Redlined US homes face higher flood risks from climate change, new study finds

Americans of color who were once forced to purchase houses in less-desirable neighborhoods are now in greater danger of losing their homes to flooding caused by climate change, according to a new study.

During the early 20th century, US consumer banks routinely engaged in a systemic lending practice known as redlining, which denied loans to people of color seeking to purchase houses outside areas of cities deemed “undesirable,” in part, because they were built on areas with higher flood risk.

Today, as a result, homes worth a combined $107 billion are now 25% more likely to be flooded than non-redlined homes, according to researchers from the real estate brokerage firm Redfin. The firm released the findings from its analysis of redlined and non-redlined communities facing climate change-related flood risks Monday morning.

The report, which examined flood plain data from 38 major US metropolitan areas, noted that modern US flood-risk maps look a lot like redlining maps from the 1930s.

In recent years, sea-level rise caused by climate change has increased the number of flood-risk areas across the nation.

Some of these places are already having to deal with floods annually. Black homeowners in Chicago, for example, have complained about increased rainfall fueled by climate change overwhelming the city’s sewer system and causing flood damage to homes that didn’t have the same flooding issues a decade ago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“The discrimination that happened in the past may seem like it happened a long time ago, but it compounds,” Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather told CNN Business. “It’s not like the historical practices that were discriminatory diminished in effect. It seems like they actually increase in effect.”

Redfin’s researchers determined areas in the cities they examined that were not redlined were at risk of having $85 billion worth of homes damaged or destroyed by climate change-related flooding — $22 billion less than neighborhoods that were redlined.

In their report, the firm’s researchers said more than 58% “of households in neighborhoods that were once designated undesirable for mortgage lending are non-white” and “history has shown that when storms hit, communities of color in these formerly redlined areas often suffer the most.”

“[More than] 600,000 properties faced 100-year flood risk, which is risk of one of these really catastrophic floods hitting them,” Fairweather said.

Fairweather noted the disproportionate impact Hurricane Katrina had on people of color in New Orleans in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey had on Black and Brown Houston residents in 2017 to illustrate her point.

Four of the seven zip codes that suffered the worst flood damage from Katrina had Black populations of at least 75%, according to government records cited by Scientific American.

A 2017 Think Progress analysis found disproportionately Black and Brown low-income Houston neighborhoods were more damaged by Harvey than wealthier and Whiter communities.

Without public and private intervention, Fairweather said the damage future flooding may cause to redlined areas across the nation could further expand the already enormous racial wealth gap that exists between most White Americans and their Black and Latino neighbors.

“It would set us back for sure,” Fairweather said. “It really does depend on what the policy response is.”

To help solve the problem, the study authors recommend the federal government provide funds for some redlined homeowners to weather proof their homes and offer relocation assistance to homeowners in areas where weather proofing might not be enough.

“When we do provide assistance for people to move, we should encourage them or insist they move to places that won’t be as affected by climate change,” Fairweather said.

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