Equitable Adaptation Legal & Policy Toolkit


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 1 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 2 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 3 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.


Related Resources

Learning Collaborative for Multifamily Housing Resilience, New York City, New York

New York City’s Learning Collaborative for Multifamily Housing Resilience demonstrates how cities can partner with community development stakeholders to conduct vulnerability assessments that enhance the resilience of low-income communities to climate disasters. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, approximately 20% of the city’s public housing stock were damaged by flood waters, due in part to the placement of high concentrations of subsidized developments in surge-affected areas.See footnote 4 The following year, Enterprise Community Partners worked with 12 local organizations to participate in a two-year “Learning Collaborative for Multifamily Housing Resilience” to conduct vulnerability assessments for the region’s affordable housing infrastructure to extreme weather events.See footnote 5  Part of the broader Hurricane Sandy Recovery and Rebuilding Program, the Collaborative conducted a resilience assessment of 56 multifamily properties located in the flood zone in the New York / New Jersey region, and brought together a dozen local community development groups overseeing a total of 293 buildings and 14,500 affordable housing units. The interdisciplinary coalition focused on addressing wide-ranging community needs, from affordable housing and climate resilience to services for Asian Americans, the elderly, and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. The assessment resulted in a manual for addressing affordable, multifamily building resilience, with strategies that focus on both adaptive measures like building retrofits as well as measures to strengthen social networks and enhance community resilience.

Resilience and Solar Assessment Tool - Washington D.C.

In 2017, the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) launched the country’s first resilience tool to identify opportunities for protecting residents in multifamily affordable housing from heat waves, flooding, and other climate change impacts.See footnote 6 The city already faces a tight housing market with significant shortages in affordable housing.See footnote 7 Climate change is expected to only exacerbate this pressure by increasing the cost of maintaining comfortable homes in the summer and protecting households from flooding. The average temperatures in the city have reached record highs in recent years.See footnote 8 Meanwhile, sea-level rise and more heavy rainfall are anticipated to increase flooding along D.C.’s two major tidally influenced rivers and tributaries, accompanied by inland flooding in areas with undersized stormwater systems. In order to help advance the goals of the city’s climate adaptation plan, DOEE worked with nonprofit partners to develop the Resilience and Solar Assessment Tool. The tool consists of a series of questionnaires that building owners can use to identify the building’s resilience to potential climate change impacts, examining characteristics like accessibility, emergency management plans, and electrical, mechanical, and plumbing equipment.See footnote 9 Additional questionnaires explore the building’s energy and water efficiency, as well as solar and storage potential.See footnote 10 Based on the outcome of the assessment, the tool provides additional recommendations for implementing resilience strategies at varying cost and scale.

11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan, Washington D.C.

The 11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan in Washington, D.C. proposes a holistic approach to addressing wide-ranging community needs in areas experiencing some of the highest rates of gentrification and displacement in the country.See footnote 11 Neighborhoods in the city’s Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, and Southwest Waterfront, have seen the highest rates of displacement, with some experiencing losses of over 70% of residents, primarily low-income and African-American people.See footnote 12  The 11th Street Bridge Equitable Development Plan was developed in 2015 to address community development concerns around ongoing construction of the 11th Street Bridge Park, the city’s first elevated public park connecting Capitol Hill/Navy Yard in Northwest D.C. and the historic Anacostia/Fairlawn neighborhoods in Southeast D.C. – a project that has spurred concerns about investment-induced displacement and preserving the surrounding community’s environmental, economic, and cultural assets.See footnote 13 The Equitable Development Plan proposes a cross-section of strategies to combat systemic inequities and displacement, including in housing, workforce development, small business development, and arts/culture.See footnote 14 The plan, conducted in parallel with other local initiatives like the Douglass Community Land Trust, could help members of the community retain control of development and mitigate gentrification pressures, providing lessons across the city even as property owners and developers consider installing resilience upgrades and other investments to local housing stock.See footnote 15

FloodHelpNY - New York City, New York

Flood Help New York City (FloodHelpNY.org) is a free, interactive website that provides New York City homeowners with personalized plans for reducing flood risk and the cost of flood insurance premiums. The website was developed after Superstorm Sandy as a tool for eligible, low- and middle-income homeowners to connect with technical experts and engineers who help conduct resilience audits, which homeowners can use to make informed decisions about reducing their risk to future floods and strategies to help lower their flood insurance premiums. Flood Help NYC is developed by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, Inc. (CNYCN), and funded through the New York State Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, the New York Rising Community Reconstruction (NYRCR) Program, and the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program.

  Previous Next