Urban Wire Who Lives in the Community Disaster Resilience Zones?
Andrew Rumbach, Sara McTarnaghan, Amy Rogin
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On December 20, 2022, President Biden signed the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act, directing the federal government to designate the communities most at risk of environmental hazards to accelerate resilience actions in those places. These community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) will guide the distribution of pre- and postdisaster resources, shape climate policy, and incentivize private and nonprofit investment in underserved places to reduce losses.

The White House’s newly released National Climate Resilience Framework (PDF) describes the CDRZs as helping to “focus resources to communities most in need.” The CDRZ Act requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the National Risk Index to identify the 50 US census tracts with the highest hazard risk ratings and to include at least 1 percent of the most at-risk census tracts in each state. In addition to natural hazard exposure, the index includes pillars for social vulnerability and community resilience.

On September 6, 2023, FEMA announced the initial list of 483 CDRZs, with the designation of tribal and territorial communities to come later this year. But who lives in the CDRZs, and how do those census tracts compare with the regions they’re in and the country as a whole?

Given the range of criteria for designating CDRZs and their geographic diversity, knowing more about the zones as a group will be important for targeting resources to community needs. We used data from the American Community Survey to profile the CDRZs and the households living in them.

The population and households of the CDRZs, by the numbers

The CDRZs are home to 2.17 million people, or about 0.65 percent of the US population. The population of the CDRZs, according to the US Census Bureau’s classification, is distributed similarly to the nation, with slightly higher shares living in the South and West and slightly lower in the Midwest and Northeast. Overall, the CDRZs are significantly more rural (41.9 percent) than the country (19.1 percent), with this difference especially pronounced in the Midwest, where CDRZs are rural at a rate (59.8 percent) more than double that of overall census tracts (26.1 percent).


The population of the CDRZs is also less white than the country. Regionally, the CDRZs tend to have higher shares of Black residents in the South and Northeast, and higher shares of Hispanic residents in the Northeast and West. The CDRZs have slightly lower Asian populations than average in every region.


The Social Vulnerability Index, which is used in part to determine CDRZs, uses household characteristics like poverty rate and members with a disability, with both characteristics present in higher rates in CDRZs than the nation or surrounding regions. The median household income in CDRZs is $21,413—lower than the national average—while the poverty rate is significantly higher (20.2 percent compared with 13.5 percent). More households in CDRZs have a member with a disability (16.5 percent) than the national average (13.4 percent), with the highest share in the Midwest (19 percent). However, the share of the population in CDRZ’s who are younger than 17 or 65 and older is consistent with the share nationally.

Homeownership rates are lower in the CDRZs compared with the nation, most notably in the Northeast, where homeownership rates lag the regional average by nearly 20 percentage points. Despite having lower incomes and higher poverty rates, the share of households who are rent burdened—defined as spending more than 30 percent of their household income on rent—is only slightly higher in CDRZs than census tracts nationally. However, at the regional level, households living in CDRZs in the Northeast (50.6 percent) and South (46.9 percent) are more rent burdened than the average, while households living in CDRZs in the West are less so.


Broadband access also lags in CDRZs, where households have high-speed internet at a rate (80.3 percent) that is slightly lower than the national average (85.9 percent). Finally, more than 1 in 6 housing units are vacant in CDRZs, compared with roughly 1 in 9 nationwide.

CDRZs are diverse places with unique needs

This analysis confirms that the people and communities living in places designated as CDRZs have consistently higher levels of social and economic vulnerability than the country. It also shows that the CDRZs are diverse places, likely with substantially different needs and priorities for hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation policies, projects, and programs. Most notably, the initial designation of CDRZs overrepresented rural places across all regions, which points to a unique set of needs and opportunities for infrastructure and other investments. Continuing to learn about the social context, built environment, and economic characteristics of the CDRZs—locally and nationally—will help policymakers at all levels to define and achieve success.

Research Areas Climate change, disasters, and community resilience
Tags Climate resilient housing Equitable disaster recovery Climate safety net Environmental justice Planning for climate change Climate justice Climate impacts and community resilience Equitable emergency management policy Climate adaptation and resilience Climate mitigation, sustainability, energy and land use Disaster recovery and mitigation Community public safety investment
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center
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