outreach process ensures that place-based research improves the quality of data collection by developing partnerships with the community.

At later stages of project execution, the participatory research process can include community data collection that directly contributes to the body of knowledge about the adaptation challenge. Community members can participate in citizen science activities by collecting the data and can also play a role in developing metrics for measuring the way in which spaces are utilized within their community. For example, as a part of the programs emerging from the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), NOAA’s Communication, Education, and Engagement division is supporting and coordinating community science mapping field campaigns to help communities develop workshops and explore policy interventions to address urban heat island effects.See footnote 126 The NIHHIS platform includes social vulnerability data layered with NOAA climate-related projections to map extreme heat. Volunteers receive training to collect data and map the distribution of heat in the morning, afternoon, and evening and the findings can be shared on social media. Third-party consultants then process data and produce predictive surface models of temperature and heat index throughout the day. The city teams review the Heat Watch results and meet with consultants to discuss data and contemplate next steps towards addressing extreme heat. Stakeholder feedback from the data collection and sharing process is iterative and improves analysis and methods for future data collection and policymaking.See footnote 127 

We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective (WPD CRC) is another example of community participatory research where community-based organizations led an effort to collect qualitative data as evidence of policy impact on residents. The WPD CRC is a collaboration between community activists, academic researchers, and designers, engaged in a four-part research process that included (1) mapping the geographic impact of water policies on the city; (2) conducting a city-wide community survey to assess the health needs after a disaster; (3) creating a citizen science project to test the impact of water shutoffs on residential water quality; and (4) launching a story mapping project to support youth in telling individual and collective narratives about the impact of austerity on their community.See footnote 128 The research collective also executed a two-year, city-wide public health survey investigating the impact of water shutoffs on public health and published a book ‘Mapping the Water Crisis: The Dismantling of African American Neighborhoods in Detroit’(2016). The community-based participatory research process has provided statistically significant data to demonstrate the impact of policy interventions on water insecurity and psychological distress among residents.See footnote 129

Lessons Learned

  • Qualitative data collected through surveys, data walks, photovoice, and community mapping provides policymakers with first-hand lived experiences of residents that quantitative data does not capture.
  • Qualitative data can help determine the effectiveness of policy interventions by gauging the quality of community participation and trust.
  • Interviews and surveys provide valuable insights about the mental health, safety, or other emotional experiences residents may have in a reaction to a policy intervention that may not be sufficiently captured using quantitative data alone.
  • Community-led data collection that includes responses to surveys at each stage of the community engagement process provides policymakers with a tool for assessing whether the project outcomes benefited the community as intended.


Participatory Data Collection and Technology Access

In many instances, the ability to collect data electronically depends on the access to the tools and technology, including Internet access, to engage the community in the collection of data. Equitable access to the Internet has multiple benefits beyond building the technological infrastructure to inform policymaking. For example, early studies have demonstrated that there is a relationship between broadband access, health and equity.See footnote 130  By investing in digital infrastructure, cities will contribute to building essential services that can foster economic development, job creation, and an overall better quality of life.

Ensuring Equitable Digital Access

Children sit around a table, each with a laptop as well as paper and markers in front of them and work on schoolwork.
(Source: Seattle Information Technology)

The ability to manage climate risk requires data and knowledge to inform both communities and policymakers. Community access to information must occur before, during, and after a sudden climate hazard. Unfortunately, many of the residents most likely to be overlooked in traditional planning processes and most likely to be impacted by climate-related hazards are also most likely lacking digital access. Low-income communities are often unlikely to make the investment in the devices or Internet subscription services that would provide internet access or lack the training to fully engage those tools.See footnote 131 Ensuring equitable digital access can bridge a gap between low-income, immigrant, and senior residents and policymakers while connecting residents to economic opportunity.

The City of Seattle is actively engaged in a multi-year study and assessment to ensure that all residents have access to equal, affordable, and competitive broadband Internet services while developing innovative business models to fund the initiative.See footnote 132 The Digital Seattle Program identified four key strategies to ensure that every resident has the necessary technologies and skills to participate in digital communications. These include programs that address: (1) skills and training; (2) connectivity through affordable Internet access; (3) resident access to devices including laptops; and (4) application (app) and Online Services.See footnote 133 The program has been effective in reaching hundreds of community-based organizations and low-income residents with free or discounted Internet access and training at public libraries, parks and recreation centers, and senior centers. Seattle collaborated with a user group to assess the city’s website to ensure that online tools were easy to navigate and included voice-activated online services.See footnote 134 Seattle also provided individuals and community organizations with laptops, tablets, and computers to ensure that residents had the equipment for training. Executing the program has been the product of collaboration across multiple agencies including the city’s departments of Economic Development, Information Technology, and Immigrant and Refugee Affairs among other departments.See footnote 135 The city also partnered with private Internet service providers to assist with providing free or discounted subscriptions. Under these programs, Seattle’s overall Internet access penetration is now at 95% up 10 points from 2013 with internet access by phone up from 58% in 2013 to 93% in 2018.See footnote 136 Together the tools and programs offered under the Digital Access Program have helped residents overcome key barriers to digital access and increased access to tools for economic opportunity essential to thriving communities.

Funding and Financing Broadband Access

Funding and financing improved broadband access is an obstacle in low-income communities. Despite the role of federal, state, and local governments in regulating aspects of broadband performance, private companies are the primary owners and operators of broadband infrastructure and ultimately choose the locations for investments and services. Low-income residents are less able to pay for subscription services compared to wealthier residents. As a result, businesses may overlook low-income communities after concluding that risking the capital to build infrastructure in these areas is unlikely to provide a sufficient return on investment. Although the federal government has provided some grants through 50 federal broadband programs, like the HUD ConnectHome Program and the Healthcare Connect Fund administered by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), that make broadband build-out and service costs more affordable, overcoming the cost barrier to low-income communities remains a challenge.See footnote 137

Cities are developing a number of innovative and tiered approaches to funding the build-out of broadband to increase access to residents. In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington signed a bill that established the state’s Broadband Office with the goal of providing broadband access to all residents of the state by 2024.See footnote 138 With an initial budget of $21 million, the office plans to attract funding through a combination of federal grants and loans to ensure that all residents have reliable Internet access. State-led programs with direct access to federal programs may provide a first tier of funding but cities, like Seattle, have developed a variety of public-private partnerships leasing arrangements and other collaborations to pool funding to finance broadband investment.

There are several key public-private partnership (PPP) investment structures that have aided local governments to fund broadband access that include:

  • Private investment/public facilitation: this (PPP) arrangement is a model where the public sector entity can encourage greater private sector investment. Google Fiber, the Internet service provider operating in a handful of cities, offers competitive access relative to other larger internet service providers.See footnote 139 
  • Private execution, public funding: this model mirrors the municipal utility ownership model and while significant logistical barriers are removed, the public entity provides the primary investment structure while the private entity provides the execution of the business.
  • Shared investment and risk: this model is an arrangement between the public entity and the private interest where the parties conduct a risk, benefits, and control assessment of how they would share in the capital, operating, and maintenance costs of a broadband network.

Each of these approaches provides municipalities with the opportunity to benefit from the expertise and technical knowledge of private interests while providing essential services and ensuring digital access to all residents.

Considerations of Data & Metric Tools


  • Digital access to low-income communities can both inform the communication infrastructure for effective adaptation planning processes while ensuring communities have the tools for job searches, remote learning and telecommuting, and other economic opportunities.
  • Data and metric tools can direct policymakers to engage in communities where the costs of adaptation are more likely to exceed the financial capacity of underserved and low-income residents.


  • Software that pinpoints areas with an increased incidence of pollution and historic environmental degradation can prioritize areas for adaptation planning.
  • Access to the Internet may also provide residents with the tools to monitor and report environmental conditions. 


  • Ensuring that the community has access to the tools and technology to contribute to and engage in participatory geospatial data fosters community engagement and improves the quality of data for planning purposes.
  • Access to online resources provides the community with the tools to contribute to the collection and reporting of data and metrics.  Community access also expands the ability for policymakers to measure, manage, and highlight the benefits of adaptation planning processes while enhancing transparency by sharing and reporting outcomes.
  • Digital access provides communities a platform for holding governments accountable for whether or not the implementation of the policy was actually responsive to the needs and concerns of the community.


  • Providing communities with information about climate hazards before, during, and after they occur can help local officials identify and disseminate information to residents most in need of policy intervention.
  • Cities and local governments can develop training programs to facilitate community engagement, and improved data collection and metric selection to build community capacity.


  • State legislation and city ordinances can direct planners to prioritize the use of specific data sets and direct agencies to include data in planning and decisionmaking.
  • Municipalities can review the regulatory requirements for permitting processes and other rules that can help incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure and equipment by broadband Internet service providers.

Lessons Learned

  • Equitable Digital Access is essential for providing communities access to information about climate hazards before, during, and after a hazard event.
  • Comprehensive Digital Access programs can include access to low cost or free subscriptions for services, devices including laptops and tablets, and training to ensure that all residents have access to tools that can foster social cohesion and economic opportunity.
  • Funding arrangements to expand Digital Access can include public-private partnerships between a state or local government and a private interest to share the risks, benefits, and control of the infrastructure project. Additional funding is typically pooled from a combination of state and federal grants and loans and philanthropic investment.


Legal and Policy Tools & Programs for Implementing Equitable Adaptation

A man stands at a podium outside in front of a group of seated people and addresses the group. There are blue and white balloons tied to a sign next to him.
Groundbreaking celebration for an affordable housing complex in Atlanta, Georgia. (Credit: Westside Future Fund)

Substantive Equitable Outcomes are sought through implementing policy solutions and programs that seek to more fairly distribute access to the benefits of programs and investments and seek to remedy historic underinvestment in communities.

The following chapters explore promising practices and feature case studies and substantive policy solutions for achieving equitable outcomes in the relevant subject matter areas. Some case studies are in fact resources to guide practitioners in this work. Case studies are meant to be representations of the best emerging practices that present learning opportunities for other communities and local governments looking for local equitable climate adaptation solutions. Not all case studies are all-encompassing of the best-case scenario and no two municipalities or communities are alike. As a result, the toolkit seeks to take the lessons learned from case studies presented and apply them to individual situations. Collectively, these case studies present a suite, although not an exhaustive list, of legal and policy tools that can be used to facilitate equitable adaptation efforts.


Economic Resilience


Children planting in a local community rain garden.
Children participating in the Prince George's County Clean Water Partnership planting and education program, 2018.
(Source: PGCo Clean Water Partnership)

The impacts of climate change — such as sea-level rise, increased temperatures, and more frequent, deadly disaster events — have the potential to slow economic productivity, affect the values of assets such as homes, and disrupt business activities across different economic sectors.See footnote 140 Direct climate-related economic impacts to communities — especially communities on the frontlines of climate change — include, for example: flood zones becoming unlivable, uninsurable, and unfit places to conduct or house businesses; people being unable to commute to work because of a disaster event, or because of the destruction of the facility where they work; customers no longer being able to purchase goods, due either to their inability to get to a business or the disruption of supply chains and deliveries due to hazardous weather. The list is almost endless. Due to these disruptions, the economic viability of many will be affected, but front-line communities already facing challenges will be affected first and worst.

A study recently released by Oxford Economics found that these effects of climate change will occur sooner and have a more significant financial impact than had previously been thought.See footnote 141 By 2050, a 2°C increase in temperature could cut global GDP by as much as 7.5%.See footnote 142 If the temperature increases by 4°C by 2100, global output could be reduced by as much as 30%.See footnote 143 In the United States alone, sea-level rise is expected to destroy billions of dollars in property and displace millions.See footnote 144 Local property taxes — a major source of funding for both critical infrastructure and public services — may be at risk by 2045, as over 120 coastal communities could disappear.See footnote 145

Three row homes are boarded up with overgrow lawns
A neighborhood in Atlanta's Historic Westside
(Source: Westside Future Fund)

In the last five years alone, the United States has spent more than $500 billion recovering from sea-level rise and weather-related events exacerbated by climate change.See footnote 146 Between 2005 and 2017, property value losses in communities along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast added up to $15.9 billion.See footnote 147 Other disaster events exacerbated by a warming climate, such as heat waves, inland flooding, wildfires, etc. also carry high costs. The International Panel on Climate Change has concluded that should the planet warm 2°C, costs associated with damages will reach upwards of $69 trillion globally.See footnote 148  The trend of high recovery costs is expected to continue in a warmer climate. 

These disruptions to the economy disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities, particularly frontline communities that are highly exposed to climate risks and have access to fewer resources, as well as the capacity and political power necessary to respond effectively to a climate event. Often, due to institutional racism and marginalization, communities most affected by the economic impacts of climate change are communities of color, sometimes already located in areas at-risk for heatwaves and flooding.See footnote 149 

Additionally, economic losses affect populations of lower socioeconomic status differently. Climate disasters have a more negative effect on lower-income individuals the world over. According to a report done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

“economic losses from natural resources totaled $92 billion in 2015, and average annual losses have been estimated at more than $300 billion a year… Obviously, $1 in losses does not mean the same thing to a rich person and a poor person, and the severity of a $92 billion loss depends on who experiences it. The same loss affects poor and marginalized people far more because their livelihoods depend on fewer assets, their consumption is closer to subsistence levels, they cannot rely on savings to smooth the impacts, their health and education are at greater risk, and they may need more time to recover and reconstruct.”See footnote 150 

“Fundamentally, disaster events often exacerbate unequal access to a variety of resources that can help with recovery, including reliable transportation, stable housing, and job opportunities. Lack of access to these resources has “far-reaching consequences across city economies.”See footnote 151 

To mitigate the economic losses that may result from climate impacts, individuals, businesses, and communities across the country should seek to foster economic resilience so that operations are less likely to stall during extreme weather events and as sea-levels rise. A resilient economy is one that (1) can recover quickly from a shock; (2) can withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, can avoid a shock altogether.See footnote 152 Establishing a resilient economy “requires the ability to anticipate risk, evaluate how that risk can impact key economic assets, and build a responsive capacity.”See footnote 153 Examples of elements of a resilient economy include resilient infrastructure that helps the community withstand an extreme weather event and recover from it; a workforce that can get back to work quickly after or during an event; a robust and localized economy; and the financial resources to rebuild businesses in the community after a disaster.

This chapter will discuss how individuals, businesses, and communities can prepare for climate impacts, and how economic resilience can be built into a community. It will describe the various tools available to individuals, business owners, and community policymakers that can help establish a more resilient economy. These include (1) tools that focus on developing the economic resilience of individual community members; (2) tools that focus on business development and resilience planning; (3) statewide programs that promote economic resilience; and (4) funding and financing options that can help individuals, businesses, and communities put these tools into effect. Finally, it will feature case studies and programs that have been implemented specifically to help bolster economic resilience of disadvantaged communities.

Goals for Equity-Centered Economic Resilience

  • Ensuring the community is involved in the creation of programs designed to promote economic resilience: There is no “one size fits all” type of program that will immediately ensure economic resilience within a community, especially for those on the front lines of climate change impacts. Creating economic resilience will require the implementation of a variety of programs, tools, and policy changes. To develop a plan that will help to promote economic resilience, policymakers will need to work with community groups to learn what programs and policies will be the most likely to help affected community members. Creating a comprehensive resilience plan requires that community engagement begin early in the planning process, and that diverse groups and individuals have the opportunity to speak about their experiences, needs, and priorities. Essentially, neighborhood leaders, stakeholders, and individual community members should be involved “early and often” throughout any planning and development process.
  • Creating awareness within disadvantaged communities of the economic impacts of climate change and the programs in place to promote economic resilience: Policymakers can foster awareness about the risks that climate impacts pose to frontline communities as the first step in a community engagement process that builds support for economic resilience programs.See footnote 154 Residents that understand the risks that climate change and extreme weather events pose to their community are more likely to have access to and to participate in the opportunities available to enhance economic resilience. To combat the lack of awareness of climate risks and ensure equal access to resources, discussions involving economic resilience strategies must secure input and involvement from the community including residents, the business community, and nonprofits. For example, if businesses commit to local hiring requirements, members of nearby disadvantaged communities need to be informed about these types of opportunities. Policymakers can enhance the likelihood of diverse participation by mandating contracting and subcontracting targets with minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) in the procurement of supplies and the provision of services to further resilience plans. Local governments can also play an important role in advertising available sources of funding to local businesses that adopt local hiring requirements. Nonprofits can facilitate outreach to inform community groups and frontline neighborhoods about workforce development programs.
  • Minimizing the disruption climate impacts have on businesses owned and operated by frontline community members: From an economic standpoint, climate disruptions statistically adversely affect disadvantaged communities more than others.See footnote 155 Disadvantaged community members often “lack the financial resources for flood insurance and access to networks to rebuild as quickly.”See footnote 156 As a result, businesses owned and operating in flood-prone communities are not always able to get up and running or “bounce back in the years that follow.”See footnote 157 Because of this, policymakers, nonprofits, and community groups should educate business owners about the tools analyzed in this chapter to help ensure that businesses can either remain open during disaster events, or at least reopen shortly after this type of event occurs.


An equitable approach to building and strengthening a resilient economy requires identifying the structural and institutional barriers to full economic participation and adopting equity-based approaches that include community engagement at each stage of adaptation planning. Frontline communities are often disproportionately affected by climate change in a variety of ways. For example, low-income families and individuals, including people of color, are more likely to live and work in flood zones that have inferior infrastructure; households reporting below-average incomes are less likely to be able to afford flood insurance on their homes and businesses that can help to finance rebuilding; and frontline community members in many instances do not have the financial resources to relocate either temporarily or permanently from areas that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.See footnote 158

A group of men stand on a rooftop behind a solar panel they just installed. They are wearing orange shirts and construction vests, and raising their arms in a celebratory way.
Students from the RichmondBUILD program complete a solar installation project.
(Source: RichmondBUILD)

Partnerships between the federal, state, and local governments have created programs intended to overcome racial bias in employment and encourage economic participation of historically marginalized groups. It is, however, important to note the terminology and phraseology of many of these programs. In the past, “minority-owned businesses” and “vulnerable communities” have been used as terms of art in the economic sector. Oftentimes, these programs have been referenced as such to ensure that these frontline businesses or communities are allocated a percentage of various funding and contracting opportunities. As a result, some of the material or available policy tools referenced in the chapter may refer to businesses as “minority-owned” and communities as “vulnerable.”

Today, federal programs for Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) and Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) (MWBEs collectively) are carried out by state and local governments and include a certification process qualifying MWBEs to bid and enter into contracts with government entities as a contractor or subcontractor. State and local governments can include laws and ordinances that address hiring goals in workforce development and training programs to build and strengthen economic resilience. At the state and local level, policymakers have passed provisions that establish programs to support diversity development initiatives and aspirational goals for agencies to utilize certified MWBEs as contractors and subcontractors. 

Moving forward, we suggest that implementers of these programs and tools would do well to avoid these misleading terms to help phase out these unflattering and misleading impressions. Policy implementers and facilitators should avoid phrases like “vulnerable” or “minority” for a variety of reasons. For instance, while the effects of climate change disproportionately impact these communities, they often are more resilient than other communities because they have had to overcome these impacts time and time again. Such communities often have strong social cohesion, cultural bonds, and practices that promote resilience. As a result, it is misleading to call these communities “vulnerable.” Additionally, “minority” is also misleading in that non-white people make up a significant percentage of the American population.

School-age children and an adult educator stand outside near a rain garden and hold up a paper map of the Anacostia Watershed, which they are discussing.
Children participating in the Prince George's County Clean Water Partnership planting and education program, 2018.
(Source: PGCo Clean Water Partnership)

Finally, it is important to note that outreach to community members in the development of plans and programs at the earliest stages of project design and planning can provide essential input about the existing economic vulnerabilities, needs, and priorities of the community. Community engagement that begins during the design of the plan or program is more likely to foster strong partnerships between communities and program implementers while educating implementers about climate impacts and other challenges facing the community. The community engagement process often involves organizing convenings with the community and taking time to process and support the requests and expertise of local leaders. Any creation or decisionmaking events or processes should also be completely transparent; frontline communities must be able to trust that programs and policies developed are promoting their economic resilience. 

Key Players

  • Federal Government: Federal agencies can provide a myriad of resources to facilitate economic resilience, including funding opportunities and data collection relating to weather events and sea-level rise. For example, certain agencies, such as the EPA, DOT, FEMA, and HUD may be able to identify and/or provide data relating to climate assessments, floodplain risks, hazardous materials facilities, etc. Additionally, several funding programs offered by federal agencies can help pay for resilience improvements in infrastructure (both private and public) or to support recovery efforts after disasters. Some federal agencies also offer programs that help to enhance economic resilience, such as the Department of Energy’s Green Jobs Training Center, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Environmental Career Worker Training Program, and the Energy Information Administration’s Renewable Energy Incentives Program.
  • State Governments: State governments work to create economic resilience within communities through the creation of funding opportunities, as well as the development of programs that enhance resilience. State government entities, like the Departments of Energy or Environment, can support the implementation of green energy transition plans that help to create a more resilient economy. Other state agencies — such as Departments of Transportation and Housing — can help to provide funding and data. These agencies are much “closer to the ground” to address the climate issues that can affect a community. Many states’ planning and economic development agencies help build adaptation and resilience strategies into the legislation they promulgate and resources they offer local governments. By adopting legislation that requires local governments and communities to take adaptation and climate resilience into account, policymakers at the state level can help to ensure that economic resilience is built into a community.
  • Local Governments: Municipal agencies and staff may have direct relationships with local business owners and operators, and thus may be more likely to recognize what is needed to ensure economic resilience in their own communities. Depending upon the agency, specific staff members can help with emergency preparedness, provide population and community asset data, offer assistance in creating an economic development plan, or play a role in land use planning and zoning initiatives. Additionally, city and community departments interact with local businesses regularly for permits, planning, public works, etc. Throughout these processes, local governments can play a role in informing business owners of economic resilience opportunities and programs while supporting their applications for technical and financial support. Additionally, local governments can draft ordinances that establish MWBE participation goals for contractors and subcontractors. Under several federal and state emergency response programs, local governments must comply with MWBE participation targets as a condition for receiving federal funding.
  • Chambers of Commerce: The goal of local chambers of commerce is to “further the interests of local businesses, advocate for the business community, and promote local economic growth.”See footnote 159 As a result, local chambers of commerce can be excellent resources for facilitating small business engagement. Since they are so ingrained in the local community, they can also help share information on opportunities and trainings that promote strategies for economic and community resilience.
  • Banks: Different banks may partner with local governments and small businesses to offer incentives for building a resilient economy, such as reduced interest rates, financial literacy classes, and specific savings accounts. These types of programs can help small businesses stay afloat during extreme weather events that slow business, as well as assist workforce members that are part of a frontline community. In promoting smart financial decisions, banks “can help stabilize the workforce and keep them local while businesses reopen.”See footnote 160 
  • Utility Companies: To facilitate business resilience, micro-grids and off-grid renewable energy sources can be integrated into the traditional grid system. This integration would allow for businesses to continue normal operations during extreme weather events that cause power outages. Additionally, because electricity is essential to a resilient economy, local governments can work with utilities to ensure that critical systems, such as electricity, wastewater, stormwater management, etc. remain functional and resilient. 
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Nonprofit organizations, whether national or local, provide several resources to help build a resilient economy, including funding, toolkits, knowledge, and networking opportunities. Some nonprofit organizations also offer programs for local workforces that help to educate and train employees in at-risk industries to transition to jobs in sectors that are more resilient.
  • Business Owners: Engaging the local business community is vital to creating a plan for a resilient economy. The local workforce and business sector may have knowledge of specific climate impacts that need to be addressed to develop a plan for a resilient economy. Local business owners can also help to identify skills that are most needed in the community to promote economic resilience. Business owners can also help direct employees and community members to potential training resources and develop and facilitate training programs that will build a workforce for emerging climate-resilient businesses. 

Policy Tools

This section describes tools that can and have been used to facilitate the development of economic resilience in regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts. The tools focus on four areas: individual community members, business, statewide plans, and funding.

Tools that Focus on Developing the Economic Resilience of Individual Community Members 

These tools target (1) workforce development (2) hiring policies, and (3) youth engagement

Policymakers can play a role in supporting individuals by offering increased access to job opportunities and small businesses that train and hire members of the community. By prioritizing individuals most at risk of experiencing the economic inequalities associated with climate impacts, programs and policies can ensure that traditionally marginalized residents are given the opportunity to participate in workforce development and training programs that ultimately support the creation of a resilient economy. Local governments and agencies can also implement hiring policies that encourage, incentivize, and/or require that a percentage of a business’s workforce include members of the local frontline community. Community and career training centers and youth groups should be engaged to inform younger residents about resilience planning, help businesses employ local “at-risk” teenagers in jobs that train and promote more resilience-friendly occupations, and educate community youth on the importance of resilience.

Tools that Focus on Developing the Economic Resilience of the Business Sector

Businesses — especially local, smaller businesses — are essential to the resilience of a community’s economy. Unfortunately, they can also be negatively affected by a climate event. As a result, it’s critical to consider the tools available to help facilitate recovery after an emergency event, as well as practices that can help to keep a business open and operational, should a disaster event occur.

Tools for improving business resilience include (1) Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS), which are plans to direct economic development in a community in a way that is often greener and more resilient; and (2) Business Continuity Plans that business owners can create to better prepare both employers and employees to act when a climate disruption occurs. 

Tools that Focus on Developing Economic Resilience through Statewide Planning

The incorporation of statewide plans or strategies into a local community resilience plan or program can help to create economic resilience from a top-down perspective. By leveraging state resources and implementing statewide resilience plans, individuals, business, and communities will be (1) better able to recover quickly from a shock; (2) better able to withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, better able to avoid a shock altogether. This section identifies examples of how statewide planning can be used to promote economic resilience.

Funding Tools for Promoting Economic Resilience

There are a variety of sources that can help fund the realization of these plans, programs, and tools in the real world, including, but not limited to: the federal government, non-profits, private businesses, and local governments. In many cases, funding need not come from one single source — those looking to introduce these strategies can finance their vision through a combination of available and applicable sources. This section identifies potential funding strategies and examples for promoting economic resilience.


Workforce Development and Training Programs

Workforce development and training programs that connect residents to the tools and resources for green careers may be an effective approach to mitigate high levels of existing unemployment while building the foundation for economic resilience. One way to facilitate the growth of a resilient economy is to train workers living in or employed within a specific region in the clean energy sector – especially those workers that have been historically left out of the labor market. Green Collar Jobs, according to the Chicago Green Collar Jobs Initiative, are

“well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality. Like traditional blue-collar jobs, green collar jobs range from low-skill, entry-level positions to high-skill, higher paid jobs, and include opportunities for advancement in both skills and wages. Green collar jobs tend to be local because many involve work transforming and upgrading the immediate built and natural environment – work such as retrofitting buildings, installing solar panels, constructing transit lines, and landscaping.’ They emphasize that ‘spurring the creation of green collar jobs…means building a sustainable economy, where environmental goals go hand in hand with social and economic goals.”See footnote 161 

A group of men and women in bright orange shirts and green hardhats stand outside on a hilltop smiling at the camera.
Graduates of the RichmondBUILD program
(Source: US Environmental Protection Agency)

Workforce training and development programs can encourage those seeking employment with a specific focus on green-collar jobs. To that end, hiring local workers for green-collar positions can help to advance economic resilience within the community. Employing individuals to update, modernize, and retrofit resilient infrastructure creates a more stable workforce, because employees may be able to return to work shortly after an extreme weather event. 

In other words, because there will be less of a delay in return to normalcy after a disaster event, the economy will likely (1) be able to recover more quickly from a shock; (2) be able to withstand at least some shocks; and (3) in some instances, avoid a shock altogether.See footnote 162 Ultimately, this can provide more job stability for the local workforce.

Considerations of Workforce Development and Training Programs for Economic Resilience


  • Funding can come from nonprofit organizations, private entities, and government resources.
  • Green-collar jobs are growing at an astronomical rate — by 2030, “there will be an estimated 40 million jobs in the growing renewable-energy and energy efficiency industries.”See footnote 163 Opportunities are continually opening for individuals looking to enter the field.
  • Green-collar positions also offer job security, due to the amount of training that is often required to enter into the field. “Clean energy companies want and need to retain employees who know what they’re doing and who they can rely upon.”See footnote 164 
  • A majority of green-collar positions involve place-based projects — such as solar panel installation, wind turbine development, and maintenance, etc. — which can provide stable employment opportunities in the communities where the projects are implemented.See footnote 165 


  • Green-collar jobs can include careers in a variety of sectors, including: engineering, financial planning/analysis, construction, science and research, education, masonry, software development, planning, utility operation, and more.
  • Examples of green-collar jobs include: installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, planting trees and vegetation, installing rain gardens, operating recycling plants, researching new and emerging renewable technologies, etc.


  •  “Workers in clean energy earn higher and more equitable wages when compared to all workers nationally.”See footnote 166 
  • Clean energy and green-collar jobs statistically pay higher than the national average wage. Even at the lower end of the income spectrum within the sector, employees make $5 to $10 more an hour than employees in other sectors.See footnote 167 


  • Historic inequalities have resulted in a lack of awareness regarding the benefits of green-collar jobs within frontline communities.
  • This lack of awareness can also extend to local business owners, who may be unaware of workforce training programs and their graduates.


  • Certain green-collar jobs, like the installation of solar panels and the operation and maintenance of green utilities, require adherence to local standards, regulations, and requirements.
  • Workforce training programs need to take these rules into account and train participants on how to adhere to sector/job-specific regulations.

Lessons Learned

  • Nonprofits, policymakers, or business owners seeking to implement a workforce development program should leverage funding and financing from several sources in both the public and private sectors. Oftentimes, full funding from a program will come from multiple sources. For example, in some of the case studies analyzed, government agencies have assisted in funding workforce development programs because they help to advance targets outlined in legislation such as Renewable Portfolio Standards.
  • Workforce development tools can be used in conjunction with hiring programs (see next policy option/tool) to encourage economic development within frontline communities.
  • Training in the green-collar field is often incredibly costly and time-consuming. As a result, disadvantaged communities and those without the financial resources to pay for training programs are often underrepresented in this field. To combat this inequity, training and workforce development programs should prioritize individuals from frontline communities for participation in the program.
  • Because of this historical lack of representation in the environmental sector, individuals from frontline communities are often unaware of the benefits that green-collar jobs can bring, including job security and living wage payments. Workforce development and training programs should initially focus on educating frontline communities about these benefits to attract participants.
  • The most successful workforce development programs offer training in a wide variety of sectors, including construction, waste removal, carpentry, masonry, and more. Providing education in a multitude of areas will help attract more program participants.
  • Workforce development programs can also offer hands-on training to implement climate adaptation strategies in some areas, such as solar panel installation and green infrastructure development that includes the care and maintenance of urban forestry to manage stormwater and reduce urban heat (see Natural Resilience Chapter). Providing this type of training advances a worker’s skill/education, and has the added benefit of providing retrofits to homes owned by community members that may not have otherwise been able to afford them.
  • Successful workforce training programs have close relationships and ties with local businesses. Through these relationships, graduates of the training programs are often fast-tracked to jobs with these businesses. Developing these types of relationships is vital to the success of a training program.


Local Hiring Requirements or Incentives

Two men working on installing solar panels on a school roof. There are rows of solar panels and the men are bent over working on installing two.
Solar panel installation at Bennett High School in Buffalo with workers in the PUSH Hiring Hall program (Credit: PUSH Buffalo)

In addition to providing workforce development and training, state and local policymakers can cultivate partnerships with project developers to create local hiring requirements and incentives for employers and small businesses. These arrangements are often project-specific, and promulgated through project labor or community workforce agreements.

Project labor and community workforce agreements are binding legal documents that lay out the employment terms and conditions of a specific project or projects. Examples of these provisions include “agreements on targeted or local hiring, wages and benefits, health and safety training, and processes for communication and resolving conflicts among stakeholders.”See footnote 168 Generally, there are several parties involved in the creation of a project labor or community workforce agreements, which can include labor unions, contractors, developers, project owners, and a local government body, when applicable.See footnote 169 

Essentially, local hiring requirements and/or project labor agreements require that employers on a project set aside several jobs for local and/or disadvantaged members of the community, or that they look to specific workforce agencies that help to staff these individuals for employees.See footnote 170 These legally binding partnerships are an innovative way to facilitate a resilient economy in frontline communities by ensuring job opportunities are available to residents that will be directly impacted by the project. 

A successful hiring program centered around clean energy and resilience addresses the roles and responsibilities of contractors and subcontractors; has a centralized coordinator and job center for community members to use and apply to; provides some sort of apprenticeship or training program; and works with the private sector to find and manage projects appropriate for local residents’ skill sets.

Additionally, local governments may also need to establish MWBE contracting and subcontracting ordinances and regulatory schemes to avail themselves of certain grants issued by federal agencies. For example, in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, federal funding was allocated for recovery efforts that were distributed by FEMA and HUD. FEMA issued guidance for local governments that included provisions for ‘socioeconomic contracts.’ This language required that state agencies take affirmative steps to assure that small, minority, women-owned businesses participated and submitted in the grant proposal process. Additionally, once funding was awarded, grantees were to take all “necessary affirmative steps to assure that minority firms, women’s business enterprises, and labor surplus area firms [were] used when possible.”See footnote 171 Similarly, some HUD statutory disaster recovery provisions require that recipients of specific funding must use best efforts to contract economically disadvantaged business owners residing in the project area to complete said project.See footnote 172 Local governments must be in compliance with these provisions to achieve minimum goals for contracting in order to receive federal funds.

The fewer people in a community that are unemployed and the more that are employed in a resilient, clean energy job — the more likely it is that the community in question will (1) Be able to recover more quickly from a climate event; (2) Be able to withstand some shocks; and (3) Avoid the impacts of a climate event altogether.See footnote 173 

Considerations of Local Hiring Requirements and Incentives Programs for Economic Resilience


  • Successful implementation of local hiring requirements often involves incentivizing local businesses to hire local community members.
  • Incentives can be monetary, and funding can come from federal sources, county fees (like Prince George’s County’s Clean Water Act Fee), public bonds, private activity bonds, private investments, utility fees, and grant programs.


  • Local hiring requirements and incentives can be used to complete green/environmentally friendly projects, like stormwater management and solar panel installation.
  • Funding can come from sources like HUD and FEMA, but require that a state legislatively implement MWBE or low-income hiring requirements.


  • One way to realize the goal of frontline community employment is to implement specific hiring targets within agreements or contracts.
  • These targets or provisions can require that underserved workers perform a specific number of hours or a certain percentage of the project, or that businesses or communities retrofitted through projects with hiring incentives are owned or occupied frontline or disadvantaged people.
  • Homes and businesses owned by members of nearby disadvantaged populations are often affected most by climate events, and typically overlooked when it comes to retrofitting for solar panels, stormwater management, etc.
  • Targeting these buildings and areas through projects that hire locally can help frontline community members feel more invested in the results, as they could be working on improving their own community.


  • The creation of local hiring programs can be done purely through non-profit/private organizations, or through government agencies.
  • To help draw in potential contractors, organizations, or agencies seeking to advance local hiring practices can educate businesses about the potential benefits of hiring local workers (compensation, incentive fees, tax breaks, etc.).


  • Using legally binding documents, such as community workforce agreements and project labor agreements, can help achieve local hiring requirement goals. The provisions of a contract can explicitly set out the targets for hiring frontline community members for projects.
  • Some jurisdictions have requirements on hiring local laborers for publicly funded projects.See footnote 174 Local governments or policymakers can seek to implement similar legislation to encourage local economic stability.
  • Local governments may need to implement MWBE specific language in local laws and ordinances that include regulations to satisfy procurement requirements under regulations associated with federal grants that contain socioeconomic contracting provisions.

Lessons Learned

  • Programs that have both training curricula and hiring agreements with local businesses have proven to be very successful. By having both programs, organizations can ensure that training graduates feeding into hiring processes are adequately prepared to enter the clean energy workforce.
  • As with workforce development programs, those looking to implement or promulgate hiring requirements should look to both the public and private sectors for incentivization funding. For example, because local hiring helps to advance economic stability within a region, private organizations promulgating these types of programs should work with the local government to see if there is an opportunity to leverage local funding.
  • Hiring programs, contracts, and regulations should focus on ensuring that local, frontline community members have opportunities for placement on projects, and that local businesses owned by frontline community members benefit as well. In addition to requiring that contractors hire a specific number or percentage of disadvantaged workers, hiring programs can also require that contractors selected to participate in the program come from frontline or disadvantaged communities.
  • Having explicit language within a contract or agreement with a contractor that members of frontline communities must complete a specific portion of labor for a project has helped to ensure that programs hit and often surpass their targets. Provisions included in contracts relating to frontline community members include hours of work completed, percentage of workers involved in the project, businesses reached and participating in the hiring process, and more.
  • Public-private partnerships have proven successful when it comes to getting large-scale projects done using a local workforce. In specific instances where a project may be too large or expensive for the local government to undertake alone, policymakers can choose from contractors bidding on the project based on a variety of factors, including commitments to hire from the local frontline community. In exchange for a private organization to take responsibility for carrying out the project, the local government can agree to sign over a portion of the profits the project accumulates.


Youth Engagement

As the economy shifts toward cleaner, greener, and more resilient jobs, the demand for well-trained people with the ability to work in the sector will continue to grow.See footnote 175 Youth training and employment programs are an excellent way to begin education and job-skill training in sector-specific jobs early, thereby better ensuring successful careers. These types of programs often focus on hands-on training that students can participate in over the summer.

As a whole, “effective workforce development strategies for disadvantaged populations of young adults are needed to overcome unemployment and limited advancement opportunities for less-skilled workers in the United States.”See footnote 176 The earlier youth are involved in resilient, clean energy jobs, the more likely they will benefit from expected growth in these sectors, and the less likely they are to be unemployed in the future.

And a greener economy with lower rates of unemployment is (1) better able to recover quickly from a shock; (2) better able to withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, better able to avoid a shock altogether.

Two women sit behind a table with a white table cloth at a college fair in a school gymnasium. They have a banner behind them that says, "Providing stormwater solutions through local partnerships and community development." They are talking with a high school aged boy and girl who stand on the other side of the table. There are similar conversations going on at other tables in the background.
The Prince George's County Clean Water Partnership engages with students at a college and career fair at Parkdale High School in Maryland. (Credit: The PGCo Clean Water Partnership)

Considerations of Youth Engagement Programs for Economic Resilience


  • Investments in youth engagement programs typically come from the government or nonprofits.
  • Having paid internships for students over the summer can help encourage students in frontline communities to participate in youth engagement programs.
  • Established summer programs that already have funding can consider integrating environmental education into their summer curriculum without much additional cost.


  • Youth engagement programs — both educational and employment — can focus on environmental projects, such as stormwater management, solar energy installment, and environmental literacy.


  • Youth engagement programs can focus on educating and employing students from frontline communities.
  • Environmental education, when it begins early, is shown to promote a “sense of place and connection through community involvement.”See footnote 177 


  • Youth programs can solicit local businesses to provide funding and employment opportunities for at-risk youth in disadvantaged communities.
  • Youth engagement programs can be run through nonprofit organizations, private businesses, or school systems.


  • Local governments and/or education boards could consider implementing environmental literacy and education into required curriculum materials.
  • Public-private partnership agreements or contracts between local businesses, the public-school system, or other parties involved in youth engagement can stipulate the extent to which students will be learning about environmental issues, as well as any hands-on training that may result in completed products (like solar panels, stormwater management systems, etc.).

Lessons Learned

  • Successful youth engagement programs are often part of a larger umbrella organization or program. These types of organizations often have established funding sources. In addition, training programs that have already been created and proven successful can be slightly altered to gear towards younger students.
  • Established organizations — such as non-profits, local businesses, public school systems, and local higher education facilities — can implement youth engagement programs using existing partnerships. These parties should work together with the local community to ensure that students receive meaningful education and experience regarding climate change, environmental issues, and hands-on job training.
  • One way to specifically encourage the participation of frontline community youth is through offering paid summer internships in the areas of environmental stewardship, stormwater management, etc. By providing a chance for students to make money and learn about the environment at the same time, youth will be more inclined to participate.
  • Youth outreach and education in environmental areas have both been shown to improve academic achievement, encourage environmental stewardship, deepen personal development and wellbeing, and strengthen communities overall.[4] Hands-on learning projects regarding things like stormwater management can not only enhance a student’s ties to their own community but also promote the environmental health of the community itself. Youth engagement programs should incorporate these types of hands-on projects in their curriculum.
  • There are countless online resources dedicated to educating younger populations on the effects of climate change, environmental and renewable technologies, etc. Established education programs can integrate this education and knowledge into the curriculum at little to no extra cost.


Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies

A CEDS is “a strategy-driven plan for regional economic development.” The U.S. Economic Development Association (EDA) — a Bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce — oversees the CEDS development program. Regional planning offices create CEDS to develop recommendations for a more prosperous and resilient regional economy. To receive funding from the U.S. Economic Development Association (under its Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance Programs), a region must comply with CEDS requirements, and update its Strategy every five years.

In the development of a CEDS, a planning agency will typically try to engage with all levels of the community, including, but not limited to: community leaders, the public sector, the private sector, applicable Native American Tribes, nonprofits, small businesses, and more.See footnote 178 The purpose of the CEDS is to put in place action plans across a variety of sectors that will ensure that the economy of the region remains resilient and functional, even during disaster events. Often, they will reference and/or incorporate other state or local plans into the strategy’s action items.

In addition, any CEDS must also contain economic resilience strategies, either incorporated throughout or identified as specific action items. These strategies must take into account “the ability to avoid, withstand, and recover from economic shifts, natural disasters, the impact of climate change, etc.”See footnote 179 Generally, the most effective CEDS infuse the concept of economic resilience — and how to adapt the economy to climate impacts — throughout the CEDS report.

Communities and areas with regional CEDS plans in place take climate impacts into account and develop strategies to mitigate the damage these impacts may have on the area’s economy. As a result, businesses and regions in general in areas where a CEDS is implemented are (1) better able to recover quickly from a shock; (2) better able to withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, better able to avoid a shock altogether.

Considerations of Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies for Economic Resilience


  • Preparation of a CEDS document requires local funding, and “depend[s] on local circumstances, the organization’s staff capacity, and the level of resources of the region.”See footnote 180
  • Once a CEDS document is submitted and accepted by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the region is eligible for the Administration’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance funding, as well as other infrastructure and technical assistance grants.See footnote 181 


  • Guidelines regarding the creation of CEDS reports explicitly state that environmental, climatic, and natural resources profiles can be included.
  • Additionally, CEDS can contain the environmental elements — including the likelihood of increased disaster events due to climate change — that will affect and/or constrain the economy within the region.


  • Analyzing the region’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats — a required section of any CEDS — requires that the agency or organization creating the CEDS take equity into account.
  • An analysis of weaknesses within the region often requires an examination of historical injustices, especially in regard to racial, income, and sex inequities.


  • The creation of an effective CEDS document requires that the planning agency or individuals in charge of writing the CEDS engage with a wide variety of partners, including community leaders, local tribes, the private sector, educational institutions within the region, and other stakeholders.
  • Implementation of CEDS recommendations to encourage economic resilience within a region will require coordination and action from a wide variety of individuals, organizations, and agencies.
  • A necessary part of a CEDS document is the evaluation framework, which is used to measure the success of the CEDS report and the carrying out of its recommendations. Meaningful evaluation will require input from a wide variety of groups, including the private sector, government agencies, communities, and even individuals.


  • Under the Code of Federal Regulations, CEDS documents must contain four different elements/sections: summary background; an analysis of the region’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; a strategic direction/action plan; and an evaluation framework.
  • While the agency or organization in charge of creating the CEDS can recommend specific strategies or actions, they do not have any enforcement mechanism by which they can ensure that these recommendations are carried out.
  • Local governments and agencies must actually implement the policies to realize these recommendations/strategies to ensure economic resilience within the region.

Lessons Learned

  • An in-depth tutorial/guidebook on how to write a successful, comprehensive CEDS report can be found here.
  • In an analysis of the region’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, CEDS writers should ask specific equity questions such as: “[whether there is] active engagement from the region’s vulnerable and/or underserved populations; [if] those populations have been provided appropriate access to and inclusion in the planning process; [and] has the region used technology-based tools to widen the distribution of information and increase the potential of feedback from residents?”
  • All literature on CEDS — case studies, guideline documents, and CEDS themselves — emphasize the need for robust community engagement in the creation of a CEDS report. Community leaders, local businesses, and other groups or individuals on the ground within a region know what the economic strengths and weaknesses of that region are. Planning agencies will not be able to develop innovative solutions to promote economic resilience without first learning from the community what problems exist that hinder economic development.
  • Additionally, the planning agency or organization tasked with the creation of a CEDS document will not have the authority to enforce the recommendations or strategies they put forth. Other government agencies, businesses, and communities may be tasked with promulgating the CEDS recommendations (and have the authority to do so). For example, there here may be specific recommendations for local businesses, workforce development, individual communities or even community members, policymakers in other organizations, etc. In these instances, implementation of these recommendations may require the action of an individual, business owner, or nonprofit.
  • Additionally, if these groups are involved in the development of these strategies and recommendations from the beginning, it is more likely that they will implement the necessary policy changes.


Business Continuity Plans

Extreme weather events are increasing, and with them, threats to business — especially small, localized ones.See footnote 182 Climate events can have lasting effects on businesses, including, but not limited to: supply chain disruptions; customer access to storefronts; and infrastructure and property damage. Due to these threats, businesses should enhance their resilience through the development of a business continuity plan that explicitly takes climate change impacts into account.

Business continuity plans are risk management tools that business owners create to facilitate the long-term survival of their business by identifying their risks. Business continuity plans establish approaches that either help to avoid risks or direct what actions should be taken in the event that risk is realized. “It encompasses both the process of identifying the parts of your organization that you can’t afford to lose, and the framework of strategies and measures designed to limit disruptions and enable key activities to resume as quickly as possible after an event.”See footnote 183 

A successful business continuity plan recognizes the threat to operations that climate impacts can pose, and creates a variety of different plans and strategies to deal with those threats. The incorporation of a business continuity plan into the way businesses are run – especially small businesses owned by disadvantaged populations — will be (1) better able to recover quickly from a shock; (2) better able to withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, better able to avoid a shock altogether.

Considerations of Business Continuity Plans for Economic Resilience


  • There likely is not much cost involved in the actual development of a business continuity plan. Owners of a business, whether small or large, need to analyze their business operations and develop strategies that will keep their business running when a climate event strikes.
  • The implementation of a business continuity plan may have some costs (ex. the installation of backup generators, the use of alternate supply chains, storefront cleanup, etc.).
  • The existence of business continuity plans can help demonstrate to potential investors that business owners are serious about their business, have the intention to continue to operate during disaster events and have contingency plans in place.


  • Climate impacts have the potential to affect much of the economy, including supply chains, resource availability, and consumer consumption.
  • Business continuity plans can take climate events into account, especially as their frequency increases due to climate change.


  • Frontline communities are often hit “first and worst” by climate events. This includes community members that own businesses and/or businesses within frontline communities themselves.
  • The creation of business development plans can help mitigate the disproportionate effects of these climate disasters. 


  • Businesses within a community can coordinate in their development of business continuity plans to ensure that operations across an entire sector continue during disaster events, or at least start again shortly after a disaster event occurs.
  • The larger a business or organization is, the more complex its business continuity plan will likely be. While coordination with outside entities is usually unnecessary, coordination internally within departments will facilitate the most comprehensive business continuity plan. 


  • Businesses that are members of certain associations or organizations, like the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, are actually required to have written business continuity plans.
  • OSHA also requires that businesses have plans established for evacuation during a disaster event, as well as who will be responsible for critical plant operations.
  • Public Law 110-53 recommends that all private businesses have a business continuity plan developed (it is, however, just a recommendation/voluntary).

Lessons Learned

  • After a natural disaster, “roughly 40% to 60% of small businesses are never able to reopen their doors.”See footnote 184 Business continuity plans can help to mitigate the effects of climate events and ensure that businesses are able to reopen their doors earlier than they would have been able to otherwise, had a business continuity plan not been in place.
  • There are numerous online resources available (including those listed below) that lay out step-by-step how businesses — large or small — can create business continuity plans
  • The best business continuity plans operate as a guidebook on actions and procedures that should be undertaken by employees both during and after a disaster event. As a result, these plans should be detailed, and explicitly lay out who has responsibilities for what operations. Doing so will help avoid confusion during what is likely already a chaotic time.
  • There is usually not much (if any) cost associated with the creation of a business continuity plan, outside of the time used by the creator to develop it. There can be costs associated with its implementation, however. On the other hand, not having a business continuity plan can lead to extended closures and loss of revenue. Business owners should do an internal analysis of the costs associated with implementing a business continuity plan versus business closures.


Statewide Plans and Programs

State governments and agencies may have access to resources that local governments, non-profits, local businesses, and individuals may not, including funding and financing availability, more staffing and employees available, and pre-existing relationships with federal agencies and/or nationwide organizations. State agencies can connect local experts and stakeholders with data on climate-related impacts, as statewide studies on climate-related impacts and disasters are often done by state agencies to comply with federal regulations.See footnote 185 Existing partnerships between state agencies and the federal government can be leveraged to provide additional funding for green infrastructure and clean energy projects.See footnote 186 State-level employee experts with knowledge of best practices can help to create resources for policymakers in localities that do not have this type of access or knowledge.

Additionally, state agencies can create sector-specific statewide plans that require or recommend the adoption of practices that promote economic resilience at a local or community level. 

“Statewide planning goals pass along safety and resilience requirements and/or suggestions to each municipality on a range of topics, including requiring inventories of hazard risk areas in comprehensive plans; adopting land use plans that reduce vulnerabilities to hazards; updating building codes with requirements related to earthquake, wind, wildfire, and flood hazards; requiring new critical facilities to undergo hazard-specific site analysis; and encouraging overlay zoning and transfer of development rights to restrict unsafe development.”See footnote 187 

These programs or plans can be as comprehensive as an energy plan that lays out a state’s intention to transition to clean energy (which often include smaller programs like workforce development, youth engagement, and the other tools discussed above); or, they can be as granular and specific as a workforce development and training program available to in state-residents.

The incorporation of statewide plans or strategies into a local community resilience plan or program can help to create economic resilience from a top-down perspective. By leveraging state resources and implementing statewide resilience plans, individuals, business, and communities will be (1) better able to recover quickly from a shock; (2) better able to withstand a shock; and (3) in some instances, better able to avoid a shock altogether.

Considerations of Statewide Plans and Programs for Economic Resilience 


  • Funding for specific programs — such as workforce development and training programs — can come from existing state clean energy funds, or states can pass new legislation to create clean energy funds.
  • Green Energy Funds are often made up of a variety of sources, including grants, proceeds from regional cap and trade programs (RGGI, Inc., California’s Cap and Trade program), donations from philanthropies and foundations, etc.
  • While transitioning to clean energy may have more upfront costs, customers and utilities will actually save money in the long run by converting to renewables.See footnote 188 


  • Energy transition plans created by economic development or environmental agencies can include strategies about how the state intends to transition to clean, renewable energy resources cross-sector.
  • Specific statewide programs, such as workforce training or youth engagement programs, can focus on clean energy training and career advancement.


  • Most often, fossil fuel plants are located in frontline communities.
  • Creating plans that equitably transition from fossil fuel to clean energy requires ensuring that these communities are among the first to benefit from the creation of jobs, green infrastructure investment, etc.
  • More specific programs, such as workforce development and training programs, can give preference to applicants from frontline communities.


  • State policymakers will almost certainly have to work across agencies to develop and implement binding, statewide legislation that addresses a state’s transition to clean energy.
  • In order to develop sector-specific programs, such as green infrastructure development, workforce training, or youth engagement programs, state agencies and state-level policymakers must work with local stakeholders.


  • State agencies can either promulgate legislation that requires that local cities and municipalities adopt specific practices or programs that enhance economic resilience, or publish recommendations and resources for local policymakers.

Lessons Learned

  • Policymakers that involve stakeholders from frontline communities as early as possible in the development of a statewide plan or program are more likely to achieve outcomes that are aligned with the community's needs. This will help to ensure transparency and can help to reassure stakeholders on the ground in local communities that their needs and concerns will be addressed.
  • State policymakers should also seek to educate utility ratepayers on the savings that residents that will result from a transition to cleaner energy. In New Mexico alone, the Energy Transition Act is expected to reduce monthly utility bills upwards of $7 by 2022.See footnote 189 
  • States governments and agencies have the power to promulgate the rules and regulations by which localities are required to operate. By explicitly requiring that cities and municipalities take the resilience of frontline communities into account, state policymakers can help to ensure that economic resilience within these communities is enhanced.
  • To encourage participation in statewide programs, such as workforce development programs, state agencies can offer to help finance employee salaries. In New York, NYSERDA pays 50% of the salary of employees who participate in the Clean Energy Workforce Development Program for a certain period of time.See footnote 190 
  • Nonprofits and individuals at a local level hoping to implement tools such as workforce development or training programs should research whether their state has a comprehensive or sector-specific energy transition plan. In creating a program to help facilitate the achievement of this program, designers may be able to leverage state funding.


Funding Tools for Economic Resilience

Individuals, businesses, and communities can implement tools, policies, and strategies like those explained above to facilitate the development of economic resilience. There are, however, costs associated with implementing or executing each of these strategies or tools. Luckily, there are a variety of sources that can help fund the realization of these plans, programs, and tools in the real world, including, but not limited to: the federal government, non-profits, private businesses, and local governments. In many cases, funding need not come from one single source — those looking to introduce these strategies can finance their vision through a combination of available and applicable sources.

Lessons Learned

  • The most successful economic resilience projects incorporate a variety of funding resources from several different partnerships and sources. Typically, one source of funding will not be able to cover the cost associated with the implementation and promulgation of a program.
  • Those looking to implement programs facilitating economic resilience should look to existing programs and sources of financing. Many private grants, as well as local and federal government funding, specifically lay out what requirements must be met to receive funding. Adapting training, hiring, or youth engagement programs to address these requirements can open doors to alternative funding mechanisms that would otherwise not have been available.
  • Educating the community about the importance of economic resilience can increase awareness about private funding in the area. Leveraging private funds or grants from local businesses is vital to creating economic resilience within a neighborhood. The more economically stable individuals and local businesses are, the more economically stable an entire region will be.

Local/Private Grants/Programs

Implementers should always take local and private programs and grants into account. Even without financial assistance, many business operations will prefer to hire local employees rather than outsourcing. While private or local grants may not be able to fund comprehensive programs, they can help in funding smaller scale, specific projects. Implementers can learn about these opportunities through conducting outreach with the community and local businesses, as well as educating sources outside of the community of the economic opportunities these programs will bring.

Projects: see all — at least portions of all case studies; for an excellent, specific example, see Corvias’ funding of The Clean Water Partnership.

Economic Development Agency (EDA)

A region is eligible for funding from the U.S. Economic Development Agency only if it updates or submits a new CEDS document every five years.See footnote 191 Once this is completed, the region is eligible for EDA’s Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance program. Funding from this program is used to support economic development in low-income communities through the creation of jobs and attracting private sector investments.See footnote 192 The money awarded is used in a variety of projects, including “construction, non-construction, planning, technical assistance, and revolving loan fund projects under EDA’s Public Works program.” The award ceiling is $3,000,000 for 2020 projects.

Projects: see case studies within the CEDS section.

State Renewable/Clean Energy Jobs Funds

Many states offer renewable energy credits or financing programs, which will help to pay for the development of green energy programs in the region. For example, in the District of Columbia, the Renewable Energy Development Fund awards grants for the purpose of promoting solar energy projects throughout the city. The New York State Energy Research & Development Agency works statewide to fund projects that reduce energy bills, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and provide other workforce development and training opportunities. To find a list of sources that will assist in funding state renewable resources, please see here.

Projects: see Solar Works DC and PUSH Green case studies.


Resilient Affordable Housing, Anti-Displacement & Gentrification


Hurricane Katrina led to the largest internal migration in the United States since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.See footnote 193 An estimated 1.5 million residents in the Gulf Coast,See footnote 194 including 400,000 in New Orleans, fled or were evacuated. Thousands remain permanently displaced; of those displaced, black residents were the least likely to return.See footnote 195

A green house and a white house with broken or empty windows and debris around them. Two people in hard hats and construction vests examine the area.
Damaged homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. (Credit: Gregory Varnum, Wikimedia Commons)

In the aftermath of Katrina, the lack of affordable housing remains one of the primary and lingering barriers to residents returning to New Orleans, which —like the rest of the country —had already been experiencing severe housing shortages before the levees broke and destroyed much of the city’s affordable housing stock. Home prices and rental rates for the remaining housing skyrocketed, and low-income residents in New Orleans were significantly less likely to have access to affordable housing than elsewhere in the United States.See footnote 196 Ten years after Katrina, the availability of public housing for low-income residents in New Orleans still numbered at 40% of where it was before the hurricane.See footnote 197 Building new, affordable housing remains a challenge, particularly in areas like the Lower Ninth Ward, which saw declines in homeownership in a neighborhood that had previously held one of the highest rates of African-American homeownership in the country.See footnote 198 

Hurricane Katrina led to sizeable demographic shifts in the Gulf Coast region,See footnote 199 a phenomenon repeated again and again in communities hard-hit by hurricanes, wildfires, and other climate disasters.See footnote 200 These experiences exemplify the mounting climate threat to housing options for low-income residents. Even prior to the current COVID-19 health and economic crisis, the United States faced a nationwide shortage of seven million affordable and available homes for the lowest income renters, a problem that is exacerbated by natural disasters as they increase in intensity and frequency.See footnote 201 The combined forces of climate change and the housing crisis are felt most acutely by low-income residents, communities of color, the elderly, and disabled people.  These frontline communities are more likely to live in flood-prone areas or in neighborhoods that require the most resilience investments but have limited resources to recover physically, economically, and socially from extreme weather events.

Even without climate disasters and sudden, large-scale dislocations, sea-level rise and extreme weather pose threats to the availability of safe, secure, and affordable housing for frontline communities. In Miami, homes in historically segregated and underinvested-in neighborhoods — frequently located on higher ground — are seeing faster rates of appreciation than homes in wealthier neighborhoods that are located at lower elevations and more physically exposed.See footnote 202 In neighborhoods like Little Haiti and Liberty City, black and Latinx residents are facing development pressures that increase the cost of living and housing, which contributes to the eventual displacement of entire communities as wealthier residents move in.See footnote 203

The need for climate-resilient, affordable housing is critical to frontline communities in cities across the country as they recover from and prepare for extreme weather. Households with lower rent burdens have more adaptive capacity to bounce back and stay in place after a natural disaster. Meanwhile, cost-burdened households — or those that spend over 30% of income on housing — are more likely to face poor health and underemployment and less likely than other households to access educational opportunities or increase wealth.See footnote 204 Housing stability is also integral to community resilience, helping to enhance social cohesion, build community ties, and enable residents to stay better connected — particularly during extreme weather or other emergencies when neighbors often become each others’ first responders.See footnote 205

As the need for climate-resilient, affordable housing becomes more pressing, cities will need to consider a multi-pronged strategy with solutions that address the full scope of climate threats to frontline communities — physical, economic, and social. Legal and policy tools should focus not only on increasing the availability of affordable housing, but also strengthening the resilience of housing to climate change impacts through measures that counter, rather than exacerbate, displacement and gentrification. Importantly, effective tools that promote resilience and equity in equal measure must also be guided by an explicit understanding of the reinforcing nature of social inequity and housing inequity. Accordingly, as highlighted in many of the case studies discussed in this chapter, city initiatives to increase resilient, affordable housing should be accompanied by meaningful community engagement through the entire lifecycle of the program, from development to implementation.

Goals for Resilient Affordable Housing

This chapter describes equitable approaches to enhancing the resilience of affordable housing options, including approaches designed to accomplish the following goals:

  • Preserve and create affordable housing;
  • Increase sustainability and resilience of new and existing housing; and
  • Minimize displacement.


Several converging factors have contributed to the chronic, nationwide housing shortage and its acute impact on communities of color. The legacies of discriminatory housing policies continue to restrict access to affordable housing for low-income households and communities of color. Policies like exclusionary zoning have segregated the most disenfranchised communities into high-density areas, creating a physical divide from higher-income areas that have greater access to community resources. Meanwhile, the practice of redlining discouraged investments in communities of color and limited access to financial resources for securing housing that is affordable and stable, posing a significant barrier to wealth generation and upward mobility.

Since the 1980s, federal funding has also been redirected from projects creating public and subsidized housing to those that leverage the private market through tax incentives. However, in recent years, federal funding of affordable housing through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program – one of primary incentives for producing affordable housing in the private market –  has diminished significantly.  With decreased funding and increased demand, existing programs administered under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have failed to keep pace with modern affordable housing needs, spurring a housing affordability crisis in many cities and regions across the United States. Accordingly, cities are now playing an increasingly larger role in the creation and preservation of affordable housing, such as by encouraging inclusionary zoning to trigger private development of affordable homes.

Climate hazards like urban heat and flooding can exacerbate housing insecurity, most directly when extreme weather events or disasters decrease the availability of housing stock and displace residents. However, the very process of enhancing resilience to climate change impacts —for example through building retrofits— can increase the cost of construction and market value of a home and, replicated across a neighborhood, render entire communities less affordable for both renters and homeowners. Additionally, climate change can also increase the total cost of housing for residents, for example, when energy costs are increased due to the need for additional cooling during heat waves, or when insurance rates increase for homeowners living in flood-prone or wildfire-prone areas. An equitable process for increasing resilient, affordable housing must therefore consider a full array of community needs, which could include factors that affect: the natural environment (e.g., percent of tree cover, green space, impervious surfaces); livelihoods and mobility (e.g., access to public transit, job access, education); social connection and well-being (e.g., public safety, cultural connections); and community power (e.g., governance structures, methods of decision making and consensus building), to name a few.

Key Players

Implementing solutions for climate resilient affordable housing requires the collaboration of multiple stakeholders from diverse sectors. Many of the case studies in this chapter illustrate the potential for public-private partnerships, as well as collaborations with nonprofits and community development organizations, to develop housing solutions in cities. Key players in efforts to support resilient affordable housing include:

  • City agencies (e.g., Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), Departments of Housing and Community Development) – City agencies are authorized to oversee housing programs, administer federal funding for affordable housing development, and allocate tax credits to support projects that create or preserve resilient affordable housing.
  • Community organizations and nonprofits (e.g., land trusts) – Community organizations aggregate funding, personnel, and legal resources to aid local efforts to support resilient affordable housing.
  • Financial institutions and nonprofit developers (e.g., Community development financial institutions (CDFIs), Community Development Corporations (CDCs)) – Nonprofit developers can utilize their skills in navigating disjointed funding sources to drive the development and preservation of resilient affordable housing.
  • Resident and tenant associations – Resident and tenant associations enable residents to prevent existing affordable housing from entering the private market through programs that support tenant purchase programs (e.g., Washington, D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Assistance, or TOPA) or demand resilient design improvements be made to the existing buildings.

This chapter provides an overview of five tools that cities can use to support resilient affordable housing: 1) planning tools that can help city governments prioritize resilience and housing needs within a community; 2) regulatory tools; 3) funding tools to support housing retrofits or enhance resilience features in new housing; 4) community protections and agreements; and 5) community land trusts, a community-led housing tool that promotes community land ownership and control.

Planning Tools for Housing

City governments are increasingly paying special attention to the resilience needs of the affordable housing community within their broader adaptation strategies. Many cities already provide important information, including future climate hazard data and information on populations at greatest risk. This information can help owners and developers of affordable housing protect their assets. By developing specific assessment tools to determine the probability that a climate hazard may occur — in conjunction with evaluating the adaptive capacity of at-risk populations — cities can enable property owners and developers to better prioritize resilience strategies to protect residents, buildings, and communities from extreme weather.

Risk Assessments and Vulnerability Studies

Risk assessments and vulnerability studies can be used to map a community’s specific climate hazards and related impacts on the affordable housing stock as well as evaluate the ability of its residents to adapt to and recover from those very hazards. They can also be used strategically to redirect resources to better support affordable housing. For example, studies can help identify the number of affordable housing developments in the floodplains designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the common deficiencies that put them at risk so that cities can be more competitive when applying for flood mitigation funding. Cities can also partner with their local housing authority to integrate climate change scenarios into their facility assessments to identify properties at greatest risk for flooding.

Risk assessments, which measure the probability of specific hazards under future climate scenarios, include identification of both primary hazards (e.g., coastal or inland flooding, stormwater, extreme temperatures, major thunderstorms) and secondary hazards that accompany them (e.g., disease, toxin exposure, power and water outage). Data sources include local government plans (e.g., Climate Ready DC)See footnote 206 that assess and identify strategies to prepare built infrastructure and community resources for the impacts of climate change, as well as web-based tools like the Massachusetts Climate Change Clearinghouse (“resilient MA”),See footnote 207 which aggregates scientific data and identifies vulnerabilities across different sectors (e.g., agriculture, transportation, public health, emergency management, natural resources).

Results of the risk assessments can be integrated into vulnerability studies, which evaluate a community’s sensitivity to identified risks, for example, its ability to adapt to and recover from hazards like extreme heat or inland flooding. Vulnerability studies may include analysis of the building type, function, and population; interviews with owners and property managers; and individual site visits and assessments. For example, to determine the vulnerability of a multifamily unit to stormwater flooding, questions may include whether:

  • the building is located in a flood zone;
  • the property has a history of sewer or stormwater backups during heavy rain or flooding; and
  • there is an emergency management plan for both residents and building staff.

Design Guidelines

Design guidelines, like those developed by the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (Enterprise) in “Strategies for Multifamily Building Resilience,” provide strategies for retrofitting affordable housing buildings to protect them against climate hazards.See footnote 208 Resilience strategies vary from improvements like floodproofing buildings and installing pumps to measures that can increase energy efficiency and stormwater management. Guideline manuals can also provide strategies to enhance backup measures that provide critical services like access to potable water and emergency lighting when a building loses power. Guidelines could also provide strategies for building community resilience such as measures to strengthen community ties and expanding community spaces.

Considerations of Planning Tools for Resilient Affordable Housing


  • Planning tools can identify community economic assets like small businesses, for which disruptions in the event of a disaster may lead to far-reaching impacts for local residents and the workforce.
  • Planning tools could be used to evaluate the economic viability and community benefits of resilience upgrades, for example installing solar-plus-battery storage systems.
  • Planning tools can incorporate potential funding and financing mechanisms to support resilience measures like building retrofits, as well as measures to prevent displacement of low-income residents by providing resources to recover after a disaster.


  • Risk assessments are helpful for not only identifying existing environmental conditions that can exacerbate climate change impacts (e.g., impervious pavements that do not allow water to seep through), but also potential solutions (e.g., installing green stormwater infrastructure to capture runoff and alleviate flooding).


  • Planning tools provide an opportunity to solicit input from a diverse coalition of community stakeholders, who can identify the needs of frontline communities before climate disruptions take place.
  • The process of developing planning tools presents an opportunity to provide community partners with information about climate hazards before they occur, and to disseminate the information to impacted residents.


  • Risk assessments and vulnerability studies can be conducted by building owners, property managers, architects, engineers, and other professionals.
  • Risk assessments and vulnerability studies are often voluntary in nature, and property owners may require additional incentives to implement them.
  • Cities can develop planning tools in coordination with local organizations that have deep ties to the residents who live in affordable housing, and who have knowledge of the community’s needs and assets.


  • Risk assessments, vulnerability studies, and design guidelines do not require legal authorization to develop. However, implementing certain guidelines and recommendations (e.g., zoning changes) may require additional regulatory and legal action.

 Lessons Learned

  • To achieve more widespread voluntary action, affordable housing stakeholders and cities should collaborate to find funding, support training, and/or develop additional resources that respond to common challenges (e.g., the need for cost-benefit analyses, finding qualified contractors).
  • Assigning one party to oversee the completion of all components of a risk assessment and/or vulnerability study could help streamline the development of multiple evaluation criteria.
  • Incorporating flood insurance counseling into existing housing counseling and legal services programs could improve access to information about flood risk for renters and lower-income homeowners, as well as guide them through recommendations for making their homes more resilient.


Regulatory Tools for Housing

Regulatory tools like zoning ordinances and building codes, which govern uses of the land and regulate the building of structures, can form part of a comprehensive affordable housing and climate resilience strategy. For example, in Miami, the city’s strategy to address climate-induced gentrification includes the dedication of $100 million for affordable housing (part of a $400 million general obligation bond that funds municipal infrastructure projects)See footnote 209 and the adoption of inclusionary zoning policies to promote denser development.See footnote 210

Inclusionary Zoning Programs

An increasingly popular tool for city governments,See footnote 211 inclusionary zoning (IZ) — also called “inclusionary housing” — generates affordable housing through the private market by requiring or incentivizing developers to designate a percentage of units in new housing projects at below-market rate (BMR).See footnote 212 The majority of IZ programs are mandatorySee footnote 213 and required by law for developers to set aside affordable units in exchange for subsidies to the developer that can help offset the cost of producing affordable units to low-income households. By contrast, under voluntary IZ programs, developers provide affordable homes in exchange for density bonuses (the right to build larger and a higher number of units above existing zoning regulations), relaxed design guidelines, reduced property taxes, and other incentives.See footnote 214

Aside from differences in mandatory or voluntary participation, other key distinctions in the design and implementation of local IZ programs may include:See footnote 215 

  • the type of incentive in voluntary IZ programs (e.g., density bonuses, zoning variances, fee reductions);
  • whether the affordable units are developed on-site or at a different location;
  • the required percentage of affordable housing (most commonly between 10-20 %);
  • targeted income group;
  • whether the program applies to rentals or properties for sale; and
  • the geographic coverage of the program (i.e., whether the program applies to a specific location, housing type, or an entire jurisdiction).

Zoning Ordinances and Building Codes

In addition to IZ programs, cities can also incorporate climate resilience measures in zoning ordinances and building codes to increase the flood-resilience of new housing or retrofitted buildings.See footnote 216 For example, ordinances may require increasing the freeboard standard for new construction in a 100-year floodplain, or the use of permeable surfaces surrounding the building to improve stormwater management practices. Zoning ordinances and building codes can also be used to prevent development of housing and other structures in flood-prone areas — for example in the floodplain or in-stream buffer zones — or require structures to be built to higher standards to account for future flood risks from sea-level rise. A 2019 study found that for, every dollar invested in adopting model building codes that include climate resilience, the country could save $11 in future disaster costs.See footnote 217   

Considerations of Regulatory Tools for Resilient Affordable Housing


  • Developers may pass on the cost of selling or renting units at BMR to renters and buyers. Similarly, IZ policies may lead to a reduction in the construction of new homes. Research on the impact of IZ programs on the private market is mixed, with evidence indicating both a statistically insignificant impact in cities like San Francisco, as well as a correlation with increased housing prices and reduced construction in other cities.See footnote 218
  • The efficacy of IZ programs is dependent on local housing market conditions. In general, stronger housing markets tend to produce more affordable units under IZ programs than weaker housing markets.See footnote 219 


  • IZ programs can be used to encourage higher density development in areas that are less at risk to climate change impacts, especially under programs that apply broadly across an entire city rather than concentrate on high-poverty areas that are more at risk of flooding and extreme heat.
  • Like other land-use strategies that increase urban density and reduce sprawl, IZ programs also bring environmental co-benefits such as reducing vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.


  • IZ policies can lead to the creation and preservation of mixed-income neighborhoods by providing low-income residents with opportunities to enter and integrate into neighborhoods with greater economic, education, and employment opportunities.See footnote 220 In additional economic integration, IZ may also lead to greater racial integration in communities.See footnote 221
  • Moderately low-income residents, rather than the lowest-income residents, are more likely to benefit from IZ programs since most IZ policies target families that earn between 60 to 120% of the AMI.See footnote 222
  • Building codes should apply consistently to all buildings within a community in order to avoid leaving behind certain structures and the people who live in them.


  • IZ programs require limited to no subsidy from city governments. However, IZ programs are more readily adopted in states that grant home rule (where localities have increased local autonomy) or expressly authorize local IZ programs.See footnote 223 
  • IZ programs that permit off-site construction of BMR units (as opposed to requiring on-site units) may face less opposition from developers and landowners.See footnote 224
  • IZ programs are one approach out of many options to address the nationwide housing shortage and should be implemented concurrently with other policies suggested in this chapter. Although the use of IZ has become increasingly popular, the number of affordable housing stock produced through IZ programs varies significantly across jurisdictions.See footnote 225


  • IZ programs that are required by law have been shown to produce more affordable housing than programs that are voluntary and incentive-based.See footnote 226
  • Zoning ordinances and mandatory IZ programs may face opposition from developers and builders who challenge the constitutionality of IZ laws under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, which provides that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.See footnote 227
  • A zoning or building code may not comply with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it requires the elevation of new construction in a flood zone without also requiring structural modifications (e.g., ramps) that can improve access for disabled persons.

 Lessons Learned

  • IZ programs that encourage developers to build BMR units on the same site as non-BMR units can facilitate better racial and economic integration of residents. Additionally, requiring on-site affordability can help ensure that affordable housing is available in specific areas that enhance access to other resources, for example, green space, public transit, and jobs. On-site development is usually less expensive than other affordability requirements, including building BMR units off-site or contributing to a local affordable housing fund.See footnote 228 
  • IZ programs that are adopted on a city-wide basis, as opposed to targeting specific neighborhoods, can reduce the likelihood for developers to concentrate the affordable units in neighborhoods that face increased exposure to climate change impacts like flooding, or are far away from public transit and job opportunities.


Funding Tools for Housing

Funding resilience features in affordable housing can not only enhance the climate resilience of homes, but could also provide long-term investment benefits for residents, building owners, communities, and other stakeholders. Studies by the Energy Efficiency for All Initiative and other researchers have demonstrated that many resilience measures can yield dividends that property owners could use in calculating return on investment and in other financial analyses.See footnote 229 For example, building envelope efficiency, installing window shading, and incorporating other resilience measures can lead to lowered costs in utility bills, operation and maintenance costs, and insurance premiums.

Funding tools can be deployed to build new as well as retrofit or preserve existing affordable housing. However, multiple factors present challenges for funding resilience investments in affordable housing. Foremost, the availability of government funding to support affordable housing needs is already low, with even fewer resources dedicated to retrofits or resilience upgrades that prepare existing and new housing for climate change impacts. Meanwhile, the few disaggregated funding programs available to retrofit existing housing often focus primarily on bringing buildings to code, and they lack the flexibility to address the range of needs that will increase resilience and reduce total housing costs of residents. Despite these challenges, cities could raise revenue for housing trust funds, which could be leveraged to either support the development of new, affordable resilient housing or provide grants and loans to retrofit existing housing stock.

Local Housing Trust Funds

State and local housing trust funds direct dedicated streams of public revenue to support local affordable housing needs. Currently, there are approximately 800 housing trusts in cities, counties, and states, which generated $1.5 billion for affordable housing projects in 2018. Forty -seven states and the District of Columbia have at least one designated state housing trust fund, and states have increasingly enabled cities and counties to create local housing trust funds through legislation and providing matching funds. Funding may be dedicated to the creation, rehabilitation, or preservation of affordable housing.

Federal Programs

The longest-running and one of the largest sources of affordable housing funding is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which is administered by the Internal Revenue Service and provides tax incentives to developers to encourage the creation of affordable housing. Under the program, a state housing finance agency receives tax credits from the federal government, which the agency then awards to qualifying developers through a competitive process. Since the creation of the program in 1986, LIHTC has produced or preserved roughly 2.3 million units of affordable housing, and, despite decreased funding in recent years, the program continues to serve as the primary source of funding for preserving or creating affordable rental housing in the country.See footnote 230 

Additionally, several sources of federal funding help capitalize state and local housing trust funds. These programs can be used to provide additional sources of funding to develop new affordable housing or preserve existing housing stock. One of the most highly-funded federal programs, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, is a block grant administered by HUD to fund affordable housing.See footnote 231 Funding is allocated by formula to participating jurisdictions (states and other localities) and must be used for one of four purposes: rehabilitation of owner-occupied housing; homebuyer assistance; rental housing construction and rehabilitation; or tenant-based rental assistance.See footnote 232 At least 15% of HOME funds must be dedicated to community housing development organizations (CHDOs), which can set aside funds for technical assistance (e.g., feasibility studies) and pre-construction costs (e.g., architectural plans, zoning approval). In 2019, the program received $1.25 billion in appropriations.

Created in 2008, the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) is one of the newest federal programs that provide a dedicated source of revenue for the development and preservation of rental housing for low-income households.See footnote 233 Funds are distributed to states through a formula block grant; states are required to designate entities (e.g., a housing finance agency or community development organization) to receive and administer NHTF funds, which has increased nationally from $174 million in its first year in 2016 to $245 million in 2019.See footnote 234 Additionally, states are required to submit an Allocation Plan each year that proposes distribution of NHTF funds consistent with housing priorities identified in its Consolidated Plan.See footnote 235 States may then pass on funding to cities as subgrantees.See footnote 236 While similar to the HOME program, NHTF is more targeted for rental housing for households at lower income levels.See footnote 237

In addition to HOME and NHTF, HUD also administers the Section Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program (Section 4). Under the Section 4 program, HUD funds Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and Community Housing Development Organizations (CHDOs) to create investments in affordable housing and other community development areas.See footnote 238 Funding is administered through one of three national intermediaries: Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and Habitat for Humanity International.See footnote 239 Eligible activities for funding include technical and administrative support (e.g., participation in fair housing planning, community consultations); development assistance to increase affordable housing and economic development for low- and moderate-income households; and the implementation of other HUD programs, including the HOME program.

Considerations of Funding Tools for Resilient Affordable Housing


  • Housing trust funds contribute to job creation, spur local economic development, and keep open local businesses.


  • Housing trust funds used to implement projects that enhance the resilience and sustainability of affordable housing (e.g., through green infrastructure or solar installations) could also help cities enhance their environmental goals.


  • Local housing trust funds could be tailored to specific housing needs of the local community.
  • Programs designed to support home improvements are often provided through rebates and tax credits and available only to owners of single-family homes, which limit the availability of these programs to provide assistance to lower-income residents who lack the financial resources to pay the cost of improvements upfront, as well as renters living in multi-family housing.


  • With decreased investments in LIHTC, relatively flexible federal housing programs like HOME can be used to address gaps in project financing.
  • Housing trust funds are a relatively flexible source of funding for local governments to support affordable housing.
  • Local housing trust funds may not be sufficient on their own to implement affordable housing programs and may require consolidation with other funds.
  • Some local housing trust fund programs may not have the flexibility to allow for resilience and other sustainability improvements but are focused instead on funding to redress code violations.


  • While rare, state housing trust funds could be diverted to other purposes. Therefore, state legislation should explicitly require funding to be strictly designated for affordable housing purposes.

Lessons Learned

  • Traditional affordable housing programs do not typically provide funding for resilience and sustainability improvements — features that protect residents from climate disruptions — while also reducing the total cost of housing. Therefore, cities may need to align and combine different funding sources to enable holistic retrofits for housing. For example, project-based grants that fund retrofits or other resilience improvements on housing could be paired with programs that offer vulnerability studies and risk assessments in order to maximize funding and target the most climate-vulnerable structures within the community.
  • When developing the state Allocation Plan for receiving NHTF funding, low-income residents should be made aware of the process for developing the plan in order to increase opportunities for participation and comments before the plan is finalized.
  • Programs that fund resilience and sustainability improvements to housing should provide up-front funding to the residents who are most in need. Similar funding should be provided to landlords of multi-family housing, so long as they agree to avoid displacing renters by passing on the cost of improvements to existing tenants. 


Community Protections and Agreements

Low-income populations, people of color, and the elderly are more likely than other groups to be affected by climate gentrification, which refers to the displacement of existing urban populations as a result of climate change impacts, attributed to both the geographic exposure of one’s home (e.g., whether an apartment building is located in the floodplain) or its degree of resilience to those impacts (e.g., whether the building is elevated).See footnote 240 For example, low-income residents living at higher elevations may be displaced by wealthier residents leaving flood-prone areas, which could also lead to land speculation in previously affordable neighborhoods.See footnote 241 In addition to the increased pressure on the housing market at higher elevations, investments in climate resilient infrastructure can also raise the cost of housing and lead to the physical or economic displacement of residents who have historically resided or lived in those neighborhoods. Frequently, displaced residents are forced into areas with greater flood risk.See footnote 242 Flood-related costs, combined with relocation costs and increased commuting costs, could place additional burdens on low-income households. A household in Little Haiti, Miami that moves to a new neighborhood could see its cost of living increase by 10% (relative to the household’s average income).See footnote 243 As homeowners and developers increasingly turn to weather-proofing measures and other resilience upgrades, the use of community benefit agreements (CBAs) and certain tenant and renter protections can help reduce the rate of displacement, even if not reversing the process of gentrification.

Community Benefits Agreements

Community benefits agreements (CBAs) are legally binding contracts between developers and community groups that set forth benefits the developer is committed to bringing to the community. In exchange for the community’s commitment to supporting a proposed development project, developers agree to provide a range of community benefits, commonly in areas of affordable housing, environmental improvements, and workforce development.See footnote 244 For example, CBAs could require that a certain number of new housing units be made affordable for low- or moderate-income households, or specify community engagement requirements for new housing projects.See footnote 245 Developers may also stipulate to hire residents or local businesses for labor and materials, or offer to adopt certain design practices to improve the project’s environmental impact and climate resilience.

Tenant and Renter Protections

Tenant and renter protections can prevent displacement by protecting residents from the factors that contribute to housing insecurity such as rent increases or evictions. Legal protections for low-income and housing-insecure individuals can help address rent increases that may occur after resilience enhancements (community-wide or building-specific) or evictions that may follow a natural disaster.  Strategies could include:See footnote 246

  • Just cause eviction controls – Cities could consider passing just cause eviction controls (JCEC) to prevent the eviction of tenants for events outside their control, for example if a natural disaster makes the property uninhabitable.See footnote 247 JCECs help make clear the types of actions that lead to a just cause eviction (e.g., failing to pay rent or creating a nuisance), and can prevent landlords from evicting residents without cause (e.g., to obtain higher rent). Most ordinances contain provisions that protect low-income residents, people of color, and the elderly. JCECs can be passed by city councils or initiated through ballot measures.
  • Rent control – State and municipal rent control laws limit the maximum rent can be charged to tenants. Rent control laws and policies vary widely by state. New York and California, which have some of the highest housing costs in the country, have the most robust rent control laws. Other states like Georgia and Illinois do not currently have rent control policies. Rent control laws can be passed by city councils or initiated through ballot measures.
  • Access to legal services – Some cities provide free or reduced legal access to low-income residents to ensure that they have access to legal representation in the event of a tenant-landlord dispute. Tenant legal service programs help even the balance of power between low-income tenants who are otherwise unable to afford counsel and landlords, who, in cities like New York, have representation in 90% of eviction cases.See footnote 248

Considerations of Community Protections and Agreements


  • CBAs can be used to address issues that local governments may not otherwise address through local land use functions, for example, requiring a certain percentage of construction jobs for local workers, setting wage rates, and supporting small businesses.
  • Investing in legal services for tenants who face eviction may be less expensive than finding alternative housing for evicted residents.See footnote 249


  • CBAs provide an opportunity for communities to negotiate environmental priorities and projects, for example creating public green spaces, adopting sound design standards, or installing green infrastructure and rooftop solar.


  • The negotiation and implementation of CBAs provide public engagement opportunities for community members to take an active role in asserting their own interests.
  • JCECs can help maintain social and economic diversity in cities.See footnote 250


  • CBAs require consistent and sustained engagement by community organizations in order to give voice to community members and hold developers accountable.
  • The cost of monitoring and tracking community benefits may be both time and resource-intensive.
  • Tenant protection policies can be contentious and difficult to pass.


  • CBAs could allow cities to operate outside local land use regulations, for example impose conditions on proposed projects even if the conditions do not have a substantial nexus to the impacts of the development project (which could trigger legal limits on exactions).See footnote 251
  • CBAs can be difficult to enforce if they are vague, do not include time commitments, or are phrased in aspirational language (e.g., “will intend to” or “seek to”).
  • JCECs may only be effective in states with rent control laws, without which landlords could force out renters through rent increases, if not evictions.
  • JCECs help protect tenants who are more likely to have month-to-month leases (e.g., low-income families), who cannot be evicted for the sole purpose of raising rents.

Lessons Learned

  • CBAs should be negotiated by community groups that truly represent the community and understand their interests.
  • For accountability, CBA negotiations should be developed through a transparent, open process.
  • CBAs should include monitoring and enforcement provisions in order to ensure accountability.
  • Tenant protection laws should include penalties for landlords and other enforcement mechanisms. Examples include payment of fines and reinstatement of the evicted tenant.
  • Residents should be educated about tenant protection policies to help ensure the success of the policies.


Community Land Ownership: Community Land Trusts

Community land trusts can be helpful partners to cities in advancing affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing options and combating gentrification and displacement. Community land trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations designed to enable community controlSee footnote 252 and stewardship of land for uses that benefit the public.See footnote 253 CLTs have been particularly successful at preserving affordable housing by removing land from the speculative market.See footnote 254   They acquire land through purchase or donation and build new or preserve existing affordable housing or other community assets on the land. Then CLTs sell (or sometimes rents) the improvements, but retain title to the underlying land. The buyers of the structures are granted a lease to the land (typically for a term of 99 years) for a small annual fee (e.g., $1,200/yr.). And resale of the property is restricted using a resale restriction formula to ensure permanent affordability.

CLTs can also play important roles in supporting urban resilience and sustainability initiatives. They help to address the primary stressor that affects an individual’s resilience — safe and affordable housing. Additionally, many CLTs incorporate green design elements into their housing projects such as renewable energy, and energy and water efficiency improvements, which reduce the total cost of housing for residents.See footnote 255 CLTs can also play important land stewardship roles and support other publicly beneficial projects in neighborhoods, including community solar, green infrastructure for stormwater management, and projects that provide other community amenities such as parks, urban gardens, or community centers.

CLTs can also be a powerful tool for enhancing social cohesion and reducing economic inequality. They deliver important social benefits that are critical for community resilience, including enhancing community control over land-use decisions and creating shared community spaces and facilitating activities that build relationships among residents. They have also been highlighted by community-based organizations as a powerful tool for addressing gentrification and displacement. In some communities, CLTs are working to counteract gentrification by helping tenants threatened by displacement raise revenues needed to acquire and preserve properties for housing or commercial uses (see e.g., Oakland CLT). Where large scale redevelopment or resilience projects are contemplated that may increase property values and rents, cities can work with CLTs to proactively develop or preserve housing to reduce gentrification and displacement pressures (e.g., 11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan that recommended creation of the Douglass Community Land Trust).See footnote 256  By preventing displacement and preserving and enhancing social networks, CLTs build social cohesion in communities, which research has shown is a critical component of community resilience.See footnote 257

In many communities, CLTs are also working to enhance economic resilience for residents and the broader neighborhood. First, CLTs provide wealth-building opportunities for homebuyers and help to bridge the racial wealth gap, by giving lower income residents the opportunity to buy an affordable home and share in some of the equity generated by the appreciation in value of the home, with the remaining equity used by the CLT to maintain the property and build new CLT-owned housing. Additionally, CLTs enhance housing stability by providing financial counseling to help residents save a downpayment and secure mortgages needed to acquire a CLT-home, protecting residents from predatory lending and foreclosures, and helping residents finance maintenance and improvements to their homes. Many CLTs are also incorporating commercial, co-working, and artisan space to support local business and entrepreneurial activities among residents. In this way, CLTs have provided critical support to build up local economies by acquiring and preserving buildings housing local businesses and nonprofits.

Cities can support CLT work on affordable housing, resilience, and sustainability at all phases (from startup to long-term operations), including by:

  • Supporting CLT planning and business development processes;
  • Providing technical assistance and training;
  • Amending laws to ensure that the CLT-model is compatible with funding sources, regulatory programs, and housing policies (e.g., tax law, inclusionary zoning);See footnote 258
  • Creating preferences for CLTs in grant and loan programs, and providing direct cash subsidies or loan guarantees;
  • Streamlining administrative processes and providing regulatory concessions (e.g., waiving application and impact fees, relaxing zoning requirements);
  • Providing city-owned or tax-foreclosed land to CLTs through donations or below-market sales; and
  • Adjusting tax assessments for CLT-owned properties to ensure fairness for shared-equity homeowners.See footnote 259

Considerations of Community Land Trusts


  • CLTs are the most cost-effective way of ensuring permanent affordability of housing with the lowest public subsidy over the long term.
  • CLTs are supporting wealth-building and helping to close the racial-wealth gap in some communities by providing affordable homeownership opportunities for lower-income residents who receive some share of the appreciation of the property at sale, while paying affordability forward to the next buyer.
  • Some CLTs are also playing important economic development roles in communities by supporting existing businesses and creating new opportunities for local business enterprises, including artists and community-serving nonprofits.


  • CLTs often incorporate renewable energy and energy and water efficiency measures into housing projects to reduce total housing costs for residents and to reduce the environmental footprint of the city’s housing stock.
  • They can also play other roles in delivering important environmental benefits, such as preserving and restoring greenspace, and stewarding land for parks or community gardens, or by incorporating green infrastructure stormwater management practices into CLT-owned lands.


  • CLTs increase social cohesion by engaging residents in CLT governance and the management and maintenance of CLT-owned properties.
  • They can help stabilize neighborhoods and prevent displacement, supporting diverse, mixed-income neighborhoods and helping to house residents who provide important community services (e.g., emergency responders, teachers, social service providers)
  • CLTs can help to advance racial equity and remediate racist policies that limited homeownership for residents of color, such as redlining and exclusionary zoning, by enhancing community control and preserving and creating new affordable homeownership options in communities of color.See footnote 260 
  • CLTs can also be important city partners in engaging residents and enhancing community empowerment in land-use decisionmaking.
  • In many communities, CLTs are also playing “place-making” roles by providing or protecting important community assets (such as parks, green space, urban gardens, and community centers) and by helping to preserve and provide space for important local institutions that provide cultural or social services to the community (e.g., health care, job training, etc.).


  • CLTs can be administratively difficult to set up and often must navigate a patchwork of legal rules and requirements that vary by state.See footnote 261 
  • CLTs need significant start-up capital to be able to acquire and build their first projects and generate sufficient revenues to sustain long-term administration of the CLT in addition to building new affordable housing projects.
  • CLTs often have to patch together funding and financing from multiple sources to advance projects and to incorporate improvements that enhance the resilience and sustainability of the housing (e.g., renewable energy, green infrastructure), which can be technically difficult and time consuming.


  • CLTs do not need enabling legislation to operate in a state, however state enabling legislation can promote uniformity in structure and ease operation of CLTs by removing barriers within existing business association, property, and tax laws and by specifying affordability requirements and resale restrictions for CLT-owned housing.See footnote 262 
  • At the start-up phase, CLTs may need legal support to incorporate as a land trust, draw up legal agreements, and navigate state laws and regulations related to ground lease agreements, taxation of resale restricted housing, and other legal questions.
  • City-CLT partnerships often require close coordination between city agencies and CLTs on ground lease arrangements, loan terms, covenants and other agreements that may need to be harmonized to ensure consistency with city rules and regulations and to ensure that CLTs are eligible for local, state, and federal funding sources.See footnote 263 

Lessons Learned

  • Cities should consider donating or offering below-market sales of city-owned or tax-foreclosed lands to support CLT efforts to build community-led, sustainable, resilient, and affordable housing. Although this requires cities to forego some of the revenue they can generate through land sales to the highest bidder, public-private partnerships with CLTs will help to ensure that cities are putting their most valuable asset — land — to publicly beneficial uses that help cities advance their affordable housing, equity, sustainability, and resilience goals. Without access to low-cost land and other subsidies, it is difficult for CLTs to compete on the private market with for-profit developers and to offer homes at prices that lower income residents can afford. Land banks can also be used as a way to clear title to tax-foreclosed and underutilized properties and transfer title to CLTs to promote redevelopment of permanently affordable homes and other community-serving amenities. 
  • Cities can also provide start up funding, technical support, and staff to help establish CLTs and build their capacity to acquire properties, build affordable homes, craft legal documents (like groundleases and resale restriction formulas), and access sources of funding for resilience and sustainability features, in ways that are consistent with local, state, and federal funding requirements. 


Natural Resilience & Green Space Access


In the process of planning and preparing for climate change, many cities are capitalizing on the abilities of nature-based features in urban landscapes to mitigate flooding, reduce urban heat, and otherwise contribute to a comprehensive climate change adaptation strategy. Investments in “natural resilience,” referring to the ability of ecosystems and the natural environment to absorb and recover quickly from stresses or disturbances, can also bring many other environmental, social, economic, and health-related co-benefits to surrounding communities.See footnote 264 Strategies often used to promote natural resilience in an urban setting may include urban forestry (tree planting), rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, community gardens and urban agriculture, habitat initiatives, nature-based flood mitigation, complete/green streets initiatives, and other green infrastructure investments.See footnote 265  

Three men pose with shovels and smile at the camera, in the process of planting a juvenile tree in a Cleveland neighborhood.
(Credit: Cleveland Tree Coalition)

When considering nature-based approaches to adapt to climate change, it is important for cities to do so in a way that centers equity in decisionmaking and project implementation. Communities of color and low-income communities are often among those disproportionately burdened by the impacts of climate change due to historic disinvestment in their communities and structural and institutionalized racism in governmental policies and planning.See footnote 266 As a result of decades of marginalization and institutionalized racism in policymaking affecting land use and housing, many of these communities experience disproportionate burdens of environmental pollution and higher exposure to climate-related stressors like flooding and extreme heat. In addition, frontline communities typically have less access to green space that could help mitigate these environmental impacts and simultaneously provide public health, social, and recreational benefits.See footnote 267 Historically, public investments in greening have been concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods, creating significant “greenspace gaps” from neighborhood to neighborhood.See footnote 268

As cities make a more concerted effort to integrate equity into planning and policymaking, equitable natural resilience solutions will be an important component of an overall adaptation strategy. In addition to implementing plans and policies that result in more equitable distribution of greenspace and other nature-based adaptation solutions, it is important that cities make every effort to adhere to principles of procedural equity throughout these processes. This includes centering equity in planning and implementation, supporting and working in partnership with communities to make decisions about natural resilience solutions, engaging effectively with community members throughout the entire greening process about priorities for natural resilience in their neighborhoods, being accountable to and transparent with communities throughout the decisionmaking processes, and building social cohesion and relationships throughout these processes.  

Goals for Equity-Centered Natural Resilience

  • Reduce greenspace gaps: Cities should aim to improve natural resilience and reduce existing greenspace gaps by targeting planning, initiatives, and investments to frontline communities and neighborhoods as much as possible.
  • Maximize co-benefits for communities: Whenever possible, identify and adopt natural resilience solutions that will maximize environmental, social, and health benefits for frontline communities in their neighborhoods. These include improved air quality, flooding and stormwater mitigation, reduced urban heat, recreational opportunities, social cohesion, economic revitalization, workforce development opportunities, and more.
  • Community co-design: Cities should meaningfully engage communities from early stages and throughout when planning and designing greenspace initiatives. Community members should be leaders in setting priorities for neighborhood greening and should be given opportunities to co-design greenspace in their neighborhoods. Cities should engage communities in discussions about concerns related to greening investments, including gentrification and ongoing maintenance needs for greening, and in designing solutions that can avoid unintended consequences, provide tools and resources needed to create greenspace stewards, and meet community needs and provide multiple benefits.  


Key Players

In order to plan and design equity-centered solutions that will foster natural and community resilience, cities should carefully consider the key players that may need to be involved in decisionmaking. In particular, frontline communities who are most affected by climate change and environmental and social injustices must be involved in decisionmaking, from early planning stages and through implementation. Active community involvement and leadership in decisionmaking related to greenspace is critical to reverse long-standing power imbalances and result in solutions that meet the needs of the community, as well as to build relationships and goodwill between city agencies and communities. Depending on the tool or approach being considered, key players for planning, designing, and implementing natural resilience solutions may include: 

  • Community-based organizations: CBOs that are established in the community will have expertise and trust of the community to represent and advocate for the best interests of the community. 
  • Community members: In addition to CBOs, members of the community should also be engaged and involved in decisionmaking, as they are the ones experiencing firsthand the localized climate, health, and environmental impacts and will be directly affected by any decisions regarding natural resilience planning or solutions in their community. 
  • Local small businesses: Community businesses may also be trusted messengers and important voices in natural resilience planning and investment solutions. Additionally, it is important for small businesses to be prepared for disaster events to ensure business continuity and a thriving economy in the community; participation from the local business community can therefore help ensure that planned solutions will help them be resilient as well as the community as a whole.
  • Local environmental and conservation organizations: Environmental or conservation-focused organizations working in the community can be key partners in community-based natural resilience efforts by assisting with education and training as well as planning and design of solutions. 
  • Conservation land trusts: When communities are considering the need to preserve vacant land that is being or could be utilized for shared community green space (e.g., parks, gardens), local land trusts should be involved; these organizations provide the legal means for communities to permanently preserve land for green space and ensure the community leads in management and maintenance of the space.
  • City agencies and utilities: Depending on the solution or planning effort under consideration, different city agencies (e.g., parks and recreation, public works, environment/sustainability, and transportation departments; stormwater utilities; etc.) will need to be involved and actively engaged with the community or communities affected. For example, public works and/or transportation departments should work with communities when considering investments in greening of public right-of-ways in their neighborhoods. 

Overview of Tools for Natural Resilience

Cities and other units of government have a wide range of tools and approaches to help advance equity-centered natural resilience. As every city’s makeup of neighborhoods and communities is distinct, no two cities will utilize the same combination of tools for natural resilience; there is no one-size-fits-all approach and cities will need to evaluate needs and priorities in close partnership with their communities and other stakeholders. Furthermore, depending on the scale of intervention desired (e.g., neighborhood-level or even property-level at the smaller end, to city-wide, or even county-wide or regional at the larger end), cities might want to consider different tools and the various tradeoffs involved. In general, the tools discussed in this chapter fall within several categories as follows:

  • Planning Tools such as local comprehensive/general planning, adaptation/resilience planning, green infrastructure planning, and hazard mitigation planning;
  • Regulatory Tools such as zoning code requirements and stormwater ordinances;
  • Government Operations and City Programs including street greening programs, parks and recreation programs, and utility-led programs for managing stormwater;
  • Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse, which facilitate the transformation of vacant land into community greenspace assets such as pocket parks, community gardens, or even larger-scale flood mitigation strategies; and
  • Funding Tools including federal and state grant programs, local funding tools, and partnership opportunities to implement natural resilience solutions. 

Overview of Tradeoffs and Considerations

Depending on the policy option, tool, or strategy being considered, there may be a different range of tradeoffs and considerations to evaluate — including economic, environmental, and social and equity related costs and benefits, as well as administrative and legal barriers and challenges. These tradeoffs and considerations are outlined in more detail in the context of each category of tools and approaches, but a broad overview follows.

  • Benefits of natural resilience include: improved public health (e.g., lower asthma rates due to improved air quality; mental health benefits resulting from access to nature; lower heat stress; recreational opportunities, etc.), social and equitable outcomes (including reducing greenspace gaps, fostering social cohesion, community visioning and ownership of greenspace, lower energy costs, educational, training, and workforce opportunities, economic revitalization, access to local and healthy food, and more), and environmental benefits (e.g., carbon sequestration, air and water pollutant filtration, which can help meet federal regulatory requirements, soil health, habitat provision, stormwater management and flood mitigation, which can be lower-cost in the long-term compared to grey infrastructure, and more).See footnote 269 
  • Costs of implementing natural resilience may include: costs of land acquisition or easements, costs of installing and maintaining green space (including any new utility needs; education and/or compensation for maintenance and stewardship of greenspace, etc.), and administrative costs of community engagement (e.g., hiring translators, providing compensation to community members for time, etc.), planning efforts, public hearings, etc.See footnote 270 
  • Legal and administrative considerations may include: challenges of determining and securing land ownership or legal authority, zoning and land use regulations in place (and potential barriers), standards and design requirements for rights-of-way, liability and insurance issues for parks and gardens, potential environmental challenges with vacant lots (e.g., contamination and cleanup needs), administrative burdens to administer certain programs (e.g., regulatory oversight), and more. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, collaboration and engagement needs must be evaluated and acted on when considering and implementing natural resilience solutions, and the appropriate combination of key players should be actively involved.See footnote 271  


Planning Tools for Natural Resilience

Planning can create an important framework for implementing natural resilience solutions. It is important to initiate planning processes with a strategy for actively and meaningfully engaging frontline communities in order to help ensure that underrepresented groups have a leading role in the process and that planning processes result in equitable outcomes. Natural resilience solutions can be integrated into a wide range of planning efforts at different scales, from city- or county-wide scales, to agency-specific plans, to neighborhood-level plans. States can also enact requirements for local governments to integrate equity into various planning processes that affect how local governments plan and invest in green space. Each of these different planning processes comes with different constraints and flexibilities, and may involve a different mix of stakeholders. Some of the planning tools that could be used to integrate natural resilience and equity include comprehensive of general planning, local hazard mitigation planning, adaptation and resilience planning, and green infrastructure and urban forestry planning.

About 50 people in varying couples and family groups enjoy the sunshine on the shore of a lake, some sitting in camp chairs, some fishing.
Collierville, Tennessee (Source: Mid-South Regional Greenprint)

Comprehensive or General Planning

Typically completed at the county or city scale, comprehensive planning is a process typically mandated by the state legislature for units of local government (county and/or municipal), and the resulting comprehensive plan creates the framework for zoning codes and land use regulation.See footnote 272 For this reason, it is a powerful tool, as other regulatory tools and planning efforts must be consistent with the comprehensive plan. It is also typically a highly burdensome process to update a local comprehensive plan, and tangible outcomes in equitable natural resilience solutions may not be realized until after the policies and actions identified in the comprehensive plan are implemented through zoning code changes, further adding layers of administrative and political complexity.

Local Hazard Mitigation Planning

State, tribal, and local (county or city) governments are required to develop hazard mitigation plans in order to be able to access certain sources of federal disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 273 Hazard mitigation plans identify vulnerabilities and risks relating to natural hazards, and strategies to mitigate these risks in the long-term; nature-based features and natural resilience are a logical category of strategies to include for mitigating risk from certain types of natural hazards (e.g., flooding, heat).

Adaptation and Resilience Planning

Often completed at citywide, individual agency, or even a neighborhood scale, climate adaptation and resilience planning is perhaps the most common way that cities are integrating natural resilience and equity into planning. Although some adaptation plans are developed by a single agency or to cover a single sector, most of these planning efforts cover multiple agencies and sectors city-wide, and are intended to provide a comprehensive framework for building resilience within communities and across the built and natural environments in urban settings.

Green Infrastructure and Urban Forestry Planning

Some local governments are opting to create plans specifically to coordinate green infrastructure approaches and investments (green infrastructure planning), or to provide an assessment of and strategy for preserving and enhancing their tree canopy (urban forestry planning). These plans can be utilized to identify target neighborhoods and/or categories of green infrastructure strategies. While some of the strategies may require changes in local zoning codes or other legislation to implement (e.g., passing a new tree ordinance if the city doesn’t already have one), green infrastructure and urban forestry plans can ultimately influence the uptake and implementation of greening on both public and private property, including existing development.See footnote 274

This list is not exhaustive, however, as there are numerous examples of sector- or agency-specific plans that may include goals and actions relating to equity and natural resilience. For example, in Philadelphia, the coalition Soil Generation is partnering with the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation department and a planning/design firm to lead a public process that will ultimately develop an Urban Agriculture Plan for the city.See footnote 275

Regardless of the scale or type of planning, the needs of frontline communities affected by (or within the scope and scale of the plan) should be a central component of the planning and decisionmaking processes. And in advance of, or in conjunction with, planning efforts, cities should also assess existing and future vulnerabilities to climate change. In order to effectively integrate equitable natural resilience solutions into planning efforts, cities should have an understanding of their climate-related risks (e.g., flooding — whether driven by rainfall/stormwater, riverine, or coastal geography, extreme heat, drought, etc.) and the overlap of high-exposure areas with frontline and disadvantaged communities and areas lacking greenspace; in many cities there is a high correlation and overlap between these three categories. This information can help cities ensure that plan components relating to natural resilience investments, and the planning process itself, target communities most likely to be affected first and worst by the impacts of climate change.

Considerations of Planning Tools for Natural Resilience


  • Costs of planning efforts may include vulnerability and risk assessments and other data initiatives to inform priorities, such as outreach and engagement costs (including compensation for community members’ time).


  • Planning efforts can lay the groundwork for implementation of projects that achieve environmental benefits ranging from carbon sequestration and air/water pollutant filtration to stormwater and flood mitigation.


  • City-led planning efforts should aim to meaningfully engage communities through trusted representatives to understand and integrate community priorities, and address community concerns related to greening.
  • Regardless of the planning scale or topic (e.g., comprehensive, hazard mitigation), plans should center equity in setting a vision, goals, and actions for building resilience.


  • Robust community outreach and engagement can be resource- and time-intensive, particularly for planning efforts at larger (city or county) scales.
  • Certain planning processes can be highly burdensome and time-consuming (e.g., comprehensive plan updates); cities should take advantage of planned update timelines to evaluate how equity is addressed in comprehensive plan chapters and policies relating to green infrastructure and natural resilience, and make changes needed, allowing time for adequate community engagement.


  • Cities must consider and comply with any federal and state planning requirements (e.g., incorporating climate change into hazard mitigation planning).
  • Comprehensive plans create an overarching framework with which local regulations and other planning efforts must be consistent; cities can use the process of updating comprehensive plans to center equity.

Lessons Learned

  • Build in adequate time and resources for meaningful community engagement throughout the planning process.
  • Utilize periodic plan update cycles (e.g., with comprehensive plans, hazard mitigation plans) to ensure that needs for developing and implementing equitable natural resilience solutions are fully integrated.


Regulatory Tools for Natural Resilience

Regulatory tools such as zoning codes and tree and stormwater ordinances are another way that cities can enhance natural resilience. In contrast to government operations and programs, these tools can be used to create requirements for how private land is used; several regulatory approaches that have been used to improve and target greening in frontline communities include zoning code amendments and overlays; tree ordinances; and stormwater ordinances.

Zoning Code Amendments and Overlays

Zoning codes establish standards for development and land use, and are written to implement local comprehensive plans (sometimes known as master plans or general plans).See footnote 276 Historically, zoning has been used as a tool to segregate communities of color in areas where environmental pollution is much more prevalent.See footnote 277 However, in recent years, some cities are using zoning amendments such as overlay districts to improve environmental justice outcomes; for example, zoning codes can be used to set landscape requirements for different land uses, and overlays can be used to create more stringent development requirements or environmental analysis requirements in frontline communities. Cities can work with communities to assess and remove zoning barriers to natural resilience. For example, cities are amending zoning codes that have historically acted as a barrier to urban agriculture by expanding the scope of agricultural and business activities permitted in residential zoning districts.See footnote 278

Tree Ordinances

Many cities have enacted tree ordinances to regulate tree removal and implement goals for enhancing and preserving urban tree canopy. Tree ordinances typically set conditions for tree removal and requirements for replacement (or in-lieu fees) in the context of new development and other activity.See footnote 279 They may also create different replacement or mitigation requirements depending on whether the tree being removed is on private or city land, or in the streetscape.See footnote 280 Tree ordinances that create permitting fees or funds to collect in-lieu fees can establish a dedicated source of funding for tree planting efforts, which in some cities has been used to target areas with frontline communities, lower tree canopy, higher incidence of air pollution, and flooding challenges. Trees can also be considered a strategy for mitigating stormwater impacts and can be included in stormwater ordinances and regulations discussed below.

Stormwater Ordinances

Stormwater ordinances can be used to establish minimum water retention requirements (thereby encouraging the use of green infrastructure practices) or specify green infrastructure practices that new development or substantial renovations must employ.See footnote 281 Programs that utilize stormwater fees (which may be based on percentage or amount of impervious surface area) can encourage nature-based and green infrastructure by specifying reductions in fees, and revenue generated through fees can be utilized to fund capital improvements (including green infrastructure projects to mitigate stormwater runoff and pollution) and maintenance, including targeted stormwater mitigation efforts in flood prone areas.See footnote 282

Cities should also consider the implications of new regulatory requirements for neighborhoods where low-income and other frontline communities are located to ensure that compliance is not overly burdensome. For example, stormwater utility fees as part of a regulatory program can help generate needed funding for green infrastructure improvements to manage stormwater, but compliance can be a burden for community-owned or -run properties if not exempted, such as community gardens.See footnote 283 Cities should also ensure in program design that the natural resilience benefits of regulatory programs reach frontline communities. Regulatory programs that establish funds for green infrastructure may be directed to low-greenspace areas consistent with planning; for example, tree ordinances creating permitting requirements for tree removal might provide an in-lieu fee alternative to direct tree replacement, and such fees can fund targeted tree planting in neighborhoods lacking tree canopy that may be more challenged by poor air quality, stormwater flooding, or other issues that urban forestry can help mitigate.

Considerations of Regulatory Tools for Natural Resilience


  • Cities can generate funding for greening through regulatory approaches like permitting/development fees, tree removal fees, etc.


  • Regulatory tools can be used to establish requirements that will improve natural resilience (along with environmental co-benefits) (e.g., through stormwater program requirements, zoning requirements).
  • Environmental co-benefits may include carbon sequestration, stormwater management/flood mitigation, pollutant filtration.


  • Regulatory tools can result in new greenspace on private property; however, compliance may be burdensome if the program is not designed carefully or with proper exemptions.
  • Public health benefits of regulations affecting natural solutions may include improved air quality (lower asthma rates, etc.), access to nature (mental health), pollutant filtration, reduced urban heat, and more.


  • Modifying codes or passing legislation or ordinances can involve lengthy and challenging administrative processes, and may in some instances result in political pushback.
  • Regulatory programs can be burdensome to administer (e.g., oversight, management of fees, etc.).


  • Local zoning requirements must be consistent with comprehensive plans.
  • Cities will need to understand the scope and source of authority (e.g., state authorizing statute) to enact ordinances mandating private actions, develop fee structures, etc. and any limitations on that authority or on how fees are used (e.g., fee vs. tax issues and how state courts have interpreted the scope of fees).

Lessons Learned

  • Build fee-based (e.g., stormwater fees) or partially fee-based (e.g., green infrastructure requirements with in-lieu fee options) programs to generate revenue for greening, and as feasible, use these funds generated to support targeted greening investments in frontline communities.
  • Before utilizing regulatory tools, evaluate local authority and any limitations on authority to regulate certain activities, and design ordinances carefully to ensure that regulations are within the scope of local authority.


Government Operations & City Programs

Cities have wide flexibility with programs and operations affecting how public lands are used, providing opportunities to integrate greening and natural resilience initiatives with a particular focus on targeting frontline communities in neighborhoods lacking greenspace. Investments can fund targeted tree planting, bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavements, and more in public rights-of-way and other public spaces. In many cases, these investments can help cities meet federal requirements to manage stormwater and mitigate pollution of waterways.See footnote 284 In some cities, green infrastructure is even being utilized as a core component of water quality compliance, and there are opportunities to target these nature-based investments in environmental justice areas affected by stormwater challenges and pollution. Common programmatic approaches include parks and recreation programs, street greening initiatives, and utility programs.

Parks and Recreation Programs

Three children wearing navy blue shirts with white writing that say "NYC Parks" with their backs to the camera. There are two girls on rollerblades and helmets on either side of a boy wearing sneakers.
Students participate in a free afterschool program hosted by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. (Source: NYC Parks)

Public parks are important amenities for natural resilience as well as for community resilience and public health.See footnote 285 In addition to maintaining and improving upon existing parkland, cities can expand their parks programs and simultaneously address challenges related to vacant and abandoned land by creating programs for adaptive reuse that convert vacant lots to pocket parks or other greenspace. Adaptive reuse programs are often carried out in partnership with community organizations, as detailed further in the “Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse” section. City parks and public works departments should work closely with communities when planning improvements or designing new park space so that investments meet community needs. Cities can also design program criteria that help to target resources more specifically to neighborhoods lacking in parkland and recreational opportunities, as with the NYC Parks - Community Parks Initiative described below.

Street Greening Initiatives

Cities can integrate natural resilience and equity considerations into street design guidelines and greening initiatives typically overseen by transportation and public works departments.See footnote 286 Design standards can help ensure that street trees and other green infrastructure features are appropriate given the topography, soil, climate, and watershed considerations of a particular area; however, flexibility should be built in for transportation departments and other city agencies overseeing greening in rights-of-way to engage with communities on setting priorities.

Utility Programs

City utilities — particularly those overseeing stormwater — can play an important role in promoting nature-based investments that help improve resilience of communities and the natural environment.See footnote 287 Based on specific characteristics within city watersheds, utilities can plan green infrastructure projects in partnership with communities in the affected neighborhoods that will help manage stormwater flooding and reduce pollution from runoff. For example, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission identified a list of long-term improvements, including priority green infrastructure projects, based on findings from its urban watershed assessment and outcomes from conversations with communities.See footnote 288

With any public space greening initiatives such as the programmatic examples above or other efforts (e.g., public facilities management), city agencies should ensure that maintenance needs are built into budgets and planning efforts in order to maximize the lifetime and effectiveness of green infrastructure at providing flood mitigation, pollutant filtration, and other ecosystem services that boost resilience. Cities should actively engage community members and partner organizations to set greening priorities that account for maintenance considerations, and to determine additional services or educational partnerships that could help create community stewardship of green spaces or otherwise provide compensation for ongoing maintenance.

Considerations of Government Operations & City Programs


  • Costs may include installation and maintenance of green features, including potentially educational partnerships to build community stewardship of green infrastructure.
  • Funding sources can include municipal/capital budgets, permitting fees, utility fees, etc. and various federal programs.


  • Environmental benefits include carbon sequestration, stormwater management and flood mitigation, and air and water pollutant filtration, among other benefits.
  • Investments can also help with energy conservation or efficiency (e.g., shading trees).


  • Public health benefits may result from improved air quality (lower asthma rates, etc.), access to nature (mental health), pollutant filtration, reduced urban heat, recreational opportunities, and more.
  • Cities can target investments to areas with less greenspace, historic underinvestment, but should engage communities in setting neighborhood greening priorities and addressing concerns related to greenspace maintenance, gentrification, and other challenges that may arise.


  • Coordination among city agencies and collaboration with community groups in neighborhoods where public investments are being considered is important to ensure investments meet community needs and address challenges upfront.


  • Cities may need to consider existing design standards or requirements (e.g., for right-of-way greening).
  • Cities might consider how government operations and programmatic greening investments can assist in complying with federal water quality requirements under the Clean Water Act.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure that maintenance and operational needs and costs are built into budgets for parks and greening initiatives.
  • Help reduce greenspace gaps by targeting city programmatic efforts to frontline communities and neighborhoods where greening can achieve multiple health, social, and environmental goals. Cities can utilize a variety of indicators to prioritize neighborhoods of need, but should ensure to actively work with community members and organizations to identify community priorities and design solutions.


Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse

Cities can better enable the establishment and preservation of parks, recreational spaces, and areas for community gardening and urban agriculture through adaptive reuse of vacant lands. Adaptive reuse refers to repurposing property for a use other than the one originally intended, and in the context of reusing vacant lots to create new greenspace, it can be an effective way to enhance natural resilience, reduce urban heat island impacts, create new community assets, and reduce practical and fiscal challenges with city oversight of vacant properties.See footnote 289 Vacant properties can be transformed into community assets that improve natural resilience such as pocket parks or community gardens, and cities can expand access to park and recreational land through development of shared use policies.

Often, cities have facilitated adaptive reuse through partnership arrangements with land trusts, environmental and conservation nonprofits, community-based organizations, and agricultural organizations or extension schools, whereby the city facilitates the process for a land trust to secure ownership or long-term lease of a vacant property for the purpose of community gardening or developing a neighborhood park, and the community assumes responsibility for maintenance of the greenspace.See footnote 290 Community parks and gardens can improve access to local, healthy food, enhance social cohesion, and provide educational and training opportunities, among other benefits.See footnote 291 Educational and training partnerships can help community members maintain natural assets within their neighborhoods and create homegrown experts. In the long term, this can help reduce burdens on the city of upkeep and maintenance of all public greenspace, meanwhile fostering social cohesion among community members that work together to maintain their own greenspace.

In some instances, cities have been able to facilitate neighborhood-scale flood mitigation by utilizing a larger-scale approach to adaptive reuse that invests in the reuse and greening of multiple vacant lots in a single neighborhood through coordinated partnerships among city agencies.

Considerations of Partnerships for Adaptive Reuse for Natural Resilience


  • Costs for physical projects can include land acquisition in some cases, installation of green features, maintenance, educational and training materials, administration of outreach efforts.
  • Cities disposing of vacant lands may benefit economically due to passing off need to maintain/oversee the parcels.
  • Installation and maintenance can largely be funded/performed through partner organizations and community member volunteers.


  • Environmental benefits of adaptive reuse for parks and gardens include carbon sequestration, stormwater management and flood mitigation, air and water pollutant filtration, expanded wildlife habitat, improved soil health, and more.


  • Adaptive reuse can benefit public health through improved air quality (lower asthma rates, etc.), access to nature (mental health), pollutant filtration, reduced urban heat, recreational opportunities, and more.
  • Communities can lead the vision for developing and maintaining the greenspace, which fosters social cohesion and neighborhood revitalization.
  • Adaptive reuse can help address challenges of vacant properties (e.g., safety concerns; upkeep) and reduce greenspace gaps.


  • Adaptive reuse programs require coordination among public and private entities (city agencies, land trusts, schools/school districts, CBOs, environmental nonprofits, and others).
  • New parks and gardens may require utility installations or connections.


  • Legal considerations include land ownership and authority over vacant lots and buildings.
  • Potential liability concerns can arise in adaptive reuse contexts, for example with shared use agreements and community gardens; partner organizations can help to provide insurance coverage to mitigate these concerns.

Lessons Learned

  • Pair adaptive reuse partnerships with educational and training initiatives (or engage additional partners such as extension schools that can provide education and training) to create homegrown experts in the community and provide for sustained maintenance of community parks and gardens.
  • In some cities, there is significant overlap in neighborhoods that experience flooding and water pollution challenges, such as from combined sewer overflows, and neighborhoods with higher percentage of impervious surfaces, and challenges of vacant and abandoned property. In these instances, cities can utilize adaptive reuse to create networks of new “pocket parks” and other greenspace, as a nature-based component of a large-scale flood mitigation strategy.


Funding Tools for Natural Resilience

There are a wide variety of federal, state, and local funding tools available to cities to implement equitable natural resilience solutions.See footnote 292 As many local governments have limited budgets and capacity — particularly in this time of economic recession resulting from COVID-19 — it is important to understand the many environmental, public health, economic, and other social co-benefits of natural resilience projects and initiatives.See footnote 293 In some cases, identifying these co-benefits may help to open up new sources of funding as well, such as programs for transportation and street design, habitat and conservation programs, water quality programs, disaster recovery and hazard mitigation grants, and more. This section focuses primarily on funding and technical assistance programs with a few financing tools included; however, more information on tools available can be found in the Funding and Financing chapter of the Toolkit.

Considerations of Funding Tools for Natural Resilience


  • Certain types of funding tools can require more time and resources to secure and administer; for example, federal programs are often more administratively burdensome compared to state and local funding sources.
  • Grant programs and funding tools have varying levels of flexibility for local implementation.


  • Authority for different local tools may vary.
  • For federal and state grant programs, local governments and/or other partners will need to be aware of eligibility requirements.

Federal Programs

Local governments can make use of a range of federal formula and competitive grant programs for natural resilience investments that focus on equitable outcomes. In particular, programs through the U.S. EPA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and even the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) can be utilized; these include programs with primary purposes designed to reduce pollution and improve water quality, provide flood or hazard mitigation benefits, implement green infrastructure or natural infrastructure solutions, restore habitat, and green urban areas. Examples of more common urban-focused programs that might be utilized are summarized below. Communities can learn more about the past and current funding status of many of these programs using the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.See footnote 294

  • EPA Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities: This program provides targeted technical assistance to help communities implement solutions to mitigate flooding, promote equitable development, improve public health, and improve sustainability, among other benefits. Government entities and non-profit local government partner organizations are eligible to apply for the assistance.
  • EPA Greening America’s Communities Program: Greening America’s Communities (formerly known as Greening America’s Capitals) provides technical assistance to help design green infrastructure and sustainable design solutions for neighborhoods.This program was leveraged to support greening efforts in Portland, Oregon’s Jade District, as summarized in the case study below.
  • EPA Urban Waters Small Grants Program: This program provides funding to communities to improve urban water quality with green infrastructure practices while simultaneously stimulating neighborhood revitalization, focusing in particular on underserved communities, which are defined as “communities with environmental justice concerns and/or susceptible populations.” Governmental entities, universities, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply.
  • HUD Community Development Block Grants: The CDBG programs supports communities’ development needs, and CDBG funds must principally (70% or more) benefit low- and moderate-income persons. CDBG funds are flexible and can be used for a range of purposes, such as property acquisition and green infrastructure installation; funds can also be used as non-federal match for other federal programs requiring state/local match. The funding is distributed to larger “entitlement” cities on a formula basis, and to smaller communities through a state-administered program.
  • USDA Urban and Community Forestry Program: This U.S. Forest Service program aims to promote forest health and enhance community resilience in both urban and rural communities through information and technical assistance. One of the program’s strategic focus areas (as outlined in the 2016-2026 Ten-Year Urban Forestry Action Plan) is Diversity, Equity, and Leadership, with program goals including engaging underserved communities in urban forestry efforts, increasing workforce development opportunities in community forestry, promoting expanded collaboration, and more. To promote the goals underlined in its Action Plan, the U.S. Forest Service provides grants under its National Urban Forestry Challenge Cost Share Grant Program.
  • DOT Transportation Alternatives Program: “The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) is administered by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and can be used to pay for green infrastructure projects integrated into transportation improvements, including trails and sidewalks with permeable pavement. It can also be used to mitigate environmental impacts from transportation, including for green infrastructure projects that help to manage stormwater or abate water pollution from highway construction or run off.”

Other programs that have been utilized to fund greening improvements include DOT’s BUILD (formerly known as TIGER), DOT’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, EPA’s Section 319 Nonpoint Source Program, and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

State Programs

States can utilize a variety of grant programs that they administer for the purposes of equitable natural resilience investments. These include programs ranging from transportation funds to wildlife and conservation funds to environmental protection program funding. To generate new dedicated funds for natural resilience, states can authorize the sale of bonds (though this generally requires legislative action and/or voter approval),See footnote 295 and state legislatures can appropriate funds for existing programs or authorize new programs through legislation to fund local greening or natural resilience improvements.See footnote 296 In some states these programs have integrated requirements to set aside portions of the funding for disadvantaged and frontline communities, or otherwise have included criteria in the grant guidelines that aim to prioritize applications that will result in greening investments in communities lacking greenspace, communities with higher proportion of health challenges like asthma, and low-income communities. For example, Massachusetts’ House Bill 4835 (2018) authorized over $2.4 billion for adaptation, environmental protection, greenspace and recreational initiatives, including allocations specifically for parks in underserved neighborhoods to advance environmental equity and community engagement. California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, established through AB 1532 in 2012, gathers auction proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade program, which are then appropriated by the legislature to various programs administered by state agencies for the purpose of funding projects that help reduce emissions and achieve other goals. The state appropriated over $11 billion through fiscal year 2019-2020 for projects and administration of over three dozen different programs, cumulatively referred to as “California Climate Investments.”See footnote 297 One of the three overarching priority areas for these investments is natural resources and waste diversion, which covers programs such as climate adaptation and urban greening, which is summarized in the case study below.See footnote 298

Local Programs

Local governments can fund natural solutions through municipal budgets, different types of permitting fees, utility fees, and by issuing bonds. These approaches each come with administrative and legal benefits and drawbacks; for example, going through the municipal budget (e.g., capital improvements budget) to fund equitable greening initiatives may be preferable because the structures are already in place to gather and distribute the funding, whereas creating a new fee system (e.g., development impact fees, tree funds and permitting fees, or stormwater utility fees) may face legal hurdles depending on the scope of local authority and how the program is designed (e.g., to ensure that it is considered a fee as opposed to a tax). However, relying on the general fund for these efforts can be challenging as there are many other local priorities competing for funding that could cause greening initiatives to be cut; in contrast, a stormwater fee, for example, provides a consistent and predictable source of funding over time. Local governments may also have the option of issuing municipal bonds to fund natural resilience initiatives and improvements, but this will depend on the scope of authority granted by the state, including whether local governments can issue bonds and the types of projects and activities that can be financed through local bonds (e.g., whether maintenance of green infrastructure installations is an eligible expense).


Resilient Energy & Utility Industry Measures


Two men stand on a rooftop by a recently installed solar energy array.
(Credit: D.C. Department of Energy & Envrionment)

The United States is in the process of transforming how it produces, transmits, and uses energy to produce electric power. This transition presents an opportunity to support and benefit frontline communities that have disproportionately suffered from asthma, among other illnesses caused by toxic emissions and water pollution from electric generation powered by fossil fuels. This transition is being driven by several forces, including a shift away from coal because of old and retiring facilities, the cost of complying with air pollution regulations, flat or declining demand for electricity in some regions from improved energy efficiency, and increased penetration of renewable energy as the costs of solar and wind energy decline. Some state and local governments are also providing policies and incentives for cleaner energy, including renewable portfolio standards and tax credits for cleaner technologies.

Governments and utilities are making significant investments in renewable and clean energy in response to the transformation of the energy system. Investments are being made to modernize the grid, which entails improving transmission infrastructure to make it “smarter” and more resilient through the use of cutting-edge technologies, equipment, and controls that communicate and work together to deliver electricity more reliably and efficiently. Transforming energy systems can include efforts to protect electric power infrastructure against the impacts of climate change by limiting the frequency and duration of power outages, reducing storm impacts, and restoring service faster when outages occur.See footnote 299 These measures can also reduce the output of greenhouse gases (GHG) and pollution by energy systems by introducing more renewable energy. Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.

Despite these positive trends, the power sector’s over-reliance on fossil fuels continues to contribute to climate change impacts and unhealthy air pollution in frontline communities. The impacts of climate change — including more extreme heat, sea-level rise, more intense storms, and other climate impactsSee footnote 300 — increasingly threaten all aspects of the energy system that include generation, distribution, and performance.See footnote 301 For example, flooding can cause blackouts by affecting key infrastructures such as substations or transformers, high winds can down above-ground power lines, and extreme heat can cause electricity demand to exceed system capacity.

Reliable energy systems are also critical to sustaining the stability of communities when disruptive climate events occur. Nearly every service that citizens depend on — from medical treatment, to shelter, food, and clean water — is heavily dependent on reliable electricity. In October 2012, communities along the northeastern coast of the U.S. experienced overhead electric wires coming down in Superstorm Hurricane Sandy’s path, which subsequently opened the door for more conversation on what energy resilience really means in the face of climate change. The Superstorm left millions of customers without power weeks after the storm hit and left many low-income, elderly, and disabled residents of New York City’s public housing complexes and high rises stranded without heat and power. In many cases, these residents were unable to leave their homes due to elevator outages or simply due to not having anywhere else to go nor a means of getting out of their homes.See footnote 302 Unfortunately, the need for more resilient energy systems is often deemed most critical only after major climate change impacts devastate communities.

To avoid the impacts of future extreme weather events, the power sector will require significant investment to enhance its resilience – (i.e., the ability for electricity systems to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and rapidly recover from disruptive events).See footnote 303 Many electric power companies are already beginning to make investments in physical infrastructure to enhance grid resilience and to expand clean and renewable energy sources. These investments include undergrounding of circuits and powerlines, upgrading poles and towers to withstand forceful winds, and providing flood protection for substations. However, these investments alone will be insufficient to address the increasing risks to electric power systems from climate change. Additional investments in modern grid technologies, such as advanced microgrids, can be used to quickly address outages and substantially decrease impacts from electricity disruptions. Implementing smart policies and allowing much-needed innovation within this sector presents opportunities for cost savings for homeowners, renters, and businesses; for better integrating renewable and clean energy sources, and enhancing grid reliability and resilience.

As many cities and electricity companies pursue new approaches to enhance energy resilience, they are also more urgently recognizing the need to consider equity in this work. First, many of the communities that suffer from lack of access to clean, affordable energy are also those that have historically been overburdened by pollution from electricity generation. In many cases, these are the communities that would most benefit from investments in clean, renewable energy sources. Second, as evidenced by Superstorm Sandy and other recent extreme weather events, frontline communities suffer “first and worst” from grid outages and have the least resources and capacity to avoid or cope with impacts. Third, increasing heat waves due to climate change will have dramatic consequences for the health of frontline populations, particularly in urban areas that produce and retain more heat because of high concentrations of impervious surfaces — a phenomenon known as the urban-heat-island effect.See footnote 304 In some cases, redlining — the historic housing practice of restricting lending or insurance in certain neighborhoods based on racial criteria — has concentrated poverty and heat island impacts for low-income residents and communities of color.See footnote 305 As past hot weather events have shown, heat waves are fatal when people lack access to air conditioning due to expense or grid failures.See footnote 306 

Goals for Resilient Energy & Utility Industry Measures

Thus, as cities experience more impacts as a result of climate change, equity should be centered as new investments are made to enhance the resilience of energy infrastructure and to accommodate the increasing demand for energy.See footnote 307 This chapter describes equitable approaches to enhancing energy resilience while focusing on equity, including approaches designed to accomplish the following goals:

  • Ensure energy affordability — Policymakers need to ensure that frontline communities have access to and are benefiting from energy resilience and clean energy programs. Low-income homeowners and renters often lack access to energy efficiency, weatherization, and renewable energy retrofit programs to reduce energy costs for their households. The costs of modernizing and enhancing the resilience of the grid are often perceived as a financial burden for many frontline communities. An equitable approach to transforming, modernizing, and enhancing the resilience of the grid will benefit communities that face the greatest risks to climate impacts and will help to facilitate lower costs to make sure these investments are not disproportionately borne by those who can least afford increasing rates. To ensure equitable solutions, programs should be designed to provide those on the frontlines of climate impacts with access to resources that can help residents reduce energy costs, install or participate in renewable energy programs, and minimize risks from climate-related energy disruptions.
  • Minimize the consequences from grid outages for low-income communities Equitable solutions will also require policymakers to take steps to minimize the consequences from grid outages. For example, grid outages and lack of access to affordable energy can have significant public health consequences, particularly in low-income communities — as shown, for example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.See footnote 308 When Hurricane Maria left many communities throughout Puerto Rico without power for months, extended power outages disrupted medical care and contributed to many of the almost 3,000 deaths attributed to the storm.See footnote 309 Minimizing grid outages is essential to community resilience and will protect communities from disruptive climate impacts.
  • Ensure meaningful participation of community residents in energy-related decisionmaking processes & control in outcomes To develop truly equitable and resilient energy systems, community input and greater community control should be prioritized in decisionmaking about how to transition energy systems to address climate change. Community-based organizations around the country are advocating for “energy democracy,"See footnote 310 which will result in the empowerment of the community to have greater input and control in the decisionmaking process. This will in turn create community “ownership” and more public control of energy systems.

The chapter also provides case study examples of how cities and utilities are advancing equitable energy resilience solutions, as well as summaries of the legal and policy considerations that decisionmakers may need to address as they work to advance solutions on the ground. With equity being a twofold approach of process and outcomes, climate adaptation solutions do not always follow equity principles of community engagement. Even in some of the substantively equitable examples cited in this chapter (i.e., outcomes are more equitable than a one-size-fits-all policy), community engagement is not always as deep or meaningful as it can be. Where possible, we have highlighted case studies with strong community engagement practices or made suggestions on how a case study could be replicated in a slightly different way, taking an innovative idea and deepening the strength of the community engagement.


Electricity is generated from the conversion of primary sources of energy — like coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power, and renewables such as wind or solarSee footnote 311 — and is transmitted through a complex transmission system called the grid. The grid consists of electricity substations, transformers, and power lines that connect electricity producers and consumers. In some regions of the U.S., flows of wholesale electric power are coordinated by an independent system operator or regional transmission organizations (ISOs and RTOs), which may control the dispatch of electricity generation across multiple companies. In other regions, a single “vertically integrated” company may control both the generation of power and the distribution of power to customers.

As electricity infrastructure ages and climate change impacts grow worse, new technologies are being introduced to enhance efficiency and reliability around energy systems, resulting in initiatives around modernizing the grid throughout the country. Grid modernization is a mix of policy changes and infrastructure investments that will allow communities to transition to using more clean and reliable renewable energy sources. The federal government, through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, regulates interstate power sales and services, while state governments, through their utility regulatory bodies, regulate retail electric service as well as facility planning and siting.See footnote 312 In order to modernize technologies around energy systems in a sustainable manner, numerous parties are working in concert to incorporate renewable energy sources into the system, adapt and integrate the use of advanced digital technology for enhanced operational intelligence and connectivity, support activities to improve microgrid functionality, and support improvements around energy storage. Transparency and accountability amongst key players will be key to ensuring that equity is centered in decisionmaking at all levels around grid modernization and resilience.

Legal Considerations

Creating a more resilient energy system will present legal considerations that must be navigated to ultimately make more equitable decisions. A few legal concepts that appear throughout the featured case studies are explained below.

Renewable Energy Certificate

A renewable energy certificate (REC) is a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social, and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation.See footnote 313 RECs are issued when one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity is generated and delivered to the electricity grid from a renewable energy resource. RECs are the accepted legal instrument through which renewable energy generation and use claims are substantiated in the U.S. renewable energy market.See footnote 314 Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) are specific to solar incentives.

Virtual Net Energy Metering

Under a typical net energy metering (VNM or VNEM) system, customers who generate their own solar energy can receive a financial credit on their electric bills for any surplus energy sold back to their utility. The CPUC defines virtual net energy metering as “a tariff arrangement that enables a multimeter property owner to allocate the property's solar system's energy credits to tenants.”See footnote 315

Key Players

Creating a more resilient energy system will require collaboration among different stakeholders that include electric system owners, operators, regulators, and consumers who must navigate numerous technical, legal, and policy issues to make decisions. This requires those that will be affected by, and will have roles to play in, advancing equitable solutions to energy resilience. Key players include the following:

  • Ratepayers and community stakeholders Residents, businesses, and ratepayers will be directly affected by grid outages and energy cost increases and will be the direct beneficiaries of investments in grid reliability and clean energy technologies.
  • The UtilityThe electric utility is an investor-owned company or a publicly owned entity that controls the distribution of energy in a city or region and often has a monopoly (by virtue of franchise agreement) to supply energy within a service area or region.See footnote 316 In some states, a utility may also generate the electricity that it distributes, while in other states, separate companies are responsible for generation. Electric utilities will be responsible for making investments in grid resilience and clean energy and for recommending rate increases to pay for these improvements.See footnote 317
  • The Utility Regulatory BodySee footnote 318 – Utility commissions or boards are the governing bodies that regulate utilities and are charged with protecting the public interest. These entities regulate the services provided by public utilities and set standards and provide oversight for safety and reliability. To protect consumer interests, utility commissions also have the authority to approve the allowable rates that utilities can charge and the rate increases needed to recover costs for grid enhancements.See footnote 319 Many utility commissions and boards can play a role in requiring utilities to invest in resilience and grid modernization. (For example, see the case study of the New York City Parties to the Storm Hardening and Resiliency Collaborative Report: Joint Agreement).
  • City AgenciesCity agencies (including, for example, environment, sustainability, and public works agencies) will also have roles to play in advancing energy resilience; however, these roles will vary by city based on the statutory mandate of agency authorities and the parameters of existing programs. City agencies often administer funding programs or offer incentives that support investments in weatherization, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other technologies and services that can be used to enhance energy resilience. Elected officials (mayors and city councilmembers) often also have some authority to appoint utility commissioners and to pass legislation governing how commissions regulate the electric utility.

Policy Tools

This chapter explores different ways that cities are enhancing energy resilience and equity by engaging the community, giving community stakeholders control in the decisionmaking process, and focusing on the following policy options:

  • Enhancing Access to SolarPrograms and policies can help reduce energy cost burdens and lower GHG emissions by prioritizing access and funding for solar programs for lower-income homeowners and owners of affordable multi-family housing, including by expanding opportunities for community solar. Cities can also combine funding sources to ensure that other needed housing retrofits can be made when, for example, roof conditions, building code violations, or lead remediation issues that currently present a barrier to solar installation.
  • Implementing Equitable Investments in Grid Resilience Utilities can develop investment plans for upgrading and modernizing the grid centered in equity and considering socioeconomic vulnerability to enhance energy resilience.
  • Supporting the development of resilience hubsClean-energy powered “resilience hubs” with battery storage can provide critical emergency response services in areas with greater socioeconomic risk, while also providing broader grid modernization benefits. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) defines resilience hubs as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a natural hazard event” and has stated that they are designed to “reduce the burden on local emergency response teams, improve access to emergency services, foster greater community cohesion, and increase the effectiveness of community-centered institutions and programs.”See footnote 320
  • Enabling Public Purpose MicrogridsCommunities are increasingly looking to develop or encourage the development of public-purpose microgrids, powered by distributed energy resources with energy storage, which can maintain power for critical community assets (e.g., hospitals, senior care facilities, schools) during a wider grid outage by islanding off from the main grid.See footnote 321 Microgrids can provide a range of resilience and equity benefits, including ensuring that critical services for frontline populations are not disrupted during power outages, increasing community ownership and control of energy generation and storage, reducing energy costs for critical community assets, and enhancing broader grid resilience.See footnote 322 States and local governments can adopt programs and policies to create incentives for microgrids, to reduce legal barriers to deployment, and to support efforts to capitalize on both the adaptation and mitigation benefits from microgrids.


Enhancing Access to Solar Energy

A stone house with a slanted roof and large hedges in front of it. There are solar panels on the roof and three men are attached to cables working on installing them.
A solar installation through the DC DOEE Solar For All program (Source: D.C. Department of Energy and Environment)

According to several studies, onshore wind and solar are the cheapest energy sources, so when working to create equitable resilient energy solutions for cities all over the country, creating access to solar can be a cost-effective priority for communities and local governments looking to introduce more readily accessible renewable energy resources.See footnote 323 Cities can provide financial resources to help increase access to solar energy for lower-income homeowners and renters. Programs and policies to expand access to solar programs for low-income homeowners and owners of affordable housing can help reduce energy cost burdens and lower GHG emissions. Cities can also combine funding sources to ensure that other necessary housing retrofits can be made when, for example, roof conditions, building code violations, or lead remediation issues present a barrier to solar installation.

When thinking about designing solar energy programs, decisionmakers need to consider strategies that reduce barriers and increase participation in solar programs for low-income residents and renters. First, participation in solar programs often requires ownership or access to a rooftop where solar panels can be installed. Solar is, therefore, inaccessible to many renters or owners of homes where solar panels cannot be feasibly installed. Additional barriers that limit the ability of low-income residents to access solar programs include: high-upfront costs (including both equipment and installation), credit requirements for solar financing, housing and rooftop conditions, and the costs of repairs.

Cities are transitioning to renewable energy and setting examples for others to follow by legislating new clean energy options that deliver benefits to low-Income communities. Some of these options include leveraging power purchase agreements, in which a buyer (the city) agrees to purchase a renewable project’s energy for a specific amount of time; or expanding green tariff programs, in which a utility, after authorization from the state public utility commission, will offer renewable energy directly to customers.See footnote 324 Another solution that is being explored to expand access is encouraging community solar programs. Community solar involves the installation of a solar electric system on a building or property, where the benefits of the energy credit and reduced energy bills generated by the solar project accrues to project participants — often residents of multifamily rental properties that cannot own their own solar systems.See footnote 325

Cities are also implementing complementary policies and programs to existing state mandates to encourage a transition to renewables. State initiatives to integrate clean and renewable energy into the grid can reduce energy costs and create new streams of income and tax revenues for owners via tax incentives, renewable energy certificates (RECs), net metering, grants, and rebates. Some cities have adopted complementary local policies with the same goals. For example, interconnection standards that mandate how utilities must connect renewable energy systems to the electric grid are usually implemented at the state regulatory level.See footnote 326 Often, there is a parallel permitting process required by a local jurisdiction (e.g., municipal building permit department) to ensure that residents’ systems are installed safely by installers, contractors, or the residents themselves.See footnote 327

Considerations of Enhancing Access to Solar


  • Solar is one of the cheapest energy sources.
  • Job growth in the solar industry may benefit local economies and generate local tax revenue.See footnote 328 
  • Financing is a significant barrier to low-income participation; therefore, solar programs should be designed to enhance accessibility and address affordability via reduced interest rates, extended-term lengths, and low or no money down finance offerings.
  • Homeowners and renters often cannot afford the upfront costs to install solar systems.


  • Solar energy creates clean, renewable power and reduces carbon pollution.
  • By increasing clean energy sources, cities can also help to improve air quality by reducing conventional pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.


  • Solar is often cost-prohibitive for lower-income homeowners and often unavailable to renters. As a result, the benefits of these programs are often inequitably distributed.
  • Enhancing access to solar gives customers a choice in energy production and use.


  • Fees, permits, and paperwork can hinder access to solar programs.


  • Compliance with local codes and regulations, including homeowner association restrictions, can present barriers to installing solar energy systems.See footnote 329
  • Financial and other incentives could be offered to help lower-income homeowners overcome permitting and other legal barriers.

Lessons Learned

  • Although solar is the most easily accessible renewable energy resource for a wide variety of customers, conventional solar programs can be seen as a luxury afforded only to homeowners and to those with disposable income.
  • More solar programs need to include fee waivers, technical assistance, and facility retrofit sub-programs that can be offered to help increase access to solar programs for low-income homeowners, renters, and community solar participants.
  • When working to enhance access to solar programs, consider alternatives, such as community solar, to conventional incentives for solar (such as tax credits and rebates) to increase access for lower-income residents, who likely would otherwise have trouble paying upfront for the high cost of solar infrastructure, and for those who are renters.
  • Supporting community solar programs and providing resources for installation and repair costs can expand access to the benefits of solar energy to more people.


Implementing Equitable Investments in Grid Resilience

Efforts to modernize the grid provide a critical opportunity to integrate new technologies and enhance energy resilience, while also addressing considerations of equity and socioeconomic vulnerability. The high costs of investments in grid resilience are often passed on to ratepayers and must be weighed against the value of future benefits to the public. By explicitly considering and centering equity, utilities and other key players can help to address historic underinvestment, pollution burdens, and the disproportionate climate risk in frontline communities, and can work to minimize or avoid rate increases for lower-income and fixed-income ratepayers. Investments in modern grid technologies, such as advanced microgrids and automated fault isolation and recovery, can substantially decrease climate impacts on society, but investments should also be aimed at minimizing the cost burdens on frontline communities while achieving energy resilience.

Modernization strategies should be designed to support collaboration among all key decisionmaking partners. Strategies should address multiple goals, which can include improving access to low-carbon and resilient energy for all communities, enhancing hard, soft, and natural infrastructure, and embedding principles of equitable, just climate resilience into all levels of decisionmaking. Strategies can be required by utility commissions (see e.g., Electric Program Investment Charge case study) or led by a utility on its own initiative (see e.g., Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability case study).

Considerations of Equitable Investments in Grid Resilience


  • Costs for necessary grid resilience improvements nationwide are significant, so efforts should be considered to prioritize investments and ensure that the benefits and costs are equitably distributed.
  • Increasing grid reliability will help to avoid economic losses from future grid disruptions.
  • In seeking rate recovery for resilience investments, utilities should consider how to preserve affordability for lower-income and fixed-income ratepayers.


  • Better integration of local renewable energy sources will reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.

Social /Equity

  • Rate increases should be equitably distributed and should not increase the energy cost burden for lower-income and fixed-income ratepayers.
  • Grid modernization should seek to enhance household and small business energy efficiency across all income classes so that programs lower energy bills and provide services for households and businesses that need assistance the most.


  • Fees, permits, and paperwork can hinder equitable investments in grid resilience.


  • There is a lack of regulatory standards for rapidly emerging technologies that modernize the grid.
  • Utilities may face mandates from their PUCs to make investments in grid resilience and to allow community stakeholders to intervene in utility proceedings to represent their own interests in rate-setting proceedings (e.g., NYC Participants to the Storm Hardening and Resiliency Collaborative Report).
  • Utilities may face questions about whether rate recovery is an option for helping to pay for investments in grid resilience.

Lessons Learned

  • Active investments in grid resilience are currently a priority amongst many practitioners in the energy systems space as climate change impacts increase for all.
  • With energy being such an essential resource, integrating clean energy and renewables to reduce energy costs and creating new streams of income and tax revenues would be a win-win for all parties involved.
  • Priority investments should be directed to areas facing the greatest socioeconomic risks from outages.
  • Utilities should host diverse, transparent, and inclusive engagement processes and specifically reach out to frontline communities to inform decisionmaking about grid modernization investments and any potential rate increases.
  • Partners should design equity criteria with careful consideration to ensure that the benefits of investments are equitably distributed to address the needs of customers facing the greatest socioeconomic risk to power outages. 


Supporting the Development of Resilience Hubs

A brown stone apartment building
Maycroft Apartments affordable housing complex in Washington, D.C. where non-profit Jubilee Housing is working to incorporate a community resiliency room with the ability to provide power for several days following a grid outage due to extreme weather or another disturbance. (Source: Adaptation Clearinghouse)

Clean-energy powered “resilience hubs” with battery storage can provide critical emergency response services in areas with greater socioeconomic risk, while also providing broader grid modernization benefits. Resilience Hubs are defined by USDN as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a natural hazard event.”See footnote 330 At a minimum, a resilience hub should be able to provide emergency services during extreme events — including offering the community a place to gather to obtain information, receive emergency supplies, store and refrigerate medical supplies, receive basic medical care, charge electronic devices, and access the internet.See footnote 331 In addition, resilience hubs are designed to deliver other “steady-state” services based upon community input and needs. The resilience hub is outfitted with a solar and back-up battery storage system (energy system) that can “island” from the conventional grid and maintain power to the facility during wider grid outages to provide steady-state services.See footnote 332 Resilience hubs must be carefully sited to consider proper interconnection to the existing macrogrid and to serve the best interest of the community. Another important consideration is identifying potential facilities that will house a resilience hub. The funding, owning, and operating of a resilience hub will likely involve various entities, agencies, and partnerships, which may lead to a complex system of agreements between involved parties.

Considerations of Supporting the Development of Resilience Hubs


  • Battery storage is the costliest and the most essential component of a resilience hub. Acquiring battery storage is critical to ensuring steady-state energy to avoid economic losses and provide critical emergency services during power outages.
  • Public-private partnerships with utilities could be arranged where the utility leases back the right to use the battery storage during normal operations to enhance grid resilience community-wide. Such a partnership could deliver financial benefits to the resilience hub operator or provide a mechanism to finance the installation of the battery system.
  • A solar and storage system might not appear to be economical under traditional cost-benefit calculations, but improvements are being made to these methodologies to better capture the resilience and environmental value of solar and storage systems, which can help make the fiscal case for these types of investments.


  • Battery storage can also help to expand the capacity of the grid to better integrate renewable energy sources, which can contribute to reducing air pollution and GHG emissions.

Social /Equity

  • Resilience hubs that are designed and managed by the community are intended to serve the needs of the community on a daily basis and should be utilized as a part of the permanent community infrastructure, unlike temporary emergency shelters.
  • Hubs can also enhance social cohesion because they can be designed to serve as community gathering places and “community centers” where residents can access information and services.


  • Resilience hubs are innovative and can be technically difficult to administer because they often require multiple funding streams and coordination between public agencies and the private owner or operator to establish and retrofit the hub facility.


  • Resilience hubs that are implemented in a single facility are often not subject to microgrid regulations. Instead, resilience hubs, in most instances, likely need only comply with local rules regarding interconnection and islanding.

Lessons Learned

  • Recognizing there is no one size fits all approach to establishing a resilience hub, partners should remember the core purpose and definition of what a resilience hub is and who it is to serve outside of the technical and physical aspects of the hub itself.
  • When powered by renewable sources, resilience hubs can deliver environmental benefits by enhancing clean energy solutions and reducing the community’s carbon footprint.
  • If the community is not directly involved as a party to the design of the resilience hub, the facility does not qualify as such.
  • In addition to the upfront work needed to establish a hub, the parties need to develop long-term deployment plans and sustainable funding sources for activating the hub during emergency events.
  • Government agencies and hub owners/operators will likely need an agreement to define the roles and obligations for activating the hub during emergencies and maintaining long-term hub operation.


Enabling Public Purpose Microgrids

Communities are increasingly looking to encourage the development of public-purpose microgrids that, powered by distributed energy resources with energy storage, can maintain power for critical community assets (e.g., hospitals, senior care facilities, schools) during a power outage. Identified as a prominent solution to modernizing the grid, microgrids are portions of the electric grid which are powered by distributed energy resources (DER), like solar and energy storage, that can operate either independently, or as part of the larger grid.See footnote 333 According to the Environmental Law Institute, public purpose microgrids can provide a range of resilience and equity benefits, including ensuring that critical services for frontline populations are not disrupted during power outages, increasing community ownership and control of energy generation and storage, reducing energy costs for critical community assets, and enhancing broader grid resilience.See footnote 334 To encourage deployment of public purpose microgrids, some jurisdictions are implementing pilot microgrid projects (e.g. Bronzeville Microgrid, Chicago, Illinois). Other states and local governments are exploring opportunities to adopt programs and policies to reduce legal and regulatory barriers and create incentives to encourage deployment of microgrids to support both adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Considerations of Enabling Public Purpose Microgrids


  • Microgrids have high upfront costs because they are expensive to install and maintain.
  • Microgrids can provide economic benefits to customers or communities by enhancing integration of renewable energy sources that can reduce losses from power outages and reduce energy bills. 
  • Microgrids can also provide the opportunity for community ownership and control of distributed generation and storage.


  • Microgrids can be used to ensure that critical facilities, like wastewater treatment facilities, remain operational during power outages, thereby reducing other environmental impacts from outages, like discharges of untreated sewage into water bodies.

Social /Equity

  • Public purpose microgrids can deliver significant social benefits by ensuring that assets providing critical community services — like hospitals, senior care facilities, and schools — remain operational during power outages.
  • States may need to evaluate net-metering rules to ensure that the financial burdens of maintaining the grid do not fall on low-income ratepayers.See footnote 335
  • Communities should determine the siting and uses of public purpose microgrids based on an assessment of needs and priorities.
  • There should be a transparent process that allows community members to suggest the types of critical infrastructure (e.g., hospitals) that should be served by microgrids.


  • Microgrids can be technically difficult to develop and administer because they often require coordination among multiple participating entities (including customers, regulators, and the utility) and funding streams to establish a microgrid campus.


  • Microgrids face regulatory barriers in many states because microgrid developers, as energy distributors, are often regulated as a “utility”, subject to all of the rules governing rate recovery, environmental protection, safety, etc.
  • In many states, utilities are prevented from owning or controlling storage and, therefore, from deploying microgrids in a community to enhance grid resilience.See footnote 336
  • No standard has been established for determining the resilience value of microgrids, which limits rate recovery for these investments and can discourage private investment in microgrids.See footnote 337

Lessons Learned

  • As more and more microgrids go into implementation, it is important to hone in on the co-benefits of siting microgrids, so that they power critical facilities to the benefit of the community.
  • When powered by renewable sources, microgrids can deliver environmental benefits by reducing GHG emissions and air pollution.
  • Policymakers should ensure that frontline communities and critical assets serving frontline populations are prioritized when making investments in microgrids.
  • In addition to the upfront work needed to establish a microgrid, the parties need to develop long-term deployment plans for operating the service during regular operating hours and during emergency events.
  • Like several states have done, encourage legislation to streamline regulatory requirements for microgrid developers to encourage projects that deliver broad public benefits.


Funding Tools for Resilient Energy

Depending upon which options municipalities, utilities, or individuals implement or take in an effort to utilize equitable resilient energy and electric power sector measures, various financing or funding options may be made available. These sources can come from a variety of places, including the federal government, nonprofits, private businesses, local governments, and more. It is important that all those involved in developing a community’s energy resilience take advantage of all the funding opportunities that may be available.

Lessons Learned

  • Public-private partnerships are a likely source of funding and should be sought out when looking to fund energy resilience.
  • Energy systems often create economic benefits for partners involved, which often incentivizes investments in these types of projects and can be used as a bartering tool.


Resilient Water


A man carries two empty, large, blue water barrels with stacks of the same type of barrels behind him.
Rainwater harvesting workshop for Spanish-speaking community members in Tucson, Arizona. (Source: Sonora Environmental Research Institute, Inc.)

Climate change already is affecting water resources across America and data suggests the change will continue and may accelerate. Frontline communities with increased exposure to environmental pollution are more likely to confront issues related to water quality, for example, exposure to contaminated water through lead poisoning or increased stormwater and flooding affecting the quantity of water. As a result, climate-change-related weather events threaten to aggravate and worsen those existing risks to water quantity and quality.

Climate-change related temperature increases have already impacted the intensity, quantity, and quality of water across the country. Since 1900, as temperatures around the country have increased, the amount of precipitation has also increased, but not equally in all places. Precipitation has increased mainly in the Northeast, Midwest, and the Great Plains. Many parts of the country have less precipitation than a century ago, including many areas in the West (the Southwest in particular) and the Southeast.

Meanwhile, precipitation intensity, that is, the amount of precipitation falling during extreme events, has risen, particularly in the eastern half of the country.See footnote 338 Higher temperatures increase evaporation (and demand for water by vegetation, called transpiration), which increases the potential for drought. Climate change will also affect water quality. Higher temperatures change water chemistry reducing dissolved oxygen levels, and more intense precipitation increases runoff of pollutants in lakes and rivers, all of which can degrade water quality. By heating the atmosphere and changing precipitation patterns and sea levels, climate change already is exacerbating many risks to water resources. These risks can be summarized as:

  • Too much flooding, i.e., flooding;
  • Too little water, i.e., drought; and
  • Degraded water quality

The risks of flooding, drought, and poor water quality (along with sea-level rise threatening water supplies and quality in coastal areas) will almost certainly become more frequent and intense as the climate continues to change.See footnote 339 

Climate change worsens water resource risks that are often disproportionately borne by frontline communities. Frontline populations tend to disproportionately live in areas that have the greatest risk of flooding; they face the greatest financial hurdles obtaining water during shortages or even when supplies are abundant; and they can be most exposed to poor water quality. For example:

  • Frontline communities tend to have higher exposure to flood risks.See footnote 340 
  • Water is relatively expensive for low-income households. These households can have difficulty paying bills and can have their supplies cut off because of failure to make payments.See footnote 341 One in eight Americans currently lives in water poverty.See footnote 342 
  • Urban areas with shrinking populations (e.g., in the Rust Belt) face rising costs for water and deteriorating infrastructure to supply and treat water.See footnote 343 
  • Some 10 million homes have water supplied through lead pipes, with many of these in relatively poor urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest.See footnote 344 A particularly acute example of a frontline community exposed to water quality problems is Flint, Michigan,See footnote 345 which is discussed more in-depth in this paper.
  • Many rural communities have high poverty rates and low tax revenues and thus face challenges in securing safe water supplies and water treatment services.
  • Native American lands also tend to have relatively high poverty rates and have relatively less access to safe and reliable water supplies as well as water treatment.See footnote 346 
  • Municipalities now pay the majority of water infrastructure costs.See footnote 347 As a result, wealthier municipalities are more likely to make larger investments in water resource infrastructure while frontline communities, with fewer financial resources, tend to have aging infrastructure that is more vulnerable to climate events. These disparities leave frontline communities susceptible to degrading infrastructure, reduced water quality, inadequate water treatment, and flood risks.

America’s water infrastructure across the nation, and not just in frontline communities, (along with other public infrastructure) is in very poor shape, with the American Society of Civil Engineers giving the state of the nation’s drinking water infrastructure a D and its water treatment infrastructure a D+.See footnote 348 

Goals for Resilient Water

The goal of equitable water resilience is to reduce the vulnerability to climate change risks in a manner that addresses how marginalized communities may be disproportionately affected by such risks. This chapter discusses how equity and resilience issues are being reduced by addressing:

  • Cross-cutting water and equity issues — Water resource and equity issues should be addressed in a comprehensive manner. As noted above, poverty, racism, and lack of access to government decisionmaking processes have led to frontline communities lacking safe, reliable, and affordable water supplies. Given the cross-cutting challenges of addressing water resource and equity issues, policymakers are more likely to achieve equitable outcomes by taking a comprehensive approach to water resource management. For example, by ensuring that frontline communities fully participate in decisionmaking processes, water resource policies are more likely to reflect their needs and concerns. In addition, the use of appropriate data and metrics to provide quantitative data to identify areas inhabited by frontline communities that face high water resource risks should help policymakers give those areas sufficient attention to water policymaking. A coordinated and comprehensive approach to these risks can improve the likelihood the policy objectives will yield equitable outcomes. 
  • FloodingFrontline communities already bear disproportionate risks of flooding and these risks will most likely increase with climate change. Flood risks can be reduced through: prevention, which includes building flood walls and implementing more nature-friendly approaches such as green infrastructure; accommodation, which involves having structures in flood areas be above flood levels; or avoidance, which moves people and structures out of flood-prone areas to safer locations.
  • Drought (too little or too expensive water) — As climate impacts become more prevalent, water supplies are projected to decrease in some areas or during particular times of the year such as in the summer, placing additional burdens on frontline communities with existing challenges to water access. Low-income communities often have water bills that are unaffordable and live in areas where governments are unable to make investments that reduce water demand or use water more Subsidized investments in water efficiency, technologies that support water reuse, and other programs that help lower-income communities pay for water service and limit cutoffs of water service can help reduce the acute climate-related risks and inequities in water access.
  • Water quality (water unsuitable for drinking and other uses and inadequate wastewater treatment) — Urban frontline communities often have poor water quality caused by aging infrastructure (e.g., old distribution pipes) that can harm human health.  Many rural communities have inadequate water treatment systems. In both cases, a lack of adequate financial resources to improve municipal water supply contributes to inequitable quality of water resources.  Local, state, and federal programs can address these inequities by paying for or subsidizing the replacement of old water systems or installing ones where none exist now or investing in water treatment in homes.


Water management is almost as old as civilization. Some of the oldest settlements, such as Jericho, built some 10 centuries ago, were located near springs. Indoor water supply and toilets began to appear some five centuries ago. It was not until the 19th century that sanitation and extensive indoor plumbing began to be installed in major urban areas. Wastewater treatment became prevalent in the 20th century.See footnote 349 However, what is also as old as civilization is the presence of poor and marginalized people. These people have always faced relatively less access to reliable, safe, and affordable water.

While there have been fluctuations in climate over the lifetime of civilization (and certainly before that), climate was always thought to be relatively stable. Water supplies and location of settlements were based on assumptions that while water supplies and flooding might vary, these conditions were considered stable over time. Climate change has altered that assumption. We are certain the climate is changing and know with a high degree of certainty that humanity is causing recent changes in climate.See footnote 350

Comprehensive and equitable policies to address worsening water resources attributed to climate change should also address the challenges of the inequitable availability of a safe, reliable, and affordable water supply, and flood protection.

Key Players

The key actors in making decisions that affect water resilience and equity include:

  • Federal Government Through statutes such as the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act the federal government sets standards for surface and drinking water quality across the country. Applying and enforcing these standards equally ensures that all surface and drinking water systems meet minimum standards for human and ecosystem health. The federal government also provides funding for water systems, some of which is aimed at low income or disadvantaged communities. Some of the funding sources are described in Section IV.
  •  State governments. Many state governments lead the implementation of federal water quality laws, including the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and in distributing some sources of federal funding to municipalities. States may also impose additional requirements on top of the federal floor, although this is not typically done.See footnote 351  California often goes beyond federal standards on environmental protection. For example, AB 65 in California Water Code Section 106.3 states “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.”See footnote 352 
    • States can also provide funding for water resource projects. This is discussed in greater depth in Section IV.
    • Many states authorize wholesale regional providers of water. Examples of such regional entities created by state law include the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Denver Water in Colorado, Tampa Bay Water in Florida, and the Metropolitan Water District in southern California. These wholesale water providers sell water to municipalities.
  • Municipal governments. Municipalities are typically the primary governmental provider of clean drinking water, wastewater treatment services, and water for other indoor purposes. Water supply and treatment are often provided through publicly owned and operated municipal utilities or in some cases through privately owned and operated utilities. Water utilities bill water users for the provision of services and can cut off users if bills are not paid. Counties, cities, and towns also tend to control zoning which includes flood plain management.
  • Private sector actors. The private sector can provide services such as the construction of water distribution and treatment systems and installation of water systems within homes and buildings. The private sector can also provide financing for water investments. As noted above, private firms run some water utilities.
  • Nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit organizations can help water advocates and provide technical support for reliable, affordable, and clean water, along with protection from flooding.

Policy Options and Tools

The following policy considerations demonstrate how water management systems can address resilience and equity considering the risks posed by climate change.


Cross-cutting Water and Equity Issues

A father and daughter wash their hands in a kitchen sink.
(Source: Seattle Public Utilities)

The goals for public and private entities managing water resources are to provide the public with a safe, clean, and reliable supply of water and protection from hazards such as flooding. These services should be provided equitably to all communities regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography, and other factors. While the United States has no stated policy on water equity, the United Nations has 17 sustainable development goals. Goal number six includes “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all” and “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”See footnote 353 The UN calls for meeting these goals for all people around the world by 2030.See footnote 354 

Several American cities have a stated policy on water equity. For example, Seattle Public Utilities describes its goals as “providing high-quality utility services and protecting public health and the environment for our customers…. it is designed to provide predictable rates while ensuring long-term sustainability and excellent service….”See footnote 355 New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection describes its goals as “To enrich the environment and protect public health for all New Yorkers by providing high-quality drinking water, managing wastewater and stormwater….”See footnote 356 (emphasis added).

Many policymakers are addressing issues of equitable access and resilience for frontline communities by investing in programs that reduce multiple risks from climate change to water resources. These crosscutting programs include efforts to achieve the following objectives:

  • Identify marginalized communities that face relatively high climate change risks to provide adequate, reliable, and safe water supplies and flood protection.
  • Ensure access to and involvement by frontline communities in municipal and other decisionmaking processes concerning water resources that affect these communities. This includes engagement with or development of community-based organizations that represent and advocate for the interests of frontline communities.
  • Develop and implement climate-resilient policies that:
    • Involve frontline communities in decisionmaking; and
    • Address vulnerability of frontline communities to climate risks.

Considerations of Cross-Cutting Water Equity Programs


  • By helping to ensure safe and reliable water supplies and protection from flooding, crosscutting programs can improve economic development potential in frontline communities.


  • Poor water quality and flooding degrades the environment in frontline communities and poses risks to human health.

Social /Equity

  • People with lower incomes and people of color tend to face higher risks of unaffordable water, poor water quality, and flooding.
  • The ability of frontline communities to participate in water policy processes is often limited and needs to be improved.
  • Addressing these issues can help give frontline communities a better opportunity to fully participate in and contribute to society.


  • Existing mechanisms for public input need to ensure that frontline communities have complete access to and can fully participate in water policy processes.
  • New institutions and mechanisms may need to be developed to create avenues for access by frontline communities to decisionmaking processes.
  • All water resource management decisions need to consider climate change impacts and adaptation.


  • Federal, state, and municipal law can require access to governance processes for frontline communities.

Lessons Learned

  •  It is critical that frontline communities are fully and actively engaged in decisionmaking on water resources. It is also critical that governments have a comprehensive and permanent commitment to equity in water resource management. This means that all water resource management decisions must be viewed through the lens of equity.
  • As with equity, all water resource management decisions need to be viewed through the lens of climate change. The decisions should not just consider water resource management under current or historic climate but also consider how climate change may affect future water resources.


Flood Risks

Communities can reduce flood risks (i.e., the risk of having too much water) through three general approaches: Protection, Accommodation, and Avoidance.See footnote 357 


Vegetation planted along a coastline. A white sign with black text and orange caution stripes reads, "Living Shoreline Pilot Program: Please Do Not Approach."
Living shoreline pilot project along the Oyster River at Wagon Hill Farm in Durham, New Hampshire. (Credit: Kirsten Howard. Source: New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services)

Protection against flooding involves steps to repel or absorb flooding in a manner that does require that communities must rebuild or relocate. The most common type of protection measure is a floodwall or levee. These typically keep floodwaters from inundating areas inland of the defenses and send the floodwaters downstream. An alternative is use of natural systems such as wetlands or other vegetation to absorb floodwaters. This is known as “green infrastructure” and is widely discussed in the toolkit, including in this chapter.

A key drawback to protection measures is that they have limits — as demonstrated in New Orleans during Katrina.See footnote 358 A very large flood can breach or overtop a floodwall or exceed the amount of water that green infrastructure can absorb. Thus, a strategy relying solely on defenses against flooding can leave communities with some residual risk of flooding (although a lower risk than if there were no protection or other measures taken).

Policymakers can address equity considerations by investing in defensive measures that provide equal protection to frontline communities, ensuring that flood risks do not shift from privileged areas to frontline areas. Programs can include providing financial support for the implementation of defensive measures, such as green infrastructure, for frontline communities. The support should include maintenance to ensure systems are not degraded over time.

Green infrastructure (GI) uses vegetation and soils, permeable surfaces, and landscaping to allow runoff from storms to be stored, infiltrate into soils and aquifers, or evapotranspirate (i.e., evaporation from surface water and soils into the atmosphere and transpiration through vegetation).See footnote 359 GI can rely on “grey infrastructure” of drainage systems and pipes to convey water to treatment plants. Installing green infrastructure can cost less than installing grey infrastructure, but can require more maintenance.See footnote 360 A distinct advantage of GI is the multiple benefits it provides -- benefits that grey infrastructure does not provide. The vegetation in GI can lower temperatures, which can be critical and life-saving in urban areas in the summertime. It also absorbs carbon, reduces air pollution, and provides aesthetic benefits.See footnote 361 This chapter presents case studies using green infrastructure in frontline communities to address flood risks; see the Natural Resilience Chapter for additional case studies and further discussion of the benefits of green infrastructure. 

Considerations of Green Infrastructure as a Tool for Flood Protection


  • Hard structures for flooding are expensive. Depending on the project, green infrastructure projects may cost less.
  • Finance: Costs may be shared with federal and state governments. [See GCC Green Infrastructure Toolkit]


  • Green infrastructure is much better for the environment than traditional grey infrastructure stormwater systems.
  • GI provides increased environmental benefits including reduced air and water pollution, reduced heat island effect, and improved carbon absorption and it has aesthetic benefits. Hard structures can cause environmental harm, (e.g., channeling floodwaters downstream).

Social /Equity

  • It is often frontline communities that face relatively high flood risks.
  • Frontline communities will be in greater need of financial support to implement green infrastructure and other measures.
  • Benefits from GI may be relatively higher in frontline communities. A local workforce can maintain GI systems.


  • Green infrastructure measures are typically administered at the county, city, or town level. Federal and state governments can provide technical support.


  • Zoning regulations, which are controlled by counties, cities, or towns, are very important for allowing and encouraging GI. Federal and state governments may impose additional requirements especially for addressing Clean Water Act violations.


Accommodation involves developing strategies to live with (i.e., accommodate) flooding. A common approach is elevating structures such as houses and buildings, thereby allowing floodwaters to flow under them.See footnote 362 Other structural changes might include placing key equipment such as heating and cooling systems on upper floors of multi-story buildings. Comprehensive accommodation policies can also include emergency management systems, (e.g., warning systems and evacuation procedures) to enable people to evacuate an area that is forecast to be flooded.

Accommodation approaches such as elevating structures to reduce their exposure to flooding, avoids dislocation of communities and has fewer adverse environmental impacts than protection, but is an expensive resilience option. As a result these options are often adopted by wealthier communities that can better afford to elevate structures.See footnote 363 For frontline communities, expensive options can be particularly challenging to implement, so a key factor in elevating communities is to obtain financial support from other sources. An equitable approach to adopting accommodation as a policy strategy means that frontline communities are given opportunities to finance construction or elevation of homes and buildings, including through access to federal and state funding sources, so they can withstand future floods.

This chapter presents a case study on elevating homes in a highly flood-prone area.

Considerations of Elevating Structures as a Tool for Flood Accommodation


  • Elevating structures is expensive. The cost for most homes is under $10,000 but in some cases can be as much as $100,000.See footnote 364 Note: costs per home in Tehama, CA were above $30,000.
  • Finance: FEMA will pay up to $30,000 to elevate houses in flood plains.See footnote 365 HUD CDBG funds can be used to help finance the elevation of structures for low and moderate-income homeowners or renters. The Army Corps of Engineers paid 65% of the cost of elevating homes in Tehama, California. States may also contribute funding, as California did for Tehama.


  • Elevating structures has minimal impact on the environment and can allow floodwaters to take their natural course.

Social /Equity

  • Low-income homes may be relatively less expensive to elevate than larger homes owned by wealthier individuals. Navigating the requirements for obtaining financing can be more challenging for municipalities with low tax bases.
  • Elevating homes avoids dislocating communities from buyouts.


  • Local governments are the lead for administering elevation of structures and seeking funding.


  • Zoning requirements may have to be changed to allow for structures to be elevated. For example, restrictions on the height of homes or other structures may need to be modified or allow for exemptions.
  • Federal payments for elevating homes are done as a response to flooding and elevate homes to current base flood elevations. It may not be possible to anticipate potential increases in future flood levels.


An avoidance strategy reduces exposure of people and structures in areas at risk of flooding. One approach is to limit or prohibit development in floodplains.See footnote 366

Another approach is to “retreat” or relocate structures and neighborhoods to areas with a lower risk of flooding. Avoidance reduces vulnerability but can come at an economic cost. Foregoing use of a land area near a water body such as a riverfront for commercial or residential purposes can have economic and lifestyle costs.See footnote 367 In addition, compensation may be needed for property owners who are prohibited from developing certain areas. Relocation of communities to avoid the risk of flooding can be expensive and disruptive of neighborhoods, community connections, and commerce.

One strategy for moving structures out of harm’s way is through government buyouts, whereby the structures in flood areas are purchased from homeowners by the government.

Frontline communities in flood-prone areas can be disproportionately identified for relocation because the relative costs of buyouts are lower than buyout costs in wealthier communities. As a result, it is important to ensure that buyouts do not happen only in frontline communities and that frontline community residents are treated fairly and not made worse off by buyouts. Perhaps most critical is that frontline communities are relocated to areas that do not diminish access to livelihoods and public transportation and do not otherwise diminish quality of life. Some key equity considerations for buyouts include: ensuring that relocation is applied equitably, not disproportionately to frontline communities; ensuring that property owners are given fair compensation for the value of their properties; and ensuring there is adequate financial and administrative support for the purchase of new properties, relocation costs, and addressing issues such as mental health.

This chapter presents a case study on pursuing buyouts as a potential avoidance strategy.

Considerations of Buyouts as a Tool for Flood Avoidance


  • Buyouts can be expensive but will reduce future flood damage and repair costs. Green areas set aside through buyouts can have economic benefits. Buyouts in lower-income communities will be less expensive than in higher-income areas.
  • Cities and towns should try to relocate homes and buildings within their jurisdiction so as not to lose property tax revenue.
  • Finance: Funds could be available from federal, state, and local sources. FEMA can pay up to 75% of voluntary buyout costs with states or localities providing the rest. Buyouts combined with using new open space for recreational purposes could be an avenue for public-private partnerships.


  • Bought out areas can be returned to nature or used for parks or other recreation purposes that can enhance environmental benefits for communities and natural resources. 

Social /Equity

  • Buyouts can be complicated for a variety of reasons. For example, low-income areas may be disproportionately identified for buyouts because properties are less expensive. Care must be taken to ensure that buyouts are applied equitably. It is also critical to ensure that marginalized communities are given support to obtain housing in areas with sufficient amenities e.g., access to public transportation and services, low pollution levels.


  • Cities or towns typically administer buyouts.See footnote 368 States and the federal government can also play a role.


  • Buyout programs are voluntary. Alternatively, seizing land through eminent domain is a complicated process and may lead to litigation.

It is important to note that all three of these approaches (Protection, Accommodation, and Avoidance) involve determining what level of flooding to protect against. Flood protection and elevation are done to a particular height. Should future floods exceed these levels, the protections may prove to be inadequate. Raising structures to historic flood levels such as the 1:100 flood (sometimes referred to as the 1-in-100-year flood) risks inadequately protecting structures in the future because climate change is likely to increase flood levels. So, what is currently a 1:100 flood event might in future decades become a 1:50 year event (i.e., happen twice as frequently). This is challenging when attempting to anticipate climate change because while it is virtually certain that future floods will be larger, exactly how much larger is not known.See footnote 369 A presidential executive order in 2015 required that flood protection for federal projects add two feet of elevation above the current 1:100 flood level for non-critical infrastructure, which includes housing.See footnote 370 The executive order was revoked in 2017.See footnote 371 

Lessons Learned

Protection: Green Infrastructure

  • Green infrastructure is an attractive approach for addressing risks from flooding such as combined sewer overflow risks because GI has multiple benefits such as reducing heat stress and air pollution and providing aesthetic benefits.
  • Targeted finance programs are often needed to ensure that frontline communities can implement GI.
  • GI requires maintenance but this provides an opportunity to employ contractors and labor from frontline communities.

Accommodation: Elevating Structures

  • Elevation of structures can keep a community in place and avoid environmental harm from flood protection measures.
  • Financial support from the federal government (and if available state governments) for the elevation of homes is needed to make the option affordable for frontline communities.
  • As is seen in the Tehama case study, not all homeowners may elevate their homes, leaving some structures still vulnerable to flooding.

Avoidance: Buyouts

  • For areas at risk of repeated flooding, buyouts to move structures and people out of harm’s way may be better for well being, safety, and public finances than taking other measures to protect the structures.
  • Buyouts give municipalities the option to use areas for other purposes such as parks.
  • It is critical that frontline communities are not made worse off through buyouts and if anything, gain an equal or improved quality of life and access to livelihoods and city services such as public transportation.


Drought Risks

A large tan barrel about the size of a shed sits next to a house. A tube connects it to the house's gutter, and it has a second exit tube at the bottom for dispensing water.
Rainwater harvesting in Tuscon, Arizona. (Source: Seri AZ Solutions, Sonora Environmental Research Institute, Inc.)

Climate change will increase the risk of drought in many parts of the country, particularly in the Southwest, but also in summer in many other areas. Droughts can limit the supply of and access to water. Policymakers can make it a priority to address the needs and vulnerabilities of frontline communities by supporting programs that ensure a reliable and affordable water supply to counter the risks of drought. Drought risks address having too little water but also include ensuring that frontline communities have reliable and affordable access to water. The two fundamental strategies for addressing drought risks are reducing water use and increasing supply. This section highlights tools for helping frontline communities maintain access to water through payment assistance programs to avoid shutoffs and to reduce demand for water from water systems and utilities.

Reduce Water Use

One way that governments and water systems can ensure frontline communities have access to water despite drought conditions is through demand reduction strategies. Demand reduction strategies include the use of technologies that consume less water. Low flow toilets and water-efficient laundry and dishwashing machines are among the water-efficient technologies that provide the same services as old technology using less water. In the western United States, where irrigating lawns is typical, water use can be reduced by planting more drought-tolerant vegetation (which for some types of vegetation may require virtually no irrigation) or reusing water from indoor uses such as showers and washing dishes and clothes (grey water) for irrigation.

Considerations of Reducing Water Use


  • Investments in water-efficient appliances or systems to supplement water supplies can have net savings within years. For example, a water-efficient toilet can save $110/year in water bills,See footnote 372 paying for itself in a few years.


  • Reduced water use in homes can leave more water in streams and lakes thus improving the aquatic environment.

Social /Equity

  • Programs aimed at helping frontline communities pay for water efficiency investment can help overcome financial and administrative barriers to such investments


  • These programs are typically administered by water utilities.


  • Water efficiency programs are usually voluntary, but some water providers have mandatory measures.See footnote 373 

Increasing Water Supply

Many rural communities lack access to reliable and affordable water supplies.See footnote 374 Much of this problem has to do with poor water quality, but some of it is the result of inadequate supplies such as in California’s Central Valley, in some tribal areas, and the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border. The affordability of water can be a key driver in determining whether frontline communities have sustained access to water. As water rates increase, a larger share of the population is at risk of being unable to afford to pay their water bill, thus, facing water poverty.See footnote 375 

Addressing water supply problems takes two strategies. One is to install technologies that capture rain or snow for outdoor water use (such water is not considered potable). Where cost is involved, (e.g., investing in water-efficient appliances or rainwater capture), frontline communities may also need access to financing through loans or grants for the purchase and maintenance of equipment that improves water efficiency. Addressing affordability and shutoff of water supplies directly addresses cost issues faced by frontline communities.

The other strategy is to adopt programs and policies that ensure that frontline communities have sustained access to affordable water and are not cut off from obtaining water for domestic needs. Equitable approaches to ensuring access to water include policy strategies that make water rates more affordable for low-income consumers or that limit or avoid water shutoffs and other disruptions in supply.

Considerations of Assistance with Water Bills and Shutoffs


  • Increased costs for water or reductions in water deliveries imposed during droughts can have the greatest burden on frontline water consumers.
  • Unemployment and income instability resulting from economic downturns increase water affordability challenges.


  • Lack of sufficient and clean water for domestic use can lead to environmentally harmful behavior such as consuming untreated water or improperly disposing of used water.

Social /Equity

  • Safety and hygiene considerations require that all people have access to reliable and clean water supplies.
  • Increased prices or reduced deliveries during droughts can impose particular hardships on frontline communities.


  • State and local policies typically address access to water.
  • State law and institutions typically govern water allocation among municipalities and different types of users (e.g., agriculture vs. municipal).
  • Counties, cities, and towns, and water utilities allocate water among residents and set rates.


  • Municipal ordinances can require equal access to water or create programs to support frontline communities in obtaining and keeping access to water.

Lessons Learned

Reducing Water Use

  • Water utility programs can help frontline communities invest in appliances and technologies to reduce water use.
  • These investments often pay for themselves within a few years and can save the water utilities the expense and work involved in obtaining additional water supplies.
  • Investments in water efficiency can provide a buffer during droughts.

Increasing Water Supply

  • Access to affordable, reliable, and clean water is a basic human right.
  • Municipalities should invest in programs to reduce the cost of obtaining water services for low-income residents and limit cutoff of service.

Water Quality

A group of people stand outside wearing matching light blue shirts and smiling up at the camera holding signs that say "Clean Water Now!"
Annual Water Rally in Dover, Delaware. (Credit: SERCAP Water is Life, Southeast Rurual Community Assistance Project)

Urban and rural frontline communities are more likely to be exposed to poor water quality resulting from inadequate water treatment and close proximity to polluting industries. The percentage of people without access to modern plumbing necessary for sufficient water treatment is twice as high among black people than white people.See footnote 376

Urban areas, particularly ones with shrinking populations and high levels of poverty, have experienced severe water quality challenges in recent years. Some 10 million homes, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, have distribution pipes with lead in them. Lead can enter the water supply when pipes are disturbed, as pipes age, or through chemical reactions to changes in water supplies. For example, in the city of Flint, Michigan, where 45% of city residents live below the poverty line, the city’s water system was so under-funded the state of Michigan took over management of the city’s water supply. Without adequate testing and monitoring, the state switched the city’s water supply to river water. Corrosion controls were not added, and the new source of water caused lead to leach from the aging water pipes, seriously harming the health of Flint’s residents.See footnote 377 

Newark, New Jersey, where one-quarter of the city’s predominantly black and Latinx population lives in poverty,See footnote 378 is another recent example of a frontline community plagued by water quality problems. The city changed the acidity of Newark’s water supply, which unfortunately liberated lead from its aging distribution pipes. Water filters were distributed to residents, but about one-fourth were found to be incorrectly installed, resulting in unacceptably high lead levels in residential drinking water. With some state aid, the city is moving to replace aging lead-lined water distribution pipes.See footnote 379 

Rural areas with low incomes are at particular risk of having poor water quality. USDA finds that in “non-metro” areas (rural areas and cities under 50,000 population not connected to major urban areas),See footnote 380 poverty rates are higher than in metro areas, particularly in the Southeast.See footnote 381 About half of communities in the United States with water quality problems are small communities.See footnote 382 This can be the result of a combination of small water supply systems serving relatively few users, who also have low incomes. Such small poor communities have too small an income base to adequately finance drinking water supply and wastewater treatment systems.

Mitigating water quality risks requires policies and programs to support cleaning up sources of pollution, ensuring that drinking water is safely treated and distributed for consumption and other uses; and then properly treating and disposing of wastewater.See footnote 383 This toolkit does not address treatment of pollution sources and instead focuses on providing adequate treatment of drinking water supplied to homes and sanitation infrastructure for the treatment of wastewater.

Considerations of Water Quality Tools



  • Poor water quality can limit economic development by discouraging investment in low-income communities.
  • Poor water quality also increases health costs and morbidity thus reducing the life expectancy and economic productivity of frontline community residents.


  • Poor water quality can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Social /Equity

  • Frontline communities in urban and rural areas are more likely to be exposed to degraded water quality.


  • Funding can be a major barrier to having adequate infrastructure and programs to treat water quality.
  • Drinking water treatment and distribution systems and water treatment systems are either inadequate or aging. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investment are needed to solve the problem.See footnote 384 
  • Water quality monitoring is a necessary component of ensuring that clean water continues to be supplied to frontline communities.


  • Federal law requires that waters are suitable for drinking and provide environmental protection.
  • States may impose additional requirements.
  • Municipalities are responsible for meeting water quality requirements.

Lessons Learned

  • Investments in addressing water quality problems in frontline communities can be expensive but are necessary to protect human health in some of the country’s most disadvantaged
  • In urban areas, water quality risks are often found in communities with decreasing populations, high poverty rates, and high unemployment. These municipalities tend to have high minority and low-income populations and underfunded water systems that lack the financial resources to upgrade aging infrastructure. Water quality in aging water systems can be degraded by deteriorating conditions or changes in water supplies or treatment, threatening human health.
  • In rural areas, small, low-income, and often minority communities have inadequate water supply and wastewater treatment.
  • Both urban and rural frontline communities may be located near sources of pollution such as agriculture or chemical production that can contaminate water supplies.


Funding Options for Resilient and Equitable Water Resources Investments

This section gives some examples of financing for resilient and equitable water resource investments from different levels of government (federal, state, and local) and from sources outside the public sector.

Federal Funding

Decades ago, federal funding was the main source of funding for water infrastructure projects. In 1977, not long after passage of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal government funded 63% of water infrastructure costs. Essentially, the federal government was imposing requirements on municipalities to provide safe drinking water and treatment, but the federal government paid the majority share of the costs of meeting these requirements. Since that time, financial support for water utility infrastructure has eroded away. By 2014, the share of water supply and treatment infrastructure costs covered by the federal government has slipped to a mere 9%.See footnote 385 This essentially leaves municipal ratepayers disproportionately carrying the burden of infrastructure investment. Frontline communities struggle the most with funding water systems. As a result, many utility water systems are too underfunded to supply drinking water or to provide suitable wastewater treatment at a time when many treatment systems are deteriorating.

  • The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) funds can be used for such purposes as flood protection, water quality, and water supply for lower-income communities. CDBG-DR (Disaster Resilience) can be used to rebuild water systems following disasters including climate disasters such as flooding.See footnote 386 The Tehama, California case study discussed using CDBG funds to help low-income homeowners pay for a portion of the cost of elevating their homes.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for water infrastructure including revolving funds for clean waterSee footnote 387 and safe drinking waterSee footnote 388 as well as the small grants program discussed above. USEPA also administers funds from the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) of 2014.See footnote 389 
  • Federal Emergency Management Administration funds can be used for disaster assistance. These include the FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program and Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, and Flood Mitigation Assistance).See footnote 390 Funding from Hazard Mitigation Grant Program was used in the initial years in the buyout program by Charlotte-Mecklenberg discussed above.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides funding for rural water and wastewater infrastructure.See footnote 391 USDA’s Rural Development Rural Development Water and Environmental Program (WEF) can be used to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities with populations less than 10,000 people.See footnote 392

State Funding

The federal clean water and drinking water revolving funds are administered by states. These were the primary sources of funds for infrastructure until the passage of WIFIA.See footnote 393 For example, the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank’s Infrastructure State Revolving Fund Program can be used by municipalities to fund such projects as drainage, water supply, and flood control, environmental mitigation measures, sewage collection and treatment, and water treatment and distribution.See footnote 394 California SB 200 provides “nearly $1.5 billion in combined funding to address the lack of safe drinking water in some communities across the state.”See footnote 395 The act puts priority on funding disadvantaged communities in the state. In New York, the Clean Water Infrastructure Act makes available $3 billion in investments to clean and drinking water infrastructure projects across the state.See footnote 396 Funds from Pennsylvania’s PENNVEST program, which funds sewer, stormwater, and drinking water projects by municipalities, were used to help fund the green infrastructure project in Chester.See footnote 397 

Local Funding

As noted in the introduction to this section, the burden of funding infrastructure projects falls mainly on municipalities. They must work diligently to obtain funding from other sources such as the federal and state governments, as well as the private sector. For example, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg buyout program was initiated with the help of FEMA funding but is now mainly funded through municipal revenue sources. Sacramento’s Leak Free program is funded from the city’s coffers, although it was initiated with a grant from the State of California.

Private Funding

Public-private partnerships (PPPs), a joint effort between the public and private sectors, are increasingly the preferred approach to funding municipal infrastructure. The investments must yield a satisfactory rate of return to private investors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Finance Center discusses public-private partnerships to obtain private investment in public infrastructure.See footnote 398 One example is Washington DC’s DC Water Environmental Impact Bond, which attracted private investors to help pay for green infrastructure as part of Washington's Water’s Clean Infrastructure Project (see Green Infrastructure section). Private investors limit the financial risk to DC Water if the green infrastructure performs below expectations, but can reap financial rewards if the program exceeds expectations.See footnote 399 The private firm Corvias helped manage the public-private partnership that helped fund green infrastructure investments in Chester, Pennsylvania.

Philanthropic Funding

In general, funding from nonprofit organizations such as philanthropies does not appear to be aimed at funding municipal water infrastructure, but it can be used for supporting services and building community outreach. For example, following the lead in the water crisis in Flint Michigan, ten foundations pledged a combined $125 million to help Flint recover.See footnote 400 The money would support such activities as having technical experts review the plans for addressing the water quality problems and promoting civil engagement and local decisionmaking to help ensure that frontline communities are part of the decisionmaking process that addresses the water problems.See footnote 401


Equitable Disaster Preparedness, Response & Recovery


A blue shelter is the only remaining undamaged structure in a field in Puerto Rico where surrounding homes have been destroyed.
Aerial view of damage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria (2017).
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most apparent consequences of climate change is the increase in the frequency and intensity of severe weather-related and disaster events that have already posed — and will continue to pose — significant threats to the health and safety of people and to communities.See footnote 402 According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a disaster event can include natural catastrophes, technological accidents, or human-caused events that have resulted in severe property damage, deaths, and/or multiple injuries. In the case of severe weather events, more and more disasters are no longer just “natural” given anthropogenic influences. Examples of these severe weather events that have been, or are expected to be, exacerbated by climate change include heat waves, hurricane intensity, floods, wildfires, and droughts.

Low-income, underserved communities with multiple socioeconomic challenges, often communities of color, are more likely to bear the disproportionate risk of physical harm caused by weather events and are more likely to face challenges in accessing the resources necessary to adequately prepare for these events and to recover physically, mentally, and economically after the event. Whether evidenced by the way the Lower Ninth Ward fell victim to failing levees when Hurricane Katrina hit; or how Southside Chicago residents perished in droves compared to their neighbors on the Northside during the 1995 Heat Wave; or the amount of time it took residents in Puerto Rico to receive aid following Hurricane Maria, the disparities between those with and without access to resources is an indicator of who is more likely to suffer negatively as a result of severe weather impacts. Adaptation planning professionals can prioritize equity as a fundamental objective of emergency preparedness by directing resources to those who face disproportionate risks of harm to achieve more equitable outcomes.

Three men stand among piles of wood and debris inside the Princeville town museum following Hurricane Matthew.
Town officials in Princeville, North Carolina examine damage to the town museum following Hurricane Matthew (2016).
(Credit: Jessica Southwell for the Coastal Resilience Center)

In a world where disasters have been shown to widen equity gaps, responses to both the climate crisis and the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, equity-based approaches to disaster planning can help ensure that all residents, regardless of socioeconomic factors, can prepare for and recover from disasters. Policymakers now have an opportunity to build equity-based policy strategies through comprehensive planning initiatives and partnerships with community-based organizations and members. The unique insights and perspectives gained through collaboration can provide a mutually beneficial forum where communities can inform policy and policymakers can develop tools informed by community input. These partnerships can provide a framework for responding to climate-related disaster risks while supporting community responses to other disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collaborative community engagement at every stage of the adaptation planning and implementation process is an effective way to ensure that projects and policies create greater health, economic, and housing resilience within a community that is aligned with the values, needs, and experiences of the community. Partnerships with communities that are on the frontlines of climate impacts and social inequities and are also on the frontline of health-related disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic, can provide critical insights about the kinds of disaster response strategies and projects that are more likely to offer multiple co-benefits for the community. A commitment to equity-based disaster preparedness, response, and recovery strategies creates an opportunity to consider those directly and most severely affected by climate change impacts and develop policies and projects that will yield the greatest benefits from implemented solutions. 

Goals for Equitable Disaster Preparedness, Response & Recovery

This chapter describes equitable approaches to enhancing disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, including approaches designed to accomplish the following goals:

  • Involve frontline community members in decisionmaking regarding how to develop and implement disaster preparedness strategies that are aligned with the needs and values of the communityPolicymakers should ensure that frontline communities have access to, and are benefiting from, disaster preparations and that the community is involved in the planning and implementation of resilience initiatives. Community leaders in neighborhoods on the frontlines of climate change often know what problems are specific to their communities, and what types of programs or initiatives may or may not work. Policymakers hoping to develop a successful disaster preparedness, response, or recovery plan would do well to involve community leaders early and often throughout the creation and execution of the program. Doing so will not only help to encourage trust and transparency in the process but will result in a plan that will best help the community during a disaster event. 
  • Minimize the consequences of major disasters for low-income communitiesSince low-income communities are often hit worst, successful disaster preparedness, response, and recovery planning must emphasize mitigating the consequences of major disasters for these neighborhoods. Depending upon the plan and the climate-related events a community may face, minimizing consequences for these communities may include: financial preparedness programs; planting trees or gardens in neighborhoods historically lacking in open spaces and parks; training community leaders on disaster response techniques; educating community members on programs and resources, and more. 
  • Ensure that these communities have access to the resources that allow for a just recoveryCommunities that historically have been hit worst by climate disasters are often those that historically do not have access to the resources that are necessary to recover from a climate disaster. Reasons for disparate impacts on community recovery include lack of political clout and access to information and outreach regarding recovery programs, lack of financial resources, and more. To ensure that frontline communities have access to solutions and resources that assist with recovery, government programs and staff should conduct significant outreach to inform community leaders about the opportunities for recovery assistance. Such programs should also work to ensure that available funding for recovery and rebuilding is sufficient to address the needs of entire communities and that those most in need of assistance can benefit.

This chapter provides case study examples of how cities are advancing equitable disaster preparedness, response, and recovery solutions, including legal and policy considerations that decisionmakers may need to address as they work to advance solutions on the ground. While equity considerations are important to both process and outcomes, climate adaptation solutions do not always follow equitable principles of community engagement. Even in some of the substantive equitable examples cited in this chapter, community engagement is not always as deep or meaningful as it could be. Where possible, this chapter highlights case studies that have adhered to strong community engagement principles or makes suggestions on how a case study could be replicated in a slightly different way to deepen community engagement.


Temperatures are becoming more extreme, precipitation patterns are shifting, and more climate-related disasters like deadly heatwaves and intense hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more intense. The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events have changed the lives of many Americans, and a majority of the population has experienced one form or another of these events directly. Due to the sudden disruption and at times lethal consequences of these disasters local, state, and federal governments across agencies have the opportunity to develop and support ways to prepare to mitigate disaster risk, support response efforts, and promote expedient recovery. It must be considered that traditionally, disaster response and recovery measures flow from the federal and state level down to hard-hit communities.

Extreme weather impacts to one system or sector can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, and housing.See footnote 403 Impacts on these varied systems have an even more detrimental cumulative effect on communities that are already overburdened with social and economic challenges that can reinforce inequalities among vulnerable communities. As cities experience more climate impacts, equity centered decisionmaking processes are more likely to yield effective approaches to disaster resilience while creating the co-benefits of enhancing overall physical, social, economic, and environmental resilience. 

Governments and communities need ways to respond, recover, and prepare to mitigate future risk. Historically, disaster preparedness and response actions have been divided into three main categories or types of actions: 

  • Preparation for and reduction of risks to impacts of disasters; 
  • Containment of the impacts of an event that has occurred to prevent any further loss of life and property and to restore order in its immediate aftermath. The first and immediate response to a disaster is called an emergency response; and
  • Reestablishing normality through reconstruction and rehabilitation beginning shortly thereafter.See footnote 404 

Creating a more resilient community in the face of climate disasters will present legal considerations that must be navigated to ultimately lead to more equitable outcomes. With the effects of disasters being widespread, a key consideration is who has the legal authority to implement disaster response and recovery actions? Given that the nation’s legal system is highly centralized in the federal and state government, local governments and communities should evaluate ways to either work within or across existing systems, or seek to ensure that laws regarding disaster preparedness, response, and recovery are drafted or amended in a way that is more responsive to local, and potentially cross-jurisdictional cooperation needs and priorities. In addition to engaging with community members, policymakers should evaluate opportunities to enhance private sector participation in the planning, funding, and design of resilience projects and policies. The private sector has a key role to play in implementing equitable disaster preparedness and response by creating climate preparedness plans to keep businesses running and stimulating the economy as well as supporting their communities and providing services for disaster preparation and response. Also, the private sector needs to address its own vulnerability and capacity for sustained disaster resiliency in the preparation, response, and recovery stages of disaster events. Last but not least, individuals should also create their own disaster preparedness plans for themselves and their families. Coordinating with neighbors can help create a community-wide plan, which can grow to be both wide-reaching and specific.

Key Players

Enhancing community resilience before, during, and after a disaster event requires significant coordination across jurisdictions, agencies, and levels of government to ensure that resilience projects are implemented at the scale needed to reduce risks effectively. Robust and continuing public participation and engagement can enhance the equitable design of solutions and develop community advocates for resilience initiatives and projects, leading to more robust and enduring outcomes. 

  • Federal government: Disaster response and recovery funding and technical support often flow from the federal level, but local governments are often making on the ground decisions. Among other duties, FEMA is the federal coordinator for operational and logistical disaster response. The agency not only helps communities and officials develop disaster response and hazard mitigation plans but also offers funding for emergency and non-emergency projects.See footnote 405 FEMA provides these types of assistance “to help save and sustain lives, minimize suffering, and protect property in a timely and effective manner in communities that become overwhelmed by disasters.” Other agencies, like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), can be deployed to facilitate different duties related to a disaster, including providing other forms of on-the-ground response support for states and communities and awarding post-disaster recovery funding that can supplement potential funds from FEMA.
  • State hazard mitigation program (State Hazard Mitigation Officer): State hazard mitigation programs, which are led by a state-designated Hazard Mitigation Officer or “SHMO,” are the lead state agency for coordinating disaster-related activities, including the approval of hazard mitigation plans and applications for pre- and post-disaster funding. Much of this funding comes from Federal programs but is administered by the state (or in some cases, such as HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery program, by municipalities). 
  • Local governments: With the support of the federal and state government, local governments are often making on the ground decisions in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Local governments are much closer to the public and to the issues frontline communities face when climate disasters occur. They also have a better sense of the community leaders who should be involved in the development of disaster preparedness, response, or recovery plans that are tailored to the local community’s circumstances and immediate needs. State and federal programs are often focused on longer-term, more comprehensive projects.
  • Local businesses: Climate-related disaster events can substantially reduce economic activity and when local businesses are shut down or suffering due to a disaster, it is harder for a community to recover. Additionally, local business owners are often community leaders who can have a significant impact on how the community responds to disasters because they are known and trusted within the community and are more likely to know exactly what those experiencing the disaster first-hand need. As a result, it is crucial to involve local business owners in the planning process for a disaster preparedness, recovery, or response program. Local businesses may also represent a private funding resource for disaster preparedness or response and recovery projects. Another angle is that investment in disaster preparation and response can be directed to community businesses, which can strengthen them. Ultimately, local community leads, specifically business leaders, can be critical in creating a “culture of resilience” at the community level.
  • Nonprofits and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): Nonprofits often represent a great source of funding and other support for communities looking to implement recovery or resilience/preparedness projects. Additionally, nonprofits can offer insight into the community and its needs. When disasters strike, local churches or other places of worship are among the first groups of people on the ground helping communities. And long after disaster relief agencies and organizations leave, these places of worship and other community groups often play a critical role in helping to address their community’s needs through food banks, emergency assistance associations, or providing meeting places. In addition to local nonprofits, national NGOs typically provide funding and technical support to address a social or political issue in a community. Policymakers can partner with nonprofits that focus on addressing and correcting historical inequities, help to fund disaster recovery or the development of disaster plans and provide other resources that are necessary to create equitable preparedness, response, and recovery plans.
  • Community-based organizations and community members: These are the groups and individuals on the ground who know the most about the specific problems each frontline community faces when a disaster hits. They will also be well-versed on what community members will need to prepare, respond, and recover from local disasters. In many instances, government agencies are not highly trusted in the communities where assistance is needed the most. Community-based organizations and community leaders can act as intermediaries between the community and the government, and ensure that transparency exists in the creation and implementation of any project or plan.

Policy Considerations and Tools

This chapter explores the following policy considerations and tools that cities are using to enhance disaster resilience and equity by engaging their communities and sharing control with community stakeholders in these decisionmaking processes:

  • Planning ToolsAs frontline communities are usually hardest hit by climate impacts, creating proactive disaster preparedness plans — with input from the community — can help mitigate at least some adverse consequences. The scale and scope of planning tools or resources can vary at the state or regional or community-specific levels. 
  • Equitable Opportunities for Relocation in Response to DisastersProactive planning for the potential outcome of displacement after a disaster can lead to more favorable and equitable outcomes for communities involved. Relocation initiatives can include government-funded buyouts, relocation assistance, and more. Regardless of what relocation tool is used, those implementing the program must collaborate directly with community members and ensure transparency and public engagement throughout the process. 
  • Supporting the Development of Resilience Hubs Clean-energy powered “Resilience Hubs” with battery storage can provide critical emergency response services in areas with higher socioeconomic risk, while also providing broader grid modernization benefits. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) defines resilience hubs as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a natural hazard event” and has stated that they are designed to “reduce the burden on local emergency response teams, improve access to emergency services, foster greater community cohesion, and increase the effectiveness of community-centered institutions and programs.”See footnote 406
  • Equitable Disaster Recovery ToolsResponse, recovery, and rebuilding efforts centered on frontline communities after climate-accelerated disasters. When there is a climate disaster, equitable disaster recovery tools support climate-vulnerable communities to rebuild around the visions and needs of the most severely affected, while increasing agency and governance so that they can be better positioned than they were before the disaster. 
  • Funding Tools: Sustainable Sources and Increased AccessThe tools outlined above require funding for their development and implementation. Funding can come from many sources, including federal grants, state and local investments, private and nonprofit programs, and more. Additionally, other programs exist that can help individuals financially prepare for disaster events so that they are better situated to recover quickly after an event occurs.


Disaster Preparedness Planning Tools

Planning through the creation of a regional, city, or community-scale disaster preparedness document is one way to ensure that equity is a focus of how cities are preparing for disasters. A disaster preparedness plan is one that includes measures that anticipate and, where possible, mitigate their impact on vulnerable populations, and respond to and effectively cope with their consequences. This section includes examples of local and community-driven plans that address equity in making decisions about disaster preparedness solutions to climate threats. Truly equitable approaches can be developed through diverse and inclusive planning processes. This section also highlights examples of these processes, and how planners are engaging with communities in the design and development of plans. Community-driven plans can ensure that residents have an influence in determining how disaster preparedness solutions are deployed in their communities. This section also includes tools to help planners consider socioeconomic and other risk factors when developing plans and identifying potential high-risk communities. When planning for those that are the most vulnerable in disasters, practitioners must always consider compounding risks factors like how the solutions may be affected and be especially challenging in an era of a health pandemic like COVID-19 because solutions often call for people to come together for shelter/food/water, evacuations, etc. “Double disasters” have become more apparent and creative solutions will be ever-evolving with time. 

Considerations of Planning Tools for Disaster Preparedness


  • Plans and community planning processes may require significant government funding and staff resources. Governments should evaluate potential funding options for planning and potential project implementation. Public-private partnerships can also provide funding and other types of support.
  • Planning for climate disasters can mitigate economic losses.
  • Governments and communities should think about opportunities to make plans living and useful documents, including by allocating funding for or creating partnerships to implement priority projects included in plans. 


  • Disaster events such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, heatwaves, and wildfires are forecasted to become more frequent and intense and thus, more deadly and destructive over time. 
  • To deal with some of these disaster events, plans can either address specific issues, such as urban heat, or can address climate impacts in general, like sea-level rise, etc.
  • Planning can provide an opportunity to create environmental co-benefits that work towards several areas of climate change impacts.


  • Input from the community on plans can help mitigate some adverse consequences for communities that are experiencing the worst effects. 
  • Input from the community can allow plans to address the issues that are most important and that directly affect the lives of those on the frontlines of climate change.


  • There is a need for coordination across the various government agencies that may be involved in developing and implementing plans to mitigate the impacts of climate disasters, which can include the involvement of local governments, small businesses, individuals, etc. in the process. 


  • Those tasked with planning often do not have the authority to implement these strategies. Local governments and individuals can benefit from legal expertise to inform the drafting of ordinances or provisions to overcome the legal barriers to implement suggestions.
  • Some plans must be approved by certain agencies and follow existing guidelines to receive federal disaster-related assistance. 
  • Different legal tools and strategies, like buyouts and stimulus mechanisms, can be built into plans to streamline disaster response and recovery.

Lessons Learned

  • Community-based groups should be involved with the creation of these proactive plans from the beginning of the process to develop a successful plan for those directly affected. There is often distrust between frontline communities and the government/agencies that implement preparedness plans. Conducting significant outreach and making sure community leaders are involved can reassure the community that their interests are being considered and that there is accountability and transparency built into the process of developing a preparedness plan.
  • Community members and government agencies can form partnerships to effectively move plans into implementation phases to create change. This will require ongoing opportunities for community input and support from planning staff. This can also help to reassure communities who have been let down in the past that their input has been valuable and is leading to better preparedness in the face of climate events. To ensure that this implementation occurs, plans can include benchmark projects or create some sort of accountability mechanism to track the execution of the plan.
  • To leverage more funding opportunities, disaster preparedness plans can incorporate other environmental co-benefits in planning for climate disasters. Various opportunities for funding exist from nonprofits, the federal government, and private businesses to advance environmental initiatives such as installing renewable energy solutions.
  • The creation of disaster preparedness plans may have an upfront cost. Still, these costs are vastly outweighed by the economic devastation to individuals within a community, the businesses that are not prepared for a disaster, and the resulting fiscal impact of reduced tax revenue. Conducting education and outreach regarding the amount of money that can be saved by developing and implementing a robust disaster preparedness plan can help to encourage their creation. 


Equitable Opportunities for Relocation in Response to Disasters

Given the growing threat of impacts from climate change, like sea-level rise, wildfires, and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, communities are increasingly confronting difficult questions regarding how to address risks to existing residents. Relocation should be considered for those low-lying communities located along the ocean, Gulf, or along tidal waterbodies or those frequently flooded along riverbanks as well as communities hit hard and repeatedly by major hurricanes or wildfires. In order for relocation through “managed retreat” to be equitable, residents should have the opportunity to be a part of planning for their own relocation. Those who are in “receiving communities” should also be engaged in conversations about the effects of relocation of others into their communities through gentrification and other efforts. To address these emerging challenges, state and local governments are beginning to consider and implement responses to threats that help move communities out of harm’s way where other adaptation strategies are not an option and where communities are supportive of relocation measures.

While difficult legally, physically, culturally, and emotionally, there are multiple ways people may leave their communities behind. One common way in a post-disaster context is through a buyout program. A buyout is defined as the set of actions whereby a government generally purchases a property, demolishes existing structures on the property, and prohibits future development (e.g., through deed restrictions or a conservation easement), and allows the property to naturally revert to open space (or be restored to specific environmental conditions depending on varying degrees of human intervention) in perpetuity. While buyouts can have benefits for communities and individuals in harm’s way, there are also ways they, and post-disaster relocations generally, can be made more equitable. Since buyouts are a common and frequently used tool, they are discussed further in the table below.

This section includes examples of how to ensure an equitable approach to relocation in response to disasters. To implement equitable relocation, policymakers will need to develop strategies in collaboration with the communities affected by recurring climate-related impacts to help residents relocate to safer locations in ways that maintain meaningful social connections and provide needed services, housing, and jobs. On the other hand, many marginalized communities, often relegated to areas once deemed undesirable decades ago through policies like redlining, are now being displaced from their communities as environmental amenities like natural resilience features and higher ground are being sought after by wealthier new neighbors. No community should be unfairly and involuntarily displaced by climate disasters or by environmental projects, and creating equitable opportunities for informed, transparent, and collaborative relocation should consider both of these scenarios: The need for support for the safe relocation of low-income individuals and vulnerable communities and the implications of gentrification in relatively safer locations due to in-migration driven by climate impacts. 

Considerations of Equitable Opportunities for Relocation in Response to Disasters


  • Disaster prone areas may begin to experience an exodus of investment as investors begin to see the risk of loss in certain communities.
  • Market forces drive gentrification and often leave frontline communities behind when it comes to reaping benefits. 
  • Funding for buyout programs is often only available in a post-disaster context. 
  • There is a need for more types of sustainable funding sources for disaster recovery efforts through state, local, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) to facilitate better transitions for people. 
  • Making relocations more equitable can be extremely expensive, so it will be essential to leverage funding from a variety of different sectors. 
  • Returning a disaster-prone area to nature via a buyout can create park and recreation opportunities for a community, and support more natural ecosystem resilience. There may be funding opportunities available to return the land to its original natural state. 
  • Governments should provide support for buyout participants to help them move to more resilient and safer areas that meet their individual needs.


  • Governments administering buyout programs can restore natural environments in buyout areas, which can help to build natural resilience. Constructing green infrastructure projects including “living shorelines” can help to buffer communities from sea-level rise and climate events such as hurricanes. 
  • Developing receiving communities with amenities like public open spaces and natural infrastructure can help to ensure that communities are better off/safer in new locations.


  • Equitable relocation programs should be focused primarily on frontline communities that are disproportionately affected by disaster events. 
  • Communities disproportionately burdened by climate gentrification should be offered first priority to remain rooted in their communities with affordable housing options
  • The heart of successful buyout and relocation programs is that they are built from the ground up, and start with the community itself asking for assistance.
  • The community should be involved in the design of relocation programs and the consideration of alternatives before a buyout is even offered as a solution to a resident who has a choice of whether to participate in a buyout or not.
  • It will be important for any individual who chooses to relocate to be provided with opportunities to ensure a more equitable transition to ideally a more resilient community and home.


  • Buyout programs can be complex, especially when they involve mass buyouts of entire communities. 
  • Communities should decide together that they are willing to relocate. 
  • Receiving communities should be carefully planned to meet the many needs of the relocated community members.
  • Government agencies and policymakers can act as funders and facilitators of the relocation process, allowing community members to guide their own terms and participation in a buyout program. 
  • After relocation, local municipalities and agencies will likely need to work with nonprofits, businesses, etc. to ensure that the natural environment is restored, monitored, and utilized in a way that acts as an amenity, e.g., a stormwater management solution.


  • Local governments need tools that help them evaluate risks and develop legally viable approaches.
  • These programs should be voluntary. Offering incentives and support is the only equitable way to implement a buyout or relocation program. 

Lessons Learned

  • Forced relocation is not a good or fair option and proactive planning for risks with community input will help to ensure that forced relocation is not the result.
  • Larger scale buyouts present better opportunities for environmental restoration and associated community benefits. Where multiple homeowners or entire neighborhoods are interested in relocating together or through phased buyout processes, multiple, rather than single buyouts can help maximize these benefits and avoid checkerboarding.
  • Policymakers implementing a buyout or relocation effort must involve the community early and often throughout the process, ideally before a disaster strikes. Communities are much less likely to be willing to relocate if the government demands or requires that they do so. When a buyout program begins from the ground up, and policymakers are involved as facilitators, people become more open to the idea of relocating together. 
  • In practice, buyout or relocation programs usually occur after a disaster event has hit a particular community. Policymakers hoping to implement a relocation or buyout program need to conduct outreach and educational efforts to inform community members before an event of the risks that they face based on where they live, and the benefits of relocating to a more environmentally resilient and safe area.


Supporting the Development of Resilience Hubs

Clean-energy powered “resilience hubs” with battery storage can provide critical emergency response services in areas with greater socioeconomic risk, while also providing broader grid modernization benefits. Resilience Hubs are defined by USDN as “community-serving facilities augmented to support residents and coordinate resource distribution and services before, during, or after a natural hazard event.”See footnote 407 At a minimum, a resilience hub should be able to provide emergency services during extreme events — including offering the community a place to gather to obtain information, receive emergency supplies, store and refrigerate medical supplies, receive basic medical care, charge electronic devices, and access the internet.See footnote 408 In addition, resilience hubs are designed to deliver other “steady-state” services based upon community input and needs. The resilience hub is outfitted with a solar and back-up battery storage system (energy system) that can “island” from the conventional grid and maintain power to the facility during wider grid outages to provide steady-state services.See footnote 409 Resilience hubs must be carefully sited to consider proper interconnection to the existing macrogrid and to serve the best interest of the community. Another important consideration is identifying potential facilities that will house a resilience hub. The funding, owning, and operating of a resilience hub will likely involve various entities, agencies, and partnerships, which may lead to a complex system of agreements between involved parties.

Considerations of Supporting the Development of Resilience Hubs


  • Battery storage is the costliest and the most essential component of a resilience hub. Acquiring battery storage is critical to ensuring steady-state energy to avoid economic losses and provide critical emergency services during power outages.
  • Public-private partnerships with utilities could be arranged where the utility leases back the right to use the battery storage during normal operations to enhance grid resilience community-wide. Such a partnership could deliver financial benefits to the resilience hub operator or provide a mechanism to finance the installation of the battery system.
  • A solar and storage system might not appear to be economical under traditional cost-benefit calculations, but improvements are being made to these methodologies to better capture the resilience and environmental value of solar and storage systems, which can help make the fiscal case for these types of investments.


  • When powered by renewable sources, resilience hubs can deliver environmental benefits by enhancing clean energy solutions. 
  • Battery storage can also help to expand the capacity of the grid to better integrate renewable energy sources, which can contribute to reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Social /Equity

  • In addition to being designed and managed by the community, hubs are meant to be in well-trusted, well-utilized community facilities that serve the needs of the community more broadly than temporary emergency shelters do.
  • Hubs can also enhance social cohesion because they can be designed to serve as community gathering places and “community centers” where residents can access information and services.


  • Resilience hubs are innovative and can be technically difficult to administer because they often require multiple funding streams and coordination among public agencies and the private owner or operator to establish and retrofit a facility to serve as a hub.
  • In addition to the upfront work needed to establish a hub, the parties need to develop long-term deployment plans and sustainable funding sources for activating this hub during emergency events.


  • Resilience hubs that are implemented in a single facility are often not subject to regulation as a microgrid, so likely, they would only need to comply with local rules regarding interconnection and islanding.
  • An agreement between government agencies and hub owners/operators will likely be required to lay out roles and obligations for activating the hub during emergencies and long-term hub operations and maintenance.

Lessons Learned

  • Recognizing there is no one size fits all approach to establishing a resilience hub, partners should remember the core purpose and definition of what a resilience hub is and who it is to serve outside of the technical and physical aspects of the hub itself.
  • When powered by renewable sources, resilience hubs can deliver environmental benefits by enhancing clean energy solutions and reducing the community’s carbon footprint.
  • If the community is not directly involved as a party to the design of the resilience hub, the facility does not qualify as such.
  • In addition to the upfront work needed to establish a hub, the parties need to develop long-term deployment plans and sustainable funding sources for activating the hub during emergency events.
  • Government agencies and hub owners/operators will likely need an agreement to define the roles and obligations for activating the hub during emergencies and maintaining long-term hub operation.


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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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 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.


Funding: Sustainable Sources and Increased Access

In all the case studies discussed, policymakers and community members have leveraged a variety of different funding resources to develop and implement disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Included among these resources are funds from: the federal government, state government, nonprofits, private businesses, local governments, and more. It is important that all those involved in developing a community’s disaster resilience take advantage of all the funding opportunities that may be available to frontline communities. In addition, in order to facilitate increased access to resources that help communities recover, individual community members should be prepared to the extent possible, to access funds in the event of a disaster. Outside of the technical support needed to access available funds, having individual savings that are set aside specifically to respond to these types of events can better allow families to rebound and recover from disaster events even though this is not likely for frontline community members who do not have financial cushions or flexible budgets. Many of these case studies identify funds from a variety of different sources that can be leveraged by affected communities and individuals in order to make ends meet, so that equitable preparedness, response, and recovery goals are realized. 

Lessons Learned

  • Disaster funds need to be flexible to fit the needs of various communities and circumstances and to address the specific needs of frontline communities.
  • Public-private partnerships are an innovative source of funding and should be sought out when looking to finance disaster resilience. 
  • Disaster planning often creates economic benefit for partners involved, which often incentivizes investments in these types of projects and can be used as a bartering tool.


Public Health


A toddler sits on an examination table held by a smiling woman while a medical professional prepares to perform a checkup.
"Pediatric nurse from NYC Health + Hospitals/Gotham Health, Belvis in the Bronx helps make checkups fun for her littlest patients." (Source: NYC Health + Hospitals)

Climate change is a complex and multisectoral issue. Generally seen primarily as an environmental problem with environmental impacts, climate change has serious effects on population and individual health as well. Climate change impacts will include acute events like disease outbreaks from increases in range and prevalence of disease vectors (e.g., mosquitos, among others), as well as slower-developing events like higher everyday temperatures, stressing frontline people like the elderly, young children, and residents of low-income communities and communities of color.See footnote 410 Multiple response strategies will therefore be necessary to respond to those events. Both traditional public health emergency response strategies and longer-term planning, built environment, and disease surveillance strategies across multiple jurisdictions will need to be put into place to be prepared for climate effects.

Compounding the breadth of climate effects on health is the fact that climate impacts both exacerbate existing problems and create novel problems that public health in the United States may not be well equipped to handle. Climate change impacts will intensify existing health conditions in frontline communities such as asthma (due to worsening air quality), but will also present new challenges such as unfamiliar (to the United States) new vector-borne diseases like dengue fever.See footnote 411 State and local public health agencies, governments at the state, local, and tribal levels, community-based organizations, and advocates will need to prepare for both higher incidences of existing diseases and for new problems they may currently lack information and training to address.See footnote 412 

Public health effects of climate change do not affect all people or communities in the same ways or to the same degree. Pre-existing racial and income disparities are compounded by these effects: For example, lack of access to air-conditioning in many low-income communities compounds with higher temperatures in those communities due to lack of tree canopy and high concentrations of concrete to put residents at risk of heat stress and even death.See footnote 413 Frontline communities also often have disproportionate lack of access to resources to adapt, including not having regular preventive health visits and therefore poorer overall health in the first place.See footnote 414 

Despite awareness of the disparities and inequities of climate impacts on frontline communities, public health and climate projects do not always follow principles of community engagement. Even in some of the substantively equitable examples cited in this chapter (i.e., outcomes are more equitable than a one-size-fits-all policy), community engagement is not always as deep or meaningful as it can be. Where possible, we have highlighted case studies with strong community engagement practices or made suggestions on how a case study could be replicated in a slightly different way, taking an innovative idea and deepening the strength of the community engagement. Centering the community being served should continue to be in the forefront while keeping the core public health principle of protecting the health of all people and communities.



Two young boys play outside in a splash park in Philadelphia. They are wearing shorts, t-shirts, water shoes and cloth masks that cover their noses and mouths. They are running through two small jets of water shooting up from the ground.
Children cool off at a city 'sprayground' splash park in Philadelphia. (Source: City of Philadelphia)

The impacts of climate change do not affect everyone equally. Heat, for example, is generally more severe in low-income urban neighborhoods and interacts with pre-existing health disparities such as asthma to produce worse health outcomes for residents.See footnote 415 Underlying disparities in access to healthcare compound those disparities in the social determinants of health such as housing or public safety to yield significantly worse health outcomes in frontline communities.See footnote 416 

In addition, some individuals and communities are uniquely exposed to particular impacts. The elderly, young children, and those with chronic diseases can be more endangered by climate change impacts such as extreme heat on an individual basis. Children and the elderly do not regulate their body temperatures as easily as adults do, leaving them particularly at risk for heat-related illness.See footnote 417 Any public health approach to adapting to climate impacts must prioritize and engage frontline communities and pay particular attention to disadvantaged populations in order to achieve equitable outcomes.

Against the backdrop of these long-entrenched inequalities, solutions to the physical and public health problems should be targeted with an equity lens if they are not to exacerbate those existing disparities. Solutions identified in other chapters of this toolkit (cross-link to affordable housing, etc.), if pursued with the equity lens shown here, will improve health outcomes even though they are not health-specific policies. Further, efforts to incentivize beneficial private behavior such as tax incentives and rebates supporting investment in green and cool infrastructure can often benefit higher-income neighborhoods with greater familiarity with government systems and the ability to take advantage of government programs unless they are carefully crafted.

Because the ability to achieve good health is influenced by social determinants such as the built environment and land use, and because public health agencies only have authority over a fraction of the tools below, collaboration is critical to success in equitably protecting the public’s health from climate effects. Public health agencies will need to collaborate closely with a multitude of other agenciesSee footnote 418 (planning, transportation, public works, etc.) as well as nearby jurisdictions, federal and state agencies, and community-based organizations. While this level of collaboration by definition makes creating solutions more complex, it should create better health outcomes for all by ensuring that all partners are working towards the same goals.

Key Actors

Public health agencies and systems at the national, state, tribal, and local levels should be key partners in adapting to climate effects if the health of communities is to be protected. They will not, however, be able to protect the public’s health by themselves. As discussed above, public health agencies do not oversee all of the tools that are effective in adapting to the health effects of climate change, and therefore other key actors will be necessary as well. Coordinating efforts among disparate agencies at (in some cases) multiple levels of government can be extremely challenging, in addition to coordinating programs with the public health agency or others. Fully integrating the participation of community members and community-based organizations into public health efforts will help to ensure that solutions will actually work well in the communities they are intended to support.

Public Health Agencies have authority over traditional public health tools, such as disease surveillance and public health planning, and have the expertise necessary to bring a health equity lens to climate and other local government processes, ensuring that strategies are fully realizing the potential health equity gains.

Local Government Agencies (besides public health agencies) have authority over transportation, land use, the majority of streets, tree canopy, and other built environment tools, all of which have a significant impact on health outcomes.

Community-based Organizations including faith-based organizations, nonprofits, community development organizations, senior programs, and schools can be key partners in bringing their expertise of neighborhoods and the people who live and work there, increasing agencies’ effectiveness and reach. The involvement of community-based organizations throughout the planning processes, not just in the implementation phases, can also help to design programs that fully integrate both the community’s unique challenges and its strengths.

Policy Tools

This chapter describes equitable approaches to enhancing public health while centering equity, including those to prepare for and respond to both acute and longer-term public health effects. Excellent resources exist already creating a comprehensive set of equitable health responses to climate change; this chapter does not attempt to duplicate those efforts.See footnote 419 Instead, this particular chapter attempts to focus on the legal and policy tools available for creating equitable climate and health solutions, giving brief examples of several types. These tools can be used by public health agencies directly or in collaboration with partner agencies. Community-based organizations and advocates can use this chapter as a menu of actions to lobby local governments for, or in some cases, to manage themselves. A range of tools exists to achieve these goals, including (1) planning tools; (2) traditional public health tools; and (3) built environment tools. A discussion of the ways to pay for these efforts is also included.

Public Health Planning Tools

For purposes of this chapter, planning tools come in two different types. First, public health agencies can address climate and health challenges through engaging in their own planning processes, designed to identify populations and communities that are on the front line of climate impacts and most in need of interventions, in order to ensure that any strategies employed are equitable both in outcomes and in process. This type of planning can consist of literally mapping a community’s sensitivities to climate change, using physical data such as temperatures; demographic data including age, income level, and race; and health data including rates of chronic diseases.See footnote 420 By mapping this data, local communities can identify the frontline communities for various health impacts and better target efforts to ensure equitable outcomes. These public health planning tools are discussed in more detail in the Public Health Tools section of this chapter. Community-based organizations can participate in or even lead these processes, given that many of those organizations are already well familiar with which community members are most disadvantaged.

Second, public health agencies and advocates can participate in planning processes that other agencies are managing: for example, comprehensive planning and transportation planning, among others. Bringing a public health perspective to those planning processes helps to ensure that the health consequences are fully integrated into decisionmaking and that equity is fully incorporated in addition to the primary mission of that agency.See footnote 421 Health impact assessments (HIAs) are a key tool for public health agencies to participate in other agencies’ planning processes. HIAs allow a community to fully assess the impacts of a particular built environment project on the health of the people living and working in the project’s neighborhood and surrounding area, as well as to recommend changes to that project in order to minimize negative health impacts and maximize positive health impacts.See footnote 422 Oregon Health Authority’s HIA, discussed below, enabled the agency to identify the positive climate and health effects of a particular transportation project and even to quantify the positive health effects that would result from increased active transportation capacity, for example.See footnote 423 This analysis can help make the case to spend infrastructure or other funds in a climate-smart way and ensure that frontline communities achieve better health outcomes. Fully engaging communities in those planning processes also ensures that the entire project, from concept to design to construction and beyond, fully considers community priorities and knowledge, strengthening the end result.

Public health agencies’ coordinating with other agencies to consider health outcomes can be both time-consuming and challenging. Partner agencies may sometimes be reluctant to engage in a process that may add planning time to an already lengthy review and approval process, and agencies can sometimes be uncomfortable with intrusions into areas that are under their jurisdiction. Both agencies will need to adjust to the sometimes-increased time that full community engagement takes. In places where those barriers have been overcome, however, by developing common goals to work toward, ultimately taking the public health equity perspective can result in both better health outcomes and in strong and more enduring support for climate-beneficial policies such as active transportation or clean energy.

Considerations of Planning Tools for Public Health


  • Planning tools like HIAs can incorporate broader economic considerations such as positive health effects into planning processes, improving many climate-smart projects’ cost-benefit analyses, and allowing jurisdictions to justify the added costs of climate-smart practices.


  • Planning tools can help to build support for climate-smart policies by, for example, incorporating positive health effects into the cost-benefit analysis of those policies, which can cost incrementally more than traditional practices.


  • Planning tools give health agencies an opportunity to bring a frontline community and equity focus to processes that can be heavily focused on engineering and physical impacts.
  • Health impact assessments, in particular, are designed to protect the health of a jurisdiction’s most disadvantaged residents and populations and to make recommendations to increase health equity.See footnote 424 


  • Incorporating health impacts can increase the amount of time taken to approve a project, but can increase its effectiveness and positive impacts.
  • Public health agencies in most places do not have direct decisionmaking authority over built environment planning and construction projects. They must, therefore, engage those partner agencies to bring a critical public health and equity lens to that planning process.


  • Planning tools such as HIAs do not require legal authorization to be used.
  • Several states and local jurisdictions, however, require their use.See footnote 425

Lessons Learned

  • Regional collaboration, in addition to collaboration across sectors, can increase capacity and increase the reach of a particular policy or strategy.
  • By incorporating health effects as well as traditional environmental and climate impacts, more-expensive practices can have a more positive cost-benefit balance than they would otherwise, increasing the likelihood that those practices will be accepted.


Public Health Tools

Public health agencies and community-based organizations working on climate change are preparing for and responding to climate impacts to public health while ensuring their communities’ most frontline residents and neighborhoods are fully protected. Public health agencies’ powers in non-emergency situations traditionally focus on roles such as investigating health hazards, educating the public, mobilizing community partnerships, developing policies and plans to support individual and health efforts, and enforcing health laws and regulations.See footnote 426 Several of these public health roles easily translate to the climate change context, simply used in new ways and thinking prospectively instead of looking at past conditions.See footnote 427 The following public health tools have already been adapted to confront climate impacts.

Mobilizing community partnerships

A medical professional wears a medical mask, face shield, and protective scrubs while taking a blood sample from a young woman with her arm extended, seated, also wearing a medical mask.
COVID-19 anti-body testing in New York City
(Source: NYC Health + Hospitals)

Public health departments have broad authority to carry out their responsibilities. They have important pre-existing priorities, however, such as gun violence or managing opioid addiction, and new and quick-developing crises such as COVID-19. They also tend to have extremely limited funding, which makes taking on a complex issue like climate change challenging.See footnote 428 They work best in many cases in partnership with community-based organizations such as churches and other faith-based organizations, local organizations on aging, and others, who may add more capacity for on-the-ground work and who may have deep knowledge of people in the neighborhood that city governments may lack. Without this deep knowledge, equitable adaptation is unlikely to be as successful at the individual or family level. Community-based organizations in many cases may already be undertaking efforts that local agencies should be careful to take into account and build upon when designing new interventions.

Disease surveillance and public education

Disease surveillance and public education are at the heart of public health. Intended to track changes in disease burdens in order to contain and, ideally, prevent disease, surveillance can assist local agencies in deciding which other powers are necessary to invoke (e.g., vector control, public education, enforcing public health laws, etc.). As climate change transforms the diseases our system has to handle as well as the incidence of those diseases, surveillance is a key step in identifying problems while they are small.See footnote 429 Public education, similarly, of both the general public in the literal sense but also healthcare professionals who may not be familiar with new diseases, or with the particular populations who may be most susceptible to those diseases, can make our healthcare system more resilient and prepared for climate effects and to respond equitably to those effects.See footnote 430 

Building community capacity

In a similar vein to engaging with community partners, public health agencies have a vested interest in building community capacity to respond by increasing resilience and training local leaders to help manage climate impacts.See footnote 431 Community-based organizations are filling this role in some places; public health departments would be smart to coordinate and cooperate. Engaging local communities and building that capacity, in turn, helps local departments understand community problems and strengths in a deeper way, informing policy decisions and programs put in place by the department and helping to keep equity at the forefront of those programs.

Considerations of Public Health Tools


  • Public health funding tends to be extremely limited and often earmarked for particular purposes (e.g. disease-specific programs for hypertension or heart disease).See footnote 432 


  • Some public health tools can have environmental co-benefits as well. For example, controlling disease vectors like mosquitos can also protect wildlife that might be prone to diseases carried by those vectors.See footnote 433 


  • Public health practice is always to focus on specific vulnerabilities, meaning that public health tools will almost always focus more attention on populations that are at higher risk. Incorporating climate risks to look prospectively at how risks are anticipated to change in the future may change the specifics of who is on the front line of the phenomenon.


  • Public health agencies often have competing priorities depending on national trends and local conditions. As responders to public health crises of all kinds, public health departments may have top priorities already including gun violence, opioid addiction, or infectious disease control that may make climate change seem like competition for staff time and funding.
  • Public health workers may also not be well trained in environmental health, much less climate change; additional training and continuing education may be necessary for staff to have the necessary skills and knowledge to respond constructively.


  • Public health agencies in most locations have broad authority to use their essential public health tools in the ways that they see fit.

Lessons Learned

  • The most successful projects are those done by government and community-based organizations together. The collaborations bring a terrific combination of resources, knowledge, and reach into communities.
  • Many projects are multi-faceted, combining direct services with leadership training, or emergency response measures and built-environment measures together. These projects recognize both short-and long-term needs and increase resilience over the longer term.


Built Environment Public Health Tools

The built environment is an important source of some of the social determinants of health, including housing, clean air and water, and cooler temperatures.See footnote 434 Public health departments have a keen interest in those social determinants, but often relatively little authority over them. Some of the planning tools, above, can help with integrating public health priorities into housing, transportation, and other plans, but implementation is key for ensuring equitable distribution of resources among neighborhoods and residents.

This section focuses on implementation, particularly equitable implementation of built environment tools such as tree planting, stormwater harvesting, and cool roof incentives. Cities must figure out how to not only implement climate- and health-smart policies, but also ensure that the effects are equitably distributed. Particularly with incentive-based programs such as rebates or giveaways that are given out on a first-come, first-serve basis, low-income residents often are not the first to the table and are therefore less able to take advantage of those programs. Rebates can be particularly hard to make equitable because property owners must have the money for an upfront investment, making them sometimes inaccessible for low-income residents.See footnote 435 The case studies below describe several programs that devised strategies to reverse that usual trend and get more resources into the communities with the most need.

Considerations of Built Environment Tools


  • Tree planting, cool surfaces, and other built environment interventions often have energy efficiency benefits in addition to adaptation and health benefits.See footnote 436 
  • These cost savings can help to make the case for paying the cost of the interventions themselves.


  • Many built environment tools that cool cities, improve air quality, and manage stormwater have both health and environmental benefits.
  • While health departments tend to focus on the health benefits first and environmental second, other departments may think about the same strategies in the opposite order.
  • Partners may need to be willing to speak one another’s language in order to work together effectively.


  • Built environment tools that give incentives to private property owners to make changes must be carefully implemented to ensure that frontline communities know about the incentives and are fully able to participate.
  • These built environment improvements can also, of course, worsen gentrification and increase rents/property taxes.See footnote 437 


  • Health departments have little authority over these tools in most places and will need to find willing partners to work together, and should ensure that those partners keep a health and equity lens on the work instead of just focusing on the engineering pieces of it.


  • Local governments generally have authority over their own buildings and rights of way, including streets. In order to effect change on private property, they will need instead to require action (for example, through building or zoning code changes) or incentivize action through financial or other means.
  • Not all local governments have authority over their own building and zoning codes, and action can be politically tricky; many local governments start instead with voluntary, incentive-based programs.

Lessons Learned

  • Zero-interest loans and grants can be a good way to get capital for projects to low-income residents, especially when given according to community priorities following community engagement
  • Incentive-based programs can be targeted to areas of highest need, rather than being first-come, first-serve across the jurisdiction. Data is necessary ahead of time to identify those areas clearly.


Public Health Funding Opportunities

Depending upon which options municipalities, business owners, or individuals implement or take in an effort to address public health inequities of climate change, various financing or funding options may be made available. These sources can come from a variety of places, including the federal government, nonprofits, private businesses, local governments, and more. It is important that all those involved in developing a community’s resilience take advantage of all the funding opportunities that may be available. 

Federal Funding

In the past, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given state and local health departments grants for climate readiness through the Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative.See footnote 438 Sixteen states and cities received funding for public health planning, strategy, and implementation.See footnote 439 Jurisdictions used the funding to assess where resources are lacking, support preparedness at the local level with toolkits, educate healthcare providers, and many other activities.See footnote 440 As of the time of this toolkit’s publication, the program has not recently been funded. For the built environment and planning tools, however, other funding streams may be available from EPA or other agencies. An exploration of some of those funding streams is available in the Federal Funding Compendium for Urban Heat Adaptation and in the funding chapter of the Green Infrastructure Toolkit.See footnote 441 

State and Local Funding

General public health funding is available for the public health tools, and other state and local funding sources may work for some of the planning and built environment tools as well. For example, the Louisville cool roof rebate was funded in part by the Office of Sustainability’s partnership with their local energy utility. Similarly, state and local transportation, stormwater management, and similar funding may be available to serve multiple purposes.

Private and Foundation Grants

For smaller-scale efforts, foundation or other private grants may be possible to support specific projects. For example, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded at least one of the Oregon HIAs, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported Resilient Baton Rouge.


Financing & Funding Tools: Paying for Equitable Adaptation


Events related to climate change, including, flooding, heat waves, and drought, can damage homes, displace communities, reduce water availability, impact public health, and lead to other known and not-yet-known impacts. In the United States, research indicates that such events disproportionately affect people of color and people with low incomes.See footnote 442 These groups often have a heightened degree of exposure to impacts and limited capacity to minimize and respond to them. Low-income individuals and families, for instance, are more likely to live in homes without air conditioning and sufficient insulation to keep cool, and, as climate change causes more frequent and extreme heatwaves, these households are at an increased risk of heat stress illnesses, such as heat stroke.See footnote 443 

A single-story brick house with a red sign on the front lawn that reads in white lettering: "This new roof paid for by my insurance savings. Visit mystronghome . net to find out how. 800-804-0410."
(Source: MyStrongHome)

Communities and people of color face disproportionate challenges from climate change impacts due to historic and ongoing injustices. These injustices include, for example: restricted access to credit and homeownership; inadequate government and private investment in low-income areas; discriminatory development-related decisionmaking and policy processes that have enabled industrial development and related pollution in close proximity to these communities; and the physical fragmentation and disruption of community cohesion via historic federal funding of infrastructure, (e.g., the interstate highway system).See footnote 444 

Given this reality, funding and financing strategies for adaptation and resilience projects should evaluate equity — attention to disadvantages and injustices — as an underlying principle.See footnote 445 These strategies must avoid exacerbating inequities, and prioritize approaches that meaningfully reduce inequities rather than reinforce the status quo.

This chapter provides an overview of the financing options to support equitable resilience and adaptation projects, including (1) bonds and bank loans; (2) insurance-related finance options; (3) tax credits; (4) tax increment financing and land value capture and (5) public-private Partnerships, with case studies that describe how these options were implemented.


Cities, states, and communities can consider funding and financing options for equitable adaptation. This toolkit distinguishes financing from funding as follows:

  • Funding refers to money that need not be repaid, (e.g., federal or foundation grants).
  • Financing refers to money raised through two approaches that differ based partly on the certainty of repayment.
    • Under the first — debt financing — money is secured through debt instruments, such as bonds or loans, for which the issuer commits to repaying the debt with interest.
    • Under the second — equity financing — money is secured through equity instruments, such as stocks, that give an investor an ownership stake in the asset, (e.g., real estate, for which money was secured). The investment is made with an expectation that money invested will be repaid (with additional compensation), but this outcome depends on the success of the asset.

Public entities can pursue multiple sources of funding and financing for a given activity.

Key funding options for equitable adaptation are identified within other areas of the toolkit — more specifically within the appropriate policy focus area sections, (e.g., Economic Resilience, Data, Metrics & Tools, Resilient Affordable Housing, Anti-Displacement & Gentrification, Natural Resilience/Green Space Access, Resilient Energy & Utility Industry Measures, Resilient Water, Equitable Disaster Response & Recovery, and Health & Nutrition).

As policymakers contemplate approaches to funding or financing adaptation projects, the following questions can guide decisionmaking:

  1.  Who benefits? Does funding reflect a priority to benefit disadvantaged communities? And if disadvantaged communities are not benefitting at least as much as (if not more than) other communities, would funding for this project reduce the availability of funding for a project that does ensure such benefits?See footnote 446 
  2. Who pays? Are frontline communities, particularly those who are lower-income, more significantly impacted by costs? A requirement that all individuals pay the same amount, regardless of their income level, fails to acknowledge that a dollar for a low-income individual is worth more than a dollar for someone who is not low income.See footnote 447 For example, the use of a regressive tax to pay for a resilience measure — a tax that takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than high-income earners —would increase inequity.See footnote 448 A requirement that all pay the same amount also often fails to ensure that entities with greater responsibilities for harms — those contributing more carbon emissions or that are more responsible for discrimination that led to the marginalization of communities — bear more of the costs to help these communities become more resilient;See footnote 449 and,
  3. Who decides? Are the processes for making decisions about who benefits, who pays, what is funded, and how activities are financed, responsive to community wishes and needs? Do they support the effective participation of communities, including residents with low incomes, in these processes?

Financing, rather than funding, might be pursued when:

  1. Climate adaptation measures require more capital than is readily available at the time, (e.g., funding is allocated to other projects and/or the time period for securing grant and other funding is longer than desired for project implementation);
  2. The project is one for which an ‘asset’ that can generate revenues has been identified and can be used to pay at least some project costs;
  3. The project is costly and the asset, such as a bridge, has a long life-cycle for which costs can be spread to future users;
  4. Financial incentives exist for entities such as insurance companies to participate in a financing approach, and the participation of such an entity can reduce or eliminate costs; and/or
  5. Policies or laws provide incentives for investors to participate in a financing approach, (e.g., investments in ‘opportunity zones’ provide tax credits).

As described below, some financing vehicles will secure funds only for smaller projects; such as pump stations, while other financing vehicles will support larger projects, including, for example, seawalls.

Populations served by equitable adaptation projects are, by definition, low-income or otherwise disadvantaged, and, as a result, financial benefits for investors in such projects can be less obvious and direct than for other projects. Nevertheless, various incentives for investors have been identified and pursued, including those involving tax benefits, insurance premiums, and other mechanisms that spread and minimize financial risks. Some approaches involve multiple financial entities, and/or a combination of private and public entities, which work together to fund and implement a given adaptation project. Public entities can act on their own or through engagements with private sector entities, nonprofit organizations, and/or philanthropic organizations to secure financing for equitable adaptation measures.

Key Players

  • Federal government – Federal government entities such as the Department of Treasury and FEMA, manage national tax credit and similar financing programs.
  • Philanthropic Organizations – Organizations, such as foundations, can provide grants (and investments, see Impact Investor) to facilitate access to additional financing. 
  • Impact Investors – Socially-minded investors may be seeking to support an environmental and/or social cause while securing a return on their investment. An increasing number of philanthropic organizations are providing financial support as impact investors.
  • Insurance Companies – Companies can insure against risk and benefit from adaptation measures that reduce losses tied to climate change. These companies financially support adaptation measures through reduced insurance premiums.
  • Green Banks – Financial entities, including ‘green banks’ and green bank-like entities, can provide loans for, and investments in, resilience and adaptation efforts.
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) - Entities such as these can offer financial services to low-income and disadvantaged communities.
  • Community Development Entities (CDEs) – Organizations can apply for certification as a financial intermediary that offers financial services to low-income and disadvantaged communities. For example, entities can be certified under the national New Market Tax Credit Program or similar state programs to secure funds from investors and, in turn, fund initiatives in low-income communities.
  • Private Sector Entities – Private sector entities can help municipalities secure and repay the financing and are central to most financing efforts. These include entities that provide streamlined services to reduce costs of adaptation measures, e.g., CMC Energy, Corvias, etc., as well as entities that help municipalities identify and monetize environmental ‘assets’ that can be used to finance such measures.


Bonds and Bank Loans

Public entities often secure financing for resilience and adaptation projects through municipal bonds, including general obligation bonds and revenue bonds, or through loans from banks.See footnote 450 An increasing number of bond-like instruments and bank-like institutions that focus on support for environmental and social concerns support resilience and adaptation measures. Note, however, that municipalities face debt limits — limits in the amount of debt they accrue through the issuance of bonds (also known as debt securities) and other means.See footnote 451 

Traditional Bonds

Traditional municipal bonds that include explicit attention to climate change and related social concerns include ‘green,’ ‘social’, and ‘sustainability’ bonds. These bonds generally function the same way traditional municipal bonds do: government entities secure funds from investors in exchange for a government guarantee that the bond and interest (which is tax-exempt) will be paid according to an agreed payment schedule.See footnote 452 Although these bonds often provide lower returns, they appeal more to socially- and environmentally-responsible investors who value the lower risk. The New York City Housing Development Corporation (NYCHDC) is a leading issuer of sustainability bonds, using them to finance mortgage loans and subsidies for affordable LEED-certified housing in New York City.See footnote 453 Although such traditional bonds address environmental and social concerns, they do not automatically include attention to who pays. Application of an equity lens to these bonds requires additional assurances that repayment costs do not disproportionately impact low-income and disadvantaged communities. Using a regressive tax to pay off these bonds, for example, would increase rather than decrease attention to equity.See footnote 454 

Impact Bonds

Environmental impact bonds (EIBs) and social impact bonds (SIBs) - also known as ‘pay for success’ bonds — often offer opportunities for attention to equity in how bonds are repaid.See footnote 455 Similar to traditional bonds, these bonds allow entities to secure funds for an environmental or social concern but, unlike traditional bonds, they also enable these issuers to share risks with investors and usually to secure new sources of revenue for bond repayment.See footnote 456 

Risks for issuers, such as municipalities, are reduced because issuer repayment is tied to a specific social or environmental outcome and not just to a fixed payment schedule. Investors agree to receive a reduced financial return when outcomes are less than expected, and issuers can use these cost savings to modify the project to further improve outcomes. These investors, in turn, benefit when outcomes exceed expectations, securing a larger return on their investment.See footnote 457 

Entities structuring these bonds attempt to ensure that outcomes can be measured, valued financially, and used as investment ‘assets.’ The goal for the issuer is to ensure that the financial value associated with the measured outcome provides a financial benefit that exceeds costs associated with inaction. For example, for an EIB-funded stormwater management project in Atlanta, economic modeling predicted that the outcomes, including reduced flooding and reduced combined sewer overflow events, would provide millions of dollars in benefits to the city of Atlanta as compared to a no-action scenario. As described in a case study of this bond, several economically and environmentally stressed neighborhoods benefitted from the project.See footnote 458 

Financial benefits associated with an outcome might provide a source of revenue to pay off the bond or related interest. For example, when impact bonds support measures that help specific beneficiaries avoid costs, these beneficiaries can contribute to bond repayment with these savings.See footnote 459 A recent EIB to prevent coastal erosion in Louisiana, described in the case study below, provides one such example.See footnote 460 The project’s likely outcome — reduced flooding of an important coastal road and port — should provide critical protection to local property and business operations. Assuming this protection is provided, these local asset owners can help pay interest on the bonds in exchange for this benefit. Similarly, for an EIB project in Iowa, financing is being used to increase crop cover on agricultural fields to decrease nonpoint source pollution.See footnote 461 The potential for decreased nonpoint source pollution provides the potential for a tradable ‘credit’ under the Clean Water Act. This credit can be monetized and used to contribute to payments on the bond.See footnote 462 

Impact bonds have offered opportunities for attention to equity in a few ways. First, they have attracted a new set of impact investors that prioritize attention to principles of equity while seeking to secure a better financial return on their investment.See footnote 463 Second, when impact bonds or related interest can be repaid using cost savings, it is less likely that disadvantaged local communities will bear a disproportionate share of the bond repayment burden.See footnote 464

Most impact bonds to date have required upfront support from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to ensure their success, (i.e., these entities have provided funds to structure the investment, identify interested investors, and issue the bonds).See footnote 465 Moreover, most investors to date have been ‘impact investors’, willing to assume more risks to support environmental and social benefits in addition to financial benefits. An exception was the EIB in Atlanta, which was a public offering. Additionally, identifying bonds that meet all the criteria for success — measured, valued financially, and used as investment ‘assets — and structuring these bonds, can be difficult. Measuring outcomes also poses significant challenges.

However, as entities such as Quantified Ventures gain more experience structuring impact bonds, and the resiliency ‘assets’ are more easily priced on capital markets, it is likely that reliance on philanthropic, NGO, and government funds and support will be reduced. In any event, great potential exists to use impact bonds for a variety of equitable adaptation measures and outcomes, (e.g., impact bonds can fund measures to increase energy efficiency in low-income housing), and money saved through the reduced energy bills can be used to pay off the bond and/or interest on the bond.

Banks and Other Lending Institutions

Green banks, and similar lending institutions, are mandated to invest in climate-friendly projects and attract additional private investment into the climate mitigation and adaptation space.See footnote 466 Currently, they are relatively limited in number in the United States, but, with the support of groups such as the Green Bank Network and the American Green Bank Consortium, they are becoming more prevalent. Lending through these institutions does not necessarily include attention to equity, but it can, and has.See footnote 467 These entities are capitalized in various ways, including, for example, through surcharges on electricity rates, public grants, foundation grants, etc.,See footnote 468 and fall into three general bank models: (1) quasi-public corporations that permit private investment in the bank to enable loans that leverage private capital (e.g., Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA))See footnote 469; (2) repurposed finance authorities that have shifted from a grant to a lending model and combined the authority’s funds with private funds; and (3) a combined infrastructure bank with a clean energy finance bank to fund energy projects.See footnote 470

Additionally, states and municipalities are adopting laws and policies to promote traditional bank loans to low- to moderate-income (LMI) borrowers for resilience and adaptation efforts. Generally, these laws and policies reduce lender risks associated with climate-related ‘assets,’ such as residential solar assets.See footnote 471 

Finally, an increasing number of Community Development Financial Institutions, which are institutions that offer financial services to low-income and disadvantaged communities, are lending for resilience and adaptation projects.See footnote 472 The Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) is one example, providing financing for energy-efficient housing measures through its Green Finance Program.See footnote 473 

Considerations of Bonds and Bank Loans


  • Impact bonds enable issuers to share risks with investors and to secure new sources of revenue for bond repayment.
  • To succeed, a key goal for the impact bond issuer is to ensure that the financial value associated with the measured outcome provides a financial benefit that exceeds costs associated with inaction.
  • An increasing number of policies and laws incentivize traditional bank loans to low- to moderate-income (LMI) borrowers for resilience and adaptation efforts, reducing lender risks associated with climate-related ‘assets.’


  • Greenwashing’ - the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's services or products are environmentally sound — should be considered in the context of impact bonds. Not all impact bonds robustly advance social and environmental goals.See footnote 474 


  • Although green and social bonds address environmental and social concerns, they do not automatically include requirements as to who pays.
  • An increasing number of municipalities are promoting traditional bank loans to low- to moderate-income (LMI) borrowers for resilience and adaptation efforts, which reduces lender risks associated with climate-related assets.


  • Most impact bonds to date have required upfront support from philanthropic and nonprofit organizations to ensure their success. However, as resiliency ‘assets’ are more easily priced on capital markets, it is likely that reliance on philanthropic, NGO, and government funds and support will be reduced.
  • Impact bonds are not always the most effective option for public entities; given administrative costs and performance incentives, sometimes it is more cost-effective for public entities to fund an activity directly.
  • It is possible to make the bonds public offerings, and not rely entirely on private investors.
  • Green banks currently are limited in number, but growing significantly in recent years.


  • Municipalities face debt limits — limits in the amount of debt they accrue through the issuance of bonds, including green and social bonds.

Lessons Learned

  • Not all bonds labeled ‘green’ and ‘social’ achieve meaningful results. Carefully consider whether a bond will perform to expectations.
  • Application of an equity lens to these bonds requires additional assurances that repayment costs do not disproportionately impact low-income and disadvantaged communities.


Insurance-Related Finance

Another recent approach to financing resiliency measures is to translate insurance savings into a revenue stream for community adaptation projects.See footnote 475 This can occur, for example, when adaptation measures increase the likelihood that insurance companies will avoid losses tied to climate change. In exchange for the increased likelihood of savings, insurance companies reduce premiums and the premium cost savings are used to pay for the adaptation measures. The group MyStrongHome provides one such example.See footnote 476 This organization reduces risks for insurance companies by retrofitting homes with new roofs. Insurance companies, in response, reduce insurance premiums for the homeowners.

The federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) similarly supports the capacities of communities and individuals to invest in resiliency measures that reduce climate change-related risks, including measures to maintain river levees, remove buildings from floodplains, and inform individuals of approaches to reducing flood-related risks.See footnote 477 The NFIP provides flood insurance premium discounts to communities that implement local mitigation and floodplain management measures exceeding NFIP requirements, as measured through a Community Rating System (CRS).See footnote 478 Any community in full compliance with minimum NFIP floodplain management requirements can apply to join the CRS. The FEMA website provides examples of the ‘best of the best’ community efforts to reduce flood insurance premium costs. Floodplain management activities in Roseville, CA, for example, provided an average premium discount of $963 per year.See footnote 479 For clearing more than 900 buildings from its floodplains, Tulsa, Oklahoma communities received an average discount of $709 per year.See footnote 480 And for maintaining over 80 miles of river levees and providing information to residents in floodplains, Pierce County, Washington communities received an average premium discount of $846 per year.See footnote 481 Despite its potential benefits, the NFIP also includes a few shortcomings, including that rising insurance rates threaten to price many out of coverage and outdated floodplain maps fail to adequately reflect risks.

Examples of possible areas for which local governments and authorities can work with the insurance industry to finance community-scale adaptation include the following: (1) large-scale protection projects; (2) individual or aggregated property-level interventions; and (3) network improvements.See footnote 482

The large-scale protection project approach works best when there is: (1) a large risk (high expected losses), e.g., when coastal community structures might be wiped out by flooding in the absence of a flood protection wall; (2) existing insurance coverage shared by a significant number of beneficiaries (from which to capture savings); and, 3) a significant risk reduction solution, (e.g., a flood protection wall).See footnote 483 Project financing can be based on projected insurance savings captured through the project. On this point, it has been noted, “[j]ust as private investors in a toll road use forecasted toll revenue as the basis for investing in the project, investors in a protection project would provide the upfront capital to implement a protection project based on the forecasted insurance savings.’See footnote 484 

When conditions for insurance-based financing of large-scale protection projects do not exist, individuals can act alone or in coordination with other individuals. For individual or aggregated property-level interventions, savings in property insurance, and/or property taxes can be used to pay back loans or bonds used to finance the project. My Strong Homes supports such individual property-level interventions.See footnote 485

Finally, insurance-based financing can potentially fund network improvements — including improvements to transit, transportation infrastructure, and water systems.See footnote 486 Impacts on transit systems are of particular significance for low-to-moderate-income riders with limited transit alternatives. 

Considerations of Insurance-Related Finance


  • Insurance-based approaches to financing are useful even from a purely economic perspective and, as a result, are gaining more attention from insurance companies and other entities and individuals not otherwise interested in climate-related resilience efforts.


  • Opportunities exist to support activities that provide significant environmental benefits, (e.g., mass transit)


  • Given the vulnerable situations many frontline communities face, e.g., living in flood zones, older housing, etc., opportunities to take measures to avoid insurance losses are significant, useful for insurance companies, and promising for insurance-related approaches to financing for these communities.
  • Attention should be paid to renters to make sure rent increases related to retrofits do not displace them.


  • Given the various parties that must be involved in this approach, it can be useful to work through an organization, such as MyStrongHome, that has developed relationships with insurance companies, built expertise in understanding risk-reduction solutions, and streamlined its processes.


  • As this approach gains currency, legal structures for working with insurance companies on this approach are becoming more available.

Lessons Learned

  • The ‘win-win’ provided by insurance-based solutions should compel greater efforts to partner with insurance companies.
  • Advancing resiliency measures that support a given group (e.g., a flood protection wall for a neighborhood) will require community-building efforts, outreach, and possibly agreement to use the same insurance company (e.g., for flood insurance protection).


Tax Credits, Tax Increment Financing & Land Value Capture

In recent years, the federal government has created a series of programs that use tax credits to incentivize investments in low-income communities including, in particular, the New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) Program and the Opportunity Zone Program.See footnote 487 Although the programs do not specifically target resiliency measures for these communities, they can support them. “The NMTC Program attracts private capital into low-income communities by permitting individual and corporate investors to receive a tax credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making equity investments in specialized financial intermediaries called Community Development Entities (CDEs).”See footnote 488 These CDEs, in turn, are mandated to fund initiatives in low-income communities, including resilience initiatives.

The Opportunity Zone Program similarly employs tax incentives to promote investments in designated low-income zones (currently more than 8,700 designated census tracts). Investors in these zones gain benefits, from capital gain tax deferral, partial forgiveness of tax on capital gains, and forgiveness of additional gains on investments.See footnote 489 The Program was created to drive capital into areas with low-income communities, but concerns that the Program could support projects that are not wanted by, and could even harm, these communities compelled the identification of ‘guardrails’ to ensure that investments respond to community needs. The Kresge Foundation, for example, has detailed a set of underwriting covenants that create a level of transparency, accountability, and disclosure for Opportunity Zone-related measures.See footnote 490

Some states, including, for example, Massachusetts and Maryland, have created state-specific tax credit programs similar to the NMTC. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, described below, is one example.

Tax Increment Financing & Land Value Capture

“Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a method of financing a project or development in a designated geographic area based on the anticipated increase in property tax that will be generated by the project.”See footnote 491 It can be a source of equitable adaptation financing only to the extent increased property costs are not borne by low-income residents or property owners and improvements do not displace local businesses and residents.

The revenue generated by a TIF is the property tax assessed on the increase in property value of a designated district following a development project, compared to the baseline property value prior to the development project. Tax increment financing originally developed as a means of financing the redevelopment of “blighted” areas, but is now used for a broad range of infrastructure improvements.See footnote 492

Green infrastructure, and other adaptation measures, can be important to TIF development because such measures can increase property values.

Local governments can use tax increment financing for large capital projects (such as green infrastructure installation) or incremental, longer-term spending. A local government could issue municipal or private bonds to raise capital for a large-scale green infrastructure project, and use the TIF revenue to service bond payments. Alternatively, a local government could use TIF revenue incrementally—as the revenue is collected—to pay for smaller-scale green infrastructure projects or, in many jurisdictions, to provide a sustainable revenue source to pay for operations and maintenance of green infrastructure installations.See footnote 493

Land Value Capture

The Land Value Capture (LCV) approach “allows communities to recover and reinvest land value increases resulting from public investment and other government actions.”See footnote 494 When, for example, property owners and developers secure financial benefits from government action, such as new roads, subway lines, among other measures, an LCV approach requires these owners and developers to share their windfall. An LCV approach could be used to secure capital for climate-resilient infrastructure — such as bridges and storm walls that provide benefits for developers. In this scenario, the benefitting developers would pay a fee that could, in turn, be used to pay off the bond issued to finance the infrastructure development. To date, however, the LCV approach has not been used significantly for resilience efforts.See footnote 495

Considerations of Tax Credits, Tax Increment Financing and Land Value Capture


  • The economic benefits of investments related to climate-related LVC approaches currently are less explicit than other tax-related approaches, but opportunities are promising.


  • These approaches to financing do not have the same attention to environmental benefits that other approaches, e.g., impact bonds, do.


  • These tax-and-land-related approaches can consider ‘guardrails’ developed to ensure that investments respond to community needs and don’t unduly financially burden low-income communities.


  • State-specific approaches, as compared to federal approaches, are more tailored to state-specific needs, and more likely to provide effective resiliency benefits.


  • In light of concerns that tax and land-related government programs don’t always benefit disadvantaged communities, investors and public entities wanting to have a meaningful social impact should do their due diligence before pursuing such programs.

Lessons Learned

  • Tax credit programs, tax increment financing, and land value capture approaches do not necessarily benefit disadvantaged communities. Efforts should be considered to ensure that they do.
  • Similarly, funds from these efforts are not always used to finance climate resilience measures. Commitments to use funds this way should be evaluated before these programs are implemented.


Other Public-Private Partnerships

Other public-private partnerships can provide financial benefits for cities and states while not always directly providing private finance. Private entities can use their specialized expertise to streamline procurement and implementation processes and, in the process, stretch and save public funds. Energy Service Company (CMC Energy), for example, secures grants from public utilities and energy companies to implement energy-efficiency measures in schools and multi-dweller residences. Case studies of public-private partnerships involving private sector entity Corvias, which partnered with Prince George’s County in Maryland and the city of Chester in Delaware to improve stormwater management practices, are provided in other chapters of the toolkit. 

Considerations of Other Public-Private Partnerships


  • Given that municipalities face limits in the amount of debt they can accrue through bonds and other approaches, partnerships with private sector entities provide another useful option for meeting adaptation needs.


  • PPPs often focus on environmental measures given that the value of environmental services is increasingly recognized and quantified.


  • Equity in the context of PPP can be advanced not only through financing measures that benefit disadvantaged communities but also through activities that employ these communities.


  • One of the most significant benefits to a PPP is private sector expertise in streamlining administrative processes and, in the process, saving money for public sector entities.


  • There is no binding definition of a PPP, and, as such, no fixed set of laws and policies that apply to these arrangements.
  • PPPs can be supported by memoranda of understanding (MOUs).

Lessons Learned

  • Direct financing is not always the best solution; public entities might secure desired results through private sector partnerships that meet public needs while providing financial benefits to the private sector entity.


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