NEW YORK – Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise) today released a policy brief providing recommendations to policymakers at every level of government to prepare communities for an influx of migrants as climate change forces millions of Americans in disaster-prone areas to leave their homes. With the latest Census Bureau estimates showing that more than three million Americans were displaced due to climate change in 2022—a number expected to rise as the scale of disasters increases—the brief urges communities that will receive climate migrants to begin planning now.

“Climate migration is already happening. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans who are displaced by wildfires, flooding and other disasters do not return home,” said Dr. Rachel Bogardus Drew, senior research director at Enterprise and the lead author of the brief. “Policymakers need to take steps now to ensure we are prepared for the way climate change will reshape our homes and communities.” 

The policy brief is based on the findings of the Urban Institute’s Climate Migrants and Receiving Communities study, which combines interviews with members of communities receiving climate migrants with quantitative analysis of available data on climate migrations. The study examines the effects of these migrations on five operational areas for receiving communities: housing markets; financial health; employment and economic development; health care systems; and cultural, social and recreational institutions. The recommendations offered by Enterprise’s brief are designed to support receiving communities in each of these areas. 

The brief outlines eight key recommendations for policymakers to directly address challenges and needs associated with the impacts of climate migration on receiving communities:

  1. Encourage and provide resources for potential receiving communities to build capacity in advance of a migration event. Federal and state agencies should provide funding and technical assistance to encourage potential receiving communities to prepare for a future climate migration.
  2. Allocate disaster relief to receiving communities when a migration occurs. The federal government should make grants available to fund receiving communities’ climate migration support services. 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—like hiring staff, expanding public assistance programs and supporting community institutions directly engaged with the migrant population.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  6. Bolster communication between key stakeholders. Identify ready and relevant partners in advance, develop scenarios of potential migratory events and establish protocols for implementation and collaboration if and when it is needed.
  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.
  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.  

Read the full report and a blog from the authors.

About Enterprise Community Partners 
Enterprise is a national nonprofit that exists to make a good home possible for the millions of families without one. We support community development organizations on the ground, aggregate and invest capital for impact, advance housing policy at every level of government, and build and manage communities ourselves. Since 1982, we have invested $54 billion and created 873,000 homes across all 50 states – all to make home and community places of pride, power and belonging.