Natural Disasters: A Catalyst for Housing Instability

Natural Disasters

Today’s news headlines can read like a laundry list of natural disasters: Tornados kill 91; Flood crisis grips cities; Wildfires rage. Although scientists often link the increased number of natural disasters to climate change, the link between disasters and housing instability is often overlooked, especially for those with the lowest incomes. Extreme weather events can intensify underlying economic stress and inequalities, as lower income households have higher barriers for finding shelter and/or repairing their home.

Since 2011, all 88 Ohio counties1 have been affected by major disasters, including severe storms, flooding and tornadoes (Figure 1). Most recently, in May 2019, severe weather tore through the state2 damaging more than 1,800 structures and leaving 65,000 homes and businesses without power3. During disasters like this, low-income populations are at greater risk because they often live in older and/or lower quality traditional housing or mobile homes that are more susceptible to structural damage from high winds and heavy rains. Displaced families are forced to find temporary housing, which is often scarce and more expensive because portions of the available housing stock has been destroyed or damaged in the disaster.

Figure 1: Ohio Disasters 2011 - 2019

Lower income households also face greater financial challenges when rebuilding, due to the high cost of repairs. Ohio homeowners4 spent nearly $437 million in disaster repairs5 from 2013 - 2015. Although a typical home improvement project6 during the period cost around $1,000, when a home was involved in a disaster, the cost of repairs increased to $8,000 for flood damage and $10,000 for tornado/hurricane damage (Figure 2). For lower income populations that may lack the funds needed to rebuild, these costs can be daunting. Left with a damaged home and unaffordable repairs, homeowners may experience periods of housing instability or homelessness.

Figure 2: Ohio Home Improvement Costs

The map above shows that Southeastern Ohio—which has some of the highest poverty and unemployment levels in the state—has been the hardest hit over the past few years. In disaster-prone areas such as this, it is important to focus on how lower income households are impacted as they often face many challenges on the road to recovery.

1Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data
2From May 27, 2019 to May 29, 2019, several counties in Ohio were affected by severe storms, straight-line winds, tornadoes, flooding, and landslides. Shortly after, FEMA designated eleven counties in Ohio as major disaster areas.
3Ohio Emergency Management Agency Recovery Report, Weeks of July 22 & 29, 2019
4American Housing Survey 2015 Ohio - Home Improvement Costs - Owner-occupied Units
5For disaster repairs, the unit is considered to have been involved in a natural disaster or other major disaster if either more than half the home, or more than two rooms, required repairs in the last two years. Source: American Housing Survey 2015 Ohio - Home Improvement Costs - Owner-occupied Units.
6Home improvement costs include: disaster repairs, room additions and renovations, remodeling, exterior and interior additions and replacements, and lot or yard additions and replacements. Source: American Housing Survey 2015 Ohio - Home Improvement Costs - Owner-occupied Units.