New York's invisible climate migrants
By Sophie Kasakove
In some parts of the country that are threatened by rising seas—like Louisiana or Alaska—government-sponsored relocations of vulnerable communities are already under way. But retreat looks different in cities like New York, which faces more sporadic climate impacts. For these people, “It’s not a planned retreat,” said David Abramson, director of New York University’s research program on population impact and resilience. “It’s an economic retreat.”
Even before [Hurricane] Sandy, though, it wasn’t easy to keep a home in these neighborhoods. Targeted intensely by subprime lenders during the housing bubble, they have consistently had some of the highest foreclosure rates in the city. But after Sandy, it became even harder; the government programs designed to help people with recovery costs have been notoriously inadequate. Many people dropped out of Build it Back, NYC’s largest post-Sandy assistance program, because of delays, paperwork issues, and shoddy construction work. Many who applied for assistance from FEMA are still waiting today. And flood insurance rates have increased in some neighborhoods by as much as 18 percent per year, according to the nonprofit Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN).
Since 2013, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the National Flood Insurance Program, has been in the process of redrawing the city’s decades-old flood maps. Once they’re completed, tens or hundreds of thousands of additional New Yorkers could be required to buy flood insurance policies—and at higher rates, as FEMA attempts to pull itself out of $20 billion debt.
Roger Gendron, president of the civic association of Hamilton Beach, a middle-class neighborhood on the northern bank of Jamaica Bay, says that many people are struggling from higher flood insurance rates, and he’s worried about what further increases could do to the neighborhood. “If everybody down here all of a sudden saw that their flood insurance was up to $6,000, you’d see an outflux of people leaving,” he said, referring to a recent projection. “I don’t want flood insurance to be the reason why people leave the community.”