In September 2008, Hurricane Ike caused massive damages to Galveston Island’s residential structures including four public housing developments. These developments were located in neighborhoods with some of the lowest incomes and highest percentages of people of color on the Island. Four months later, the Galveston Housing Authority (GHA) decided to demolish all four developments consisting of 569 housing units due to the damages to the buildings. Today, despite federal regulations requiring reconstruction, court orders mandating replacement of the demolished units, and available funding, only 142 low-income apartments have been rebuilt. We used the social vulnerability framework to understand these outcomes through the ability of groups to shape post-disaster recovery decisions. This paper argues that one of the overlooked characteristics of social vulnerability is a diminished ability to participate in post-disaster decision-making. We found that social vulnerability limited participation through three distinct mechanisms: the physical displacement of public housing residents, the stigmatization of public housing, and the reduction of residents to housing units in the debates. There were few local advocates arguing for the preservation of public housing units and even fewer remaining residents to speak up for themselves in the face of strong local resistance to the reconstruction of public housing units or the return of public housing residents. The void of a strong and authentic local pro-public housing perspective in Galveston provided an opening for various local campaigns to claim that their desired plan benefited the poor. The disaster recovery became an opportunity to remove or reduce public housing units and therefore public housing residents. Our findings show the dynamic features of vulnerability. While static factors of vulnerability can limit access to resources for recovery, dynamic processes of social marginalization and exclusion limit the voices of socially vulnerable groups in recovery decisions and exacerbate marginalization.
Natural Hazards – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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