Getting By and Getting Out: How Residents of Louisiana’s Frontline Communities Are Adapting to Environmental Change

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Scholars argue that U.S. programs and policy designed to help households adapt to or move away from environmental risk were not designed to address climate change. Others demonstrate that disaster response upholds and produces structural inequality. This article examines how existing mitigation and adaptation policies fail to respond to lived conditions of residents and communities on the front lines of environmental change and perpetuate inequality. Based on interviews with residents in the lower bayou communities of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, and professionals working in the study area, we identified three factors that influence the outcomes of mitigation and relocation initiatives. First, we found that adaptation is a dynamic, ongoing process which can lead to the need for multiple types of assistance for a given property or household over time. Second, program timing and how residents make decisions about whether and how to rebuild or relocate are misaligned. Third, current programs deny resources to frontline communities by creating participation barriers for low- and moderate-income households. The findings affirm the need for more flexible policy guidelines if assistance programs are to transform communities in ways that respond to resident priorities and the realities of environmental change.

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Housing Policy Debate

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