Building Equity Into Climigration

Communities across the U.S., like the Alaska native village of Kivalina pictured above, are devising climate migration plans in response to coastal erosion and rising seas. Photo from: U.S. Department of the Interior | National Park Service

Communities across the U.S., like the Alaska native village of Kivalina pictured above, are devising climate migration plans in response to coastal erosion and rising seas. Photo from: U.S. Department of the Interior | National Park Service

There are a host of equity and justice issues related to climigration. The simple fact that people and organizations with more resources tend to be better equipped to manage change than those with fewer resources means that differences arise among people exposed to the same climate impacts. So what can we do to anticipate these differences and try to reduce the likelihood that managed retreat will create or further exacerbate inequities?

Lessons from Just Transition and Anti-Gentrification

One idea we’re exploring is learning from other frameworks with equity lenses that have been developed to address population movements. Here we focus on two, just transition and anti-gentrification, and seek to highlight some key strategies from each, and how those same strategies might apply to managed retreat efforts.

Although the subject matters differ – just transition provides a sustainable pathway to a zero-carbon economy and anti-gentrification to urban revitalization – both frameworks devise a set of strategies that maximize benefits and minimize hardships for communities adapting to social, economic, and environmental transformations.

The table below highlights some of the key strategies from both frameworks relative to funding, policy, and engagement to match the organization of this site around possible solutions. We elaborate on these ideas below the table.

Funding & Financing

Just transition emphasizes the need to support communities early, and in ways that address the problems they are likely to face as jobs shift from carbon-dependent to carbon-free industries and practices[1]. Similarly, investing in education, training, job-searching, and general community building for those who may have to move due to climate change could ease the transition and level the playing field for those with different resources to draw on.

For climigration, the most obvious early investment would be a fund to help people move, and to ensure it covers more than simple real estate transactions, as moving costs and other expenses fall harder on some than others. Other early investments might include education and training in the various federal, state, and local programs that provide funding for relocation. Perhaps a state or federal program could invest resources in providing a way for individuals in one retreating community to connect with counterparts in others to commiserate and share ideas. A local non-profit could be funded to do the legwork to investigate other neighborhoods for possible relocation, such as finding out about schools, public transportation options, and other community resources. Government and foundation or corporate resources could be reserved and set aside for transforming places from developed to undeveloped in smart ways that convert former private property to public assets the whole community can enjoy and that provide protection from future storms or other climate-related challenges.

Drawing lessons from anti-gentrification is slightly more challenging, as the purpose of managed retreat is to help people move somewhere else, whereas anti-gentrification is focused on keeping people in place. Still some of the strategies that seek to mitigate inequities for the people who live in places that are changing around them provide inspiration for climigration.

Various funds and tax programs have been developed to ensure that people with fewer means can afford to stay in place as the property around them becomes more expensive and they would otherwise be unable to continue to live there. Some examples include an anti-displacement tax fund to subsidize the increases in property taxes for people who have lived in a community for a long time, Community Land Trusts (CLT) to provide land and housing that is permanently affordable, Stabilization Vouchers (and other housing protection vouchers) to ensure that long-term residents have choices in their own neighborhood rather than being forced to move to another, and Individual Development Accounts that provide matching funds for personal savings toward a large investment, such as a new home. Each of these mechanisms demonstrates a unique approach to ensuring that low-income individuals and families can weather the changes around them. Likewise, creative approaches are needed to provide matching funds, subsidies, or tax benefits to those whose costs for relocation may be beyond their means so they are not disproportionately harmed by the transition.


Policy

The just transition framework stresses the need for early assessments of social and employment impacts[2]. Committing to protect workers’ rights and providing social protection and necessary income support are key for a sustainable transition. This gives workers confidence in the security and opportunities that lie ahead. In addition to putting forth new policies, just transition recommends formalizing current ones, such as programs that address rescue and rebuilding efforts after climate disasters[1].

These policy guidelines can be applied to climigration. Coastal communities represent various socio-economic demographics. The social and economic cost of relocation can be drastically different for each community. Assessing the social and employment impacts of resettlement could help ensure that adaptation strategies better target the needs of the community. For example, a community might have traditional land rights that need to be considered when deciding where to relocate. Providing financial and social assistance to vulnerable populations via programs like safe, affordable housing and buy-in-for buyout programs could help create more resilient communities. In addition to implementing new policies that proactively respond to global warming, current government disaster assistance programs should also be securely funded and staffed to manage climate disasters once they hit.

A suite of anti-gentrification policies could serve as models for climigration, including city funding for middle-income housing production and senior home repair programs, changing fair housing rules to create housing vouchers for low-income residents, freezing property taxes for long-time residents and restricting large-scale and increasing mixed-income development[4]. Similarly for climigration, it’s in the public interest to work with communities identify risks to their housing security and provide the necessary resources to improve their situations if need be. Such measures could include building low-income and middle-income housing in areas less threatened by climate change, and issuing subsidies and vouchers for relocation. This technique is especially valuable in helping renters move as they do not benefit from direct home buyouts. Additional tax benefits and other measures to protect the most vulnerable and least mobile populations, such as senior citizens, should also be considered.

 

Engagement & Consensus Building

In both the just transition and anti-gentrification frameworks, social dialogue is key to a community’s sustainable transition. For a just transition to take place, it is necessary for all stakeholders be involved in social dialogue, consultation and “the monitoring of agreements, which are public and legally enforceable”[1]. Governments, communities and business should inclusively discuss their options, concerns and roles in climate adaptation plans. With input from every level, policies are more likely to be cohesive and sustainable.

One key principle of anti-gentrification is that communities “anticipate and proactively respond to change”[3] rather than waiting for the inevitable. Gentrification, like climate change, does not happen overnight, so communities that can see the writing on the wall should engage with city officials and planning departments as early as possible. This allows them to influence city, neighborhood, transportation, funding and development plans and monitor similar trends in nearby communities. Another principle of anti-gentrification is encouraging communities to develop a shared narrative that shapes and helps protect their identity. Forming flexible, local, and diverse partnerships with other organizations can help communities can strengthen their ability to preserve affordable housing in light of gentrification. Finally, to meaningfully address inevitable conflicts, anti-gentrification guidelines suggest using formal approaches to conflict resolution. By holding facilitated discussions, encouraging political participation and training local leaders, communities can successfully resolve tensions both before they escalate and after they erupt[3].

All of these strategies can be applied to climigration, particularly the efforts to develop shared narratives. Climate adaptation can be an emotional experience due to the potential loss of social, cultural and historical ties to a place. Discussing what a community wishes to preserve as a legacy, and taking the opportunity to consider what they would like to change in their new environment could be incredibly valuable. Also, as with gentrification, climate change adaptation is a controversial issue. Often, communities disagree among themselves and with government officials on whether and how to plan for and remediate the impacts of climate change. For this reason, all stakeholders would benefit from similar conflict mediation mechanisms. Facilitated discussions would help parties resolve misconceptions, distrust, and disagreements.

Isabella Szabolcs is a consultant at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps research climate change adaptation strategies and natural resource conflicts. She also develops multimedia content for CBI.

Isabella Szabolcs is a consultant at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps research climate change adaptation strategies and natural resource conflicts. She also develops multimedia content for CBI.

Carri Hulet is a Senior Associate at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps communities tackle difficult decisions, such as those related to climate change. Carri leads CBI’s climigration efforts.

Carri Hulet is a Senior Associate at the Consensus Building Institute where she helps communities tackle difficult decisions, such as those related to climate change. Carri leads CBI’s climigration efforts.

 

[1] (2017). Just Transition: A Report for the OECD. Retrieved from Just Transition Centre Website: https://www.oecd.org/environment/cc/g20-climate/collapsecontents/Just-Transition-Centre-report-just-transition.pdf

[2] (2015). Frontlines Briefing: Climate Justice: There are no jobs on a dead planet. Retrieved from International Trade Union Confederation Website: https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/ituc_frontlines_climate_change_report_en.pdf

[3] Brown, S. (2015). Beyond Gentrification: Strategies for Guiding the Conversation and Redirecting the Outcomes of Community Transition. Retrieved from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Website: http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/jchs.harvard.edu/files/w14-12_brown.pdf

[4] Price, D. (2014). 7 Policies that Could Prevent Gentrification. Retrieved from SHELTERFORCE Website: https://shelterforce.org/2014/05/23/7_policies_that_could_prevent_gentrification/