Our Communities Displaced: 4 Ways to Fight Back Against Climate Based Gentrification after Harvey and Irma

People’s Climate March in September 2014 (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

It’s a horror story that has unfortunately become all too familiar: the hurricanes, the floods, the lives destroyed, and even deaths. As global warming and climate change continue to wreak havoc across the world, there is another man-made disaster that rides on the coattails of these catastrophes. It’s called “Climate Gentrification,” which involves the long-term displacement of communities of color from the very communities we built. Communities of color are thus hit triply. First, we disproportionately live in areas that are affected by disasters. During the disasters, we have access to fewer resources than white folks. And after the floods, climate gentrification forces our sometimes permanent displacement.

When the waters recede and the news cameras turn their attention to the next disaster, and long after the headlines have stopped featuring stories of rescuing people stranded on rooftops, survivors of hurricanes and other disasters due to climate change face a second challenge: cities that effectively abandon Black people and other people of color. Speculators move in. Public facilities are turned over to private companies. Realtors exploit the financial insecurity of stricken communities by inducing people of color sell their damaged homes for low rates, only for those homes to be flipped and priced higher than before. As white people move in, Black and Brown people are forced out because they cannot afford to return.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Black population was decimated. Black homeowners were more than three times as likely to have their homes flooded than white people; this was directly due to racial discriminatory lending practices, in which banks loaned money only to white people in elevated areas of the city, segregating Black homeowners into parts of the city that were flood-prone. The city’s Black population never recovered, the Black middle-class was destroyed, and for the first time in decades, the city council (including the mayor) became majority white.

And it’s all happening again. In Florida, historically Black communities like Little Haiti and Liberty City are gentrifying due to their elevation (both are at about ten feet above sea level). Never believe politicians who say they don’t believe in global warming, or that they think climate change is a myth. They’re lying; they are feigning ignorance and disbelief so that they can continue to make money out of the deaths and displacement of communities of color that are always disproportionately affected by disasters caused by climate change.

Communities of color like Black neighborhoods in Florida have historically been redlined to areas away from the coast. But now that climate change is affecting those high-priced coastlines, developers want those high-elevated neighborhoods back. Guess who they want them for? Not the people of color they displaced.

In Texas, landlords took the opportunity to start evicting people after Hurricane Harvey left their rental housing unsafe for habitation. Houston has no regulations on zoning, so pollution is heavily concentrated on neighborhoods that are predominately African-American and Latinx. In Houston’s East End, a predominantly Latinx neighborhood has been affected by the proximity to oil refineries and chemical plants for years, leading to higher rates of cancer and child leukemia, and those same toxic chemicals were released into those communities during Harvey.

Although the effects of climate change are inevitable and worsening, there are still things that can and must be done to protect ourselves and our communities. First and foremost, environmental justice must be led by Black and Brown advocates, because we are the ones most affected. We must ensure that money is flowing not to the Red Cross, which is complicit in destroying Black communities, but directly to Black and Brown people. And finally, we must always hold those in power accountable not only for climate change, but also for the racist practices that ensure people of color suffer the most both before and after the accompanying disasters.

Here’s what you can do now to fight back against the displacement of our communities.


1) Help low-income communities of color most vulnerable to disasters rebuild and recover.

Port Arthur, TX residents sit in an auditorium after being evacuated from the Harvey flooding (Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

When it comes to providing emergency relief, FEMA’s track record in Katrina speaks for itself. If we can’t rely on FEMA to swoop in and clean up our disaster-stricken neighborhoods, neither can we count on FEMA to make the process of securing assistance simple and accessible. FEMA applications are onerous, there are hours-long wait times by phone, and internet access can be sketchy in many areas post-disaster.

Contribute to recovery efforts by helping people obtain disaster relief assistance. Especially if you are multilingual. Connect with an organization, grab your laptop, and show up!

  • Basic information for filing FEMA claims can be found here for Harvey- affected counties.
  • For non-English speakers, iSpeak Houston is Houston’s repository of essential information in languages other than English. Alliance Language Network offers interpretation and translation for more than 70 languages. Alliance for Multicultural Community Services offers translation services, legal assistance, case management, and other specialized resources to assist immigrant and refugee communities after a disaster. For immigrants (regardless of immigration status), see pages 26–27 for a list of organizations offering direct cash and in-kind assistance. For other communities of color, see the lists entitled “Ethnic Community” on pages 9–12 and “Refugees” on page 25. Avenue CDC’s Home Ownership Center is a HUD agency that provides disaster recovery counseling and assists with FEMA applications, filing insurance claims, and foreclosure prevention counseling. For appointments, call 713–864–9099, Email: classes@avenuecdc.org, or create an account online and select “Disaster Recovery Counseling” option.
  • Basic information for filing FEMA claims can be found here for Irma- affected counties.
  • For English, Spanish, or Creole speakers, check updated information for filing Irma FEMA claims and other housing assistance through the Community Justice Project. For Haitian immigrants and Creole speakers: Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami is in need of volunteers, especially those who speak Haitian Creole, to help with FEMA applications. Show up with a laptop at 9:30AM daily until further notice. Their office is located at 100 N.E. 84 Street in Miami, FL. For Latinx immigrants and Spanish speakers, WeCount office in Florida City is helping with FEMA applications, disaster stamp assistance, unemployment, and more. Call 786–650–2006 for an appointment, or visit their office in the Methodist Church branch at 129 SW 5 Avenue. You can also volunteer with or receive help from Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, a community development corporation that provides affordable housing and home ownership support; see details here.

Beyond FEMA, there are trusted grassroots organizations working to provide cash grants and assistance to those who are particularly vulnerable during the recovery process, regardless of immigration status. Communities left to fend for themselves are also beginning their own clean-up, a hazardous task due to the industrial areas that encroach upon many impacted cities’ low-income neighborhoods. In addition to mass displacement, many vulnerable communities face toxic pollution after Harvey and Irma. Clean-up precautions are necessary for health and safety, so get trained and and use your skills to help!

HARVEY

IRMA

  • The New Florida Majority and other participating grassroots organizations will have four sites in South Florida for Community Emergency Operations. They are working to set up health clinics and provide legal services. More details here and sign up to volunteer here. Check in through the daily conference calls at 3PM to hear about needs and logistics. Call in number: 1–646–558–8656, PIN 456 301 7124
  • Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is part of the volunteer coordinating network for Community Emergency Operations and are looking for team members to help those hit hardest. To volunteer, fill out their First Responders Form.

2) Go beyond rebuilding and fight to keep our communities secure, intact, and sustainable.

“You can’t evict a movement” — Right To The City
Housing Is A Human Right — The Gubbio Project 2016 (Christopher Statton, Megan Wilson, Clarion Alley)

FIGHT FOR HOUSING JUSTICE

Work towards long-term just and sustainable models of living for communities of color by organizing and fighting for renter and tenant rights. Community housing justice starts with a shift in power renters need political agency to advocate for housing rights and to combat displacement from gentrification via zoning abuse and unaffordable housing. Learn from grassroots organizations on the front lines of housing and urban justice and follow these community actions:

FIGHT AGAINST HOUSING DISCRIMINATION

From redlining to using race as a factor in housing and neighborhood values, racism is rampant in real estate. The poor and people of color are particularly vulnerable to discriminatory housing practices (including discrimination in lending and foreclosure practices) after disaster events. Here are resources to help combat racism in real estate and housing after Harvey and Irma:

  • Florida Legal Services is dedicated to providing services to vulnerable communities, including issues of safe, fair, and affordable housing.
  • There are resources available in Florida specifically to help those with homes impacted by Hurricane Irma. Florida Law Help provides information about FEMA claims, home repairs, and financial resources to prevent foreclosure.
  • If you are a Texas resident, Lone Star Legal Aid (a Houston-based organization) can assist with issues of housing discrimination, predatory lending, and foreclosure prevention and protection. They also offer resources for legal services related to disaster relief.

3) Support community-based and grassroots organizations on the front lines of environmental & climate justice for fenceline communities.

Climate change is a social justice problem and it affects our communities the most. Previous experience with disaster recovery and rebuilding tells us that federal and even local interventions are known to cover only what is noticeable on national media headlines. This often leaves those most vulnerable to climate change events in relative chaos. We are then forced to pick up the long-term work of sustainability and local economic and environmental changes needed to mitigate and prevent future disasters. We can’t depend on Trump’s EPA to fight for environmental justice. We must lead the fight ourselves.

Image source via https://sojo.net/magazine/july-2013/turning-heat

FIGHT FOR “JUST TRANSITIONS”

Pressure local and state governments to invest in long-term, sustainable solutions that move away from extraction-based/carbon-focused economies towards a “just” (i.e., restorative and regenerative) one. Insist on local policies that include measurable results as well as plans to disseminate the knowledge and skills needed to implement and sustain those programs. Local knowledge and expertise will help protect and promote the political agency of communities most threatened by climate change.

Learn from the following grassroots organizations working on just transitions:

  • The Climate Justice Alliance unites frontline communities working for a just transition for Indigenous people and communities of color with direct actions, civic engagement, and policy advocacy on both the local and national levels. Subscribe to CJA’s Our Power Campaign for newsletters and updates here. Check out their action resources for training and supporting young people of color.
  • Dive into the Anti-Oppression Curriculum and Resource Bank from The Power Shift Network. Traditional (white) environmental organizations have failed to center the needs and concerns of Brown and Black communities. These resources are for climate activists working to build a just and equitable movement with leadership from grassroots organizations.
  • Follow Miami Climate Alliance on Facebook for strategic events and actions about climate change as a threat multiplier especially for low-income frontline communities. This Thursday, September 28th, Miami-Dade County will hold two events: Hurricane Irma Debrief & the 2nd Budget Hearing. Show up and demand true equity with disaster relief, emergency management, transit, and affordable housing.
  • Follow Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service on Facebook for local news, education, policy development, community awareness, and legal actions. Find out ways you can support a frontline response that is inclusive of all communities in the recovery effort. Stay up to date with conference calls for members and for those seeking to help in a #JustTransition recovery.

4) Donate to organizations working on-the-ground to combat displacement of vulnerable people from their communities as a result of gentrification and climate change. They rely on your financial support.

  • UPROSE is a grassroots organization led by women of color in Brooklyn, NY. They are nationally recognized and “promote sustainability and resiliency through community organizing, education, leadership development and cultural/artistic expression.” Their focus is climate justice and community adaptation. UPROSE holds the Climate Justice Youth Summit, which is the largest gathering of young people of color dedicated to climate justice. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and donate to their innovative programs here.
  • Right to the City Alliance emerged as a response to gentrification and the displacement of communities of color and other marginalized people from their historic urban neighborhoods. Their focus is racial, economic, and environmental justice, with a mission to “create regional and national impacts in the fields of housing, human rights, urban land, community development, civic engagement, criminal justice, environmental justice, and more.” Follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and donate here.
  • The Community In-Power and Development Association Inc. (CIDA) is a POC-led nonprofit that works to empower people in low-income communities in Port Texas, Florida. The predominately African-American area was flooded by Hurricane Harvey and is bordered by refineries. CIDA has been working since 2000 by organizing protests, lobbying for legislative changes, and collecting samples to test for pollution levels in the community. Follow them on Facebook and donate to their Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund here.
  • The New Florida Majority is working to increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded people in Florida. They train grassroots citizens to be leaders, mobilize communities to vote, and educate the public to share their values. Currently, they are involved in recovery from Hurricane Irma and advocating for the rights of communities of color in South Florida. Community organizer Valencia Gunder was recently profiled in The Root about the work being done to thwart climate gentrification in Miami’s Little Haiti. These efforts are crucial to the survival of these communities. Follow the New Florida Majority on Facebook and Twitter, and donate here.

This is Action Call #20 in a series. Read past calls to action from Threads of Solidarity here . You can financially support our work at http://www.paypal.me/SolidarityWOC.