by Andrew Aurand, NLIHC vice president for research & Dan Emmanuel, NLIHC senior research analyst

Thousands of vulnerable families along the East Coast are bracing themselves for Hurricane Florence. If the history of past storms like Harvey is repeated, low-income families and renters could be disproportionately impacted and will have a more difficult time recovering given their often limited resources. In fact, recent research indicates that homeowners, and households who are white, affluent, and with more education, are likely to build wealth after a disaster, while minorities and renters lose it.

Hurricane Florence threatens a significant number of vulnerable households, given the current forecasts by the National Weather Service. Nearly 280,000 very low-income renter households reside in counties where hurricane, storm surge, or tropical storm alerts have been issued in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In addition, more than 136,000 households in these areas lack a car to evacuate if needed.

The stock of affordable rental homes in these counties is already insufficient and will worsen, with damage likely to occur to some of the 240,000 currently affordable rental homes for low-income renters. Among housing that is not damaged, rents will become unaffordable to financially-disadvantaged families. According to data from the National Housing Preservation Database, only 82,000 rentals in these areas are subsidized for low-income renters, which are also, of course, at risk. The area’s housing stock includes 340,000 mobile homes, which are a source of affordable housing for lower-income owners and renters like, but can be more vulnerable to damage.

Source: CHAS 2011-2015; National Housing Preservation Database; National Weather Service; ATSDR Social Vulnerability Data 2016

Flooding is expected to create more risks further inland. When we include areas identified by the National Weather Service that will likely experience river flooding, nearly 455,000 very low-income renter households live in the potentially impacted areas of the hurricane and subsequent flooding. More than 155,000 households (both renters and owners) lack a car should they need to evacuate. The housing stock at risk includes 455,000 affordable rental homes, nearly 87,000 of which are subsidized. Nearly 407,000 mobile homes, occupied by owners and renters, are at risk.

Predicting the number of vulnerable families or homes that will be impacted by an approaching hurricane is difficult and can vary significantly from one estimate to another, but it is clear that thousands of low-income and vulnerable families are at risk. With a significant shortage of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters already a challenge, the problem grows even worse after disaster.

We know from past hurricanes that rental properties and homes in low-income communities recover at a slower pace than owner-occupied homes and higher-income communities. This outcome is partly due to the emphasis given to homeowner recovery, and the possibility that the needs of low-income renters are underestimated when disaster funds are distributed. We must learn from our experiences of past disasters to prepare for a response and long-term recovery that is equitable by recognizing the disparate needs of disadvantaged communities and their residents.

As of September 12, 2018, 4:00pmET