Geronimo: Assessing Inequities in Shore Communities – Who Stays and Who Leaves?

“New Jersey is trying to be forward-looking with their climate adaptation planning, but more work needs to be done on how we implement social justice in the distribution of federal resources for hazard mitigation and resiliency projects,” said Laura Geronimo, a doctoral student at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers.

Geronimo, who studies how coastal communities adapt in efficient and equitable ways to climate risks like sea level rise and storm surge, has observed local variation in how federal funds are applied for property level flood mitigation strategies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP): home buyouts and property elevations appear geographically clustered, with buyouts often occurring in riverine communities and elevations occurring in coastal communities.

“When assessing communities for mitigation, FEMA is using cost-benefit analysis (CBA) as a major criterion, which tends to concentrate buyouts in communities where there are lower-value properties, which also tend to be places where there are higher proportions of socially vulnerable populations. Post-Sandy, buyouts were concentrated in places like Woodbridge and Sayreville. Meanwhile, CBA makes it more cost-effective to elevate higher value properties, concentrating elevations in wealthier communities like Toms River and Brick Township,” Geronimo said.

According to Geronimo, elevations may be related to climate gentrification: Elevations tend to enhance property values, and when people elevate they also tend to build back bigger. Conversely, communities where buyouts are implemented may have difficulty finding alternative housing options. Understanding the social equity impacts of buyouts is complex, because this may be the preferred strategy among groups tired of living in the floodplain.

“There should be a continuum of care to not fracture these communities, with assistance in finding affordable alternative housing in desirable and safe locations,” she said.

It’s important to engage communities and understand what people value about a place that keeps them in the flood plain – such as proximity to the ocean or family histories – and their perception of risk, Geronimo said., November 17, 2022