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Divergent Residential Pathways from Flood-Prone Areas: How Neighborhood Inequalities Are Shaping Urban Climate Adaptation

James R Elliott, Kevin Loughran, Phylicia Lee Brown
Published: 24 September 2021

Abstract: Flood risks are rising across the United States, putting the economic and social values of growing numbers of homes at risk. In response, the federal government is funding the purchase and demolition of housing in areas of greatest jeopardy, tacitly promoting residential resettlement as a strategy of climate adaptation, especially in cities. Despite these developments little is known about where people move when they engage in such resettlement or how answers to that question vary by the racial and economic status of their flood-prone neighborhoods. The present study begins to fill that gap. We introduce a new typology for classifying environmental resettlement along two socio-spatial dimensions of community attachment: (a) distance moved from one’s flood-prone home; and (b) average distance resettled from similarly relocated neighbors. Next, we analyze data from 1,572 homeowners who accepted government-funded buyouts across 39 neighborhood areas in Harris County, Texas – Houston’s urban core. Results indicate that homeowners from more privileged neighborhoods resettle closer to their flood-prone homes and to one another, thus helping to preserve the social and economic value of their homes; homeowners from less privileged areas end up farther away from both. Implications for understanding social inequities in government-funded urban climate adaptation are discussed.
Keywords: adaptation / flood prone / economic and social / social and economic value / neighborhoods / resettlement / homeowners / funded

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