Kim Brooks and Sondra Jackson peek into their new apartment at the Primrose Casa Bella Senior Apartments September 5, 2005 in Houston, Texas.

In the coming years, several communities across the U.S. are likely to find themselves on the receiving end of domestic migrations from places impacted by climate-induced disasters, including both sudden and chronic events. A new policy brief from Enterprise Community Partners discusses how policymakers can mitigate the impact of such migrations on potential receiving communities and assist climate refugees as they resettle in their new homes.

The brief derives its recommendations for policymakers from recent studies of communities that have experienced large-scale climate migrations. Funded by the National Academy of Science’s Gulf Research Program and led by the Urban Institute in collaboration with Enterprise and the RAND Corporation, the studies examine impacts in three receiving communities across five operational areas: housing markets, health care systems, employment and economic development, financial health, and social, cultural and recreational institutions. The three case studies are: 

  • The Houston, Texas area, where hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians moved after Hurricane Katrina
  • Central Florida, which received tens of thousands of climate refugees from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria
  • Parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes in Louisiana, as gradual land loss and sea-level rise in the Gulf of Mexico has forced coastal residents of these areas to move further inland.

The eight recommendations include steps that policymakers at all levels of government should take now to ensure that receiving communities are prepared for future migrations, including:

  1. Encourage and provide resources for potential receiving communities to build capacity in advance of a migration event. Federal and state agencies can provide funding and technical assistance to encourage potential receiving communities to prepare for a future climate migration. Such funding would allow receiving communities to conduct evaluations of their current capacity to respond to a climate-based migration, anticipate a range of scenarios with different resources needed to address them, and develop off-the-shelf strategies that can be quickly activated.
  2. Allocate disaster relief to receiving communities when a migration occurs. Grants should be provided to help fund receiving communities’ climate migration support services, including: hiring staff to develop and manage migrant-specific systems, expanding existing public assistance programs to meet higher demand, and supporting community institutions directly engaged with the migrant population. These grants could be modeled on existing disaster recovery programs, such as CDBG-DR, which provides considerable leeway to grantees to spend funds on the most urgent needs.
  3. Set up a centralized system for migrants to access available services and resources. A central hub for migrants to learn about and access critical services, as well as streamlined applications and support programs that can flexibly address a range of needs, can greatly enhance the migration response efforts of receiving communities. As part of their advance planning, receiving communities should identify likely locations for such one-stop shops and coordinate with important stakeholders, including private and nonprofit organizations, to pair information on housing, employment, education, health and financial service needs.
  4. Increase transportation options and availability for migrants. Receiving communities need to factor migrants’ transportation needs into their planning and provide alternatives where existing transit systems are not suitable. For example, when identifying short-term housing options, local governments should prioritize locations that are proximate to existing transit lines migrants can use to access employment, health care and other services. In some cases, receiving communities might need to increase capacity in their transit systems, such as by running trains and buses more often or outside of peak commuting periods. Where existing public transportation systems are either unavailable or not located near where migrants live, receiving communities may need to create new options to assist migrants as they resettle. 
  5. Provide cash assistance directly to migrants. A cash grant program could be made available specifically to allow individuals and families leaving a high climate-risk location to resettle in a new community, with extended and less restrictive terms than current programs. Such funds would provide migrants with a financial cushion as they acclimate to their receiving community, allowing them to, for example, purchase a car to mitigate transportation barriers or afford higher housing costs relative to their previous community.
  6. Bolster coordination between key stakeholders. Stakeholders can prepare for climate migrations by identifying ready and relevant partners in advance, developing scenarios of potential migratory events, and establishing protocols for implementation and collaboration if and when needed. This advance planning would substantially streamline the response effort needed, ensure appropriate distributions of resources at critical times of need, and leverage existing relationships and capabilities to support climate migrants.
  7. Expand data collection during climate migrations to identify and address both current and future needs for migrants. Receiving communities can require certain data collection and reporting tasks of organizations and providers that are contracted to support or serve migrant populations. This data should include not just information on the migrants themselves – including their use of available assistance programs and the outcomes of this support – but also on the cost, composition and duration of the programs. Such information would help other receiving communities better anticipate and prepare for activation of these programs in the event of a migration.
  8. Plan for a long-term recovery. Receiving communities should expect any climate migration to be a slow and evolving process and be prepared to support migrants’ needs for months or even years following their relocation. Such an extended commitment requires available financing to bridge what is available to address immediate needs, and what comes as part of a longer-term recovery when migrants are absorbed into the existing population.

The brief also provides some general guidelines for receiving communities considering any of the above actions, such as conducting self-assessments of existing capacity in their housing and other systems to absorb migrants, leverage existing resources in their communities with ties to likely-migrant populations, managing expectations and communicating any steps taken with existing residents, and preparing for climate-related impacts in their own regions. 

Read the news release and the full report.