Climate Resilience Projects Face Big Roadblock: A Housing Shortage

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“We have all of these jobs unfilled.”

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Northern Wisconsin’s landscape is defined as much by the stunning shores of Lake Superior or the Bad River as the region’s seemingly endless winters. But as climate change accelerates, attention is shifting to ways of controlling a steep increase in stormwater, which means doubling down on existing management practices and turning to nature for inspiration. 

Nature-based solutions involve strategies like restoring streams degraded by intense logging activity, installing rain gardens next to parking lots and buildings to absorb moisture, and bringing back wetlands to purify and protect shorelines. Such efforts not only help mitigate the effects of climate change but can also create new jobs. 

Yet even when local governments, nonprofit groups and Indigenous tribes can drum up the funding to take on these projects, they are stymied by a major obstacle: People who can do the work can’t find a place to live.

“Housing!” the planning expert Juli Beth Hinds yelled recently in her kitchen while watching a PBS NewsHour television segment on Living Breakwaters, a coastal resilience project in Staten Island.

The veteran NewsHour journalist Jeffery Brown had just asked Kate Orff, a renowned landscape architect, why more people weren’t putting similar nature-based solutions into practice across the United States. Orff pointed out some of the obstacles, like deciding which jurisdiction controls what, in mapping out large-scale projects that cross boundaries. 

But Hinds, who works on land-use and water-resource policy, knows that housing can be an equally important piece of the puzzle. All too often, she said, planners cannot hire people for nature-based projects when affordable places to rent or buy are scarce to nonexistent.

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