Research Report Climate Migration and Receiving Community Institutional Capacity in the US Gulf Coast
Anne N. Junod, Fernando Rivera, Amy Rogin, Jorge Morales-Burnett
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In the coming decades, the US Gulf Coast is expected to experience continued sea level rise, more intense hurricanes, and rising temperatures resulting from climate change, making the region less safe for its residents and likely prompting continued migration both within and out of the region. Climate change–induced disasters and more gradual environmental changes are affecting all areas of the country, and growing numbers of people are moving to different communities and regions to escape these hazards. Accordingly, climate resilience in the Gulf Coast and nationwide must be assessed by communities’ capacity to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as the ability of both sending and receiving communities to plan for climate migration.

This overarching report introduces the five areas of study and the three case study communities; synthesizes key observations from the five studies about institutional and community capacity to welcome and support climate migrants in the US Gulf Coast; and offers recommendations for communities and regions poised to receive climate migrants to support coordination, planning, and policy.

Key Takeaways

  1. Institutional relationships developed before climate migrants’ arrival are critical to building community response capacity.
  2. Climate migrants can navigate years of uncertainty as institutions may struggle to meet evolving needs in emergency, transition, and long-term periods.
  3. Regional receiving communities experience both “fast” and “slow” migration.
  4. Transportation plays a key role in shaping access to housing, employment, health care, and overall quality of life.
  5. Climate migration is happening in the context of multiple, compounding, ongoing, and interrelated environmental crises.

How We Did It

Our research examined the impacts of and responses to climate migration across five institutional domains: employment and economic development, financial institutions and financial health, health care systems, housing markets, and social, cultural, and recreational institutions. Unlike much of the existing research on climate migration, these studies focus on the capacities of receiving communities rather than the impacts on and outcomes among migrants themselves. The overarching research questions were as follows:

  • What institutional conditions existed in receiving communities before climate migrants’ arrival?
  • How did local institutions and providers respond to climate migrants?
  • To what extent have institutional conditions and capacities changed over time?

All five studies used mixed-methods data collected from three US Gulf Coast communities that have received climate migrants following catastrophic climate change–induced hurricane events in recent years: Houston, Texas, as a receiving community for climate migrants from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the Orlando, Florida, region as a receiving community for climate migrants from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2016; and inland Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes in Louisiana as a receiving region for climate migrants displaced by land loss, worsening storms, and hurricanes in the far southern coastal region of the state.

Research Areas Climate change, disasters, and community resilience Economic mobility and inequality Health and health care Housing Housing finance Land use Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Nonprofits and philanthropy Race and equity Workforce
Tags Climate safety net Planning for climate change Climate displacement and migration Workforce development Federal, state, and local immigration and integration policy Financial products and services Health care systems and managed care plans Health equity Housing and the economy Housing markets Housing stability Immigrant-serving organizations Job markets and labor force Job search and matching Labor force Land use and zoning Neighborhood change Race, gender, class, and ethnicity Refugees and global migration Rental housing Rural people and places State and local tax issues Transportation
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
Research Methods Community Engagement Resource Center Data collection Qualitative data analysis Quantitative data analysis
Cities Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX New Orleans-Metairie, LA Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL