A new report is urging lawmakers to fight the affordable housing crisis as part of a larger effort to prepare communities against the worst effects of climate change.

The Center for American Progress report released Thursday found that there is a national shortage of 7 million homes for low-income renters. This shortage disproportionately affects disabled people and minority communities that also have the fewest resources to recover from natural disasters linked to climate change.

“When disaster strikes, preparation is the key,” said Guillermo Ortiz, report co-author and research assistant for energy and environment at the left-leaning policy think tank. “Who is prepared and who has money to prepare varies widely.”

The report recommended supporting equitable evacuation and disaster recovery, expanding investments in rental and homeless assistance programs, prioritizing equitable housing policies, investing in lasting infrastructure, and increasing funding for disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation.

Heidi Schultheis, report co-author and senior policy analyst for CAP’s Poverty to Prosperity Program, said it is important to talk about affordable housing and climate change together, rather than treating them like silos.

“All research shows they are not separate issues, they are one and the same problem,” she said.

Valerie Novack, report co-author and Portlight fellow at the Disability Justice Initiative, said emergency response and recovery for disadvantaged people has been slow in the past. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, for example, many elderly and disabled residents were stranded in their apartments for weeks. And out of the 33 New York City Housing Authority buildings damaged, only one rebuild has been completed.

“People are houseless and displaced now,” Novack said. “We are lackadaisical in how we respond to that.”

The center’s report came as the nation this year has experienced six weather events with losses topping $1 billion. With hurricane season entering full swing, losses are expected to increase.

“This is a now problem, and it is a problem that is going to be worse in the future,” Novack said.

Despite the urgency expressed in the report, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is still struggling with employee vacancies. FEMA officials said in June that less than 25% of its disaster workforce is ready and available to respond (Climatewire, June 13). The agency is also lacking a formal administrator, an issue that Ortiz said was concerning.

“It is critical that these communities have agencies that are fully equipped to deal with these problems,” he said.

Ortiz said climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. By drawing attention to this issue, he said more officials can prepare, make investments and make better decisions.

“This is about protecting lives,” he said. “It is about protecting public health.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.