This hurricane season, people struggling to keep a roof over their heads are again dreading having their communities shaken by another political perfect storm. That’s because, from Puerto Rico to Texas to Florida and beyond, Trumpism is poised to hit public housing hard.
The Poverty Race Research and Action Council (PRRAC), a civil-rights coalition focused on urban policy, has chronicled the Trump administration’s steady degradation of environmental protections over the past year, starting with the dismantling of the basic core of Obama-era EPA regulations. More recently, President Trump announced, just weeks ahead of Hurricane Harvey, that his administration planned to upend Obama’s flood risk–mitigation standards for federal infrastructure projects. Now whatever rebuilding does take place in the wake of disasters like Harvey will likely rebuild communities unevenly, leaving poor neighborhoods and communities of color more exposed to climate catastrophe than ever before.
Trump and the head of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, seem patently uninterested in shoring up the environmental defenses of vulnerable public-housing systems. Carson and Trump both seem committed to systematically defunding and deregulating housing programs, and outsourcing public infrastructure projects to private contractors. Peter Kye, author of PRRAC’s recent policy brief on public housing and climate adaptation, explains that “areas of Houston that had not previously flooded were devastated” by Hurricane Harvey, showing that “extreme weather can affect housing in areas not traditionally seen as vulnerable.” For areas facing unprecedented levels of disaster, preparedness has to go beyond the local level, Kye says, making it “more urgent than ever that HUD takes a more active role in assessing the vulnerability of housing that serves low- and moderate-income people, promotes climate-planning efforts that considers housing concerns, and takes concrete steps to protect HUD-assisted housing.”
But, according to Kye, “the Trump administration has not demonstrated that it is serious about taking on the challenge of adapting to climate change.” Carson, he adds, “has not fought to push back against massive proposed budget cuts that would devastate the department and would especially harm HUD’s ability to respond to disasters. HUD as a whole seems to be following the Trump administration’s general stance on climate change.”