May 11, 2016

What’s Gentrification Got To Do With It?: Anti-Displacement as a Climate Resilience Strategy

By Khanh Pham
Environmental Justice Manager

In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, APANO is bringing our audience content all month-long, all centered on the theme of Building Power. Each week will see a different topic, with each topic connected by our central theme. This week’s topic: Anti-Displacement.

As the Environmental Justice Manager, I have the privilege of being able to work on advancing APANO’s anti-displacement goals as well as our climate justice goals. Many people see these as two completely separate issues, and indeed, the people and organizations working on these issues rarely overlap.

But as I’ve learned more about the people and trends driving the housing crisis, and learned more about the ways climate change impacts our work, I see that anti-displacement and climate justice are deeply interconnected.


The impacts of climate change are often seen as rising sea levels, increased flooding, and super-storms like Hurricane Sandy. Some might point to the human impacts to health, such as increased illnesses due to heat waves or vector-borne diseases. What people don’t talk about is that the social impacts of climate change, such as on housing prices, which are indirect, multi-faceted, and yet can be as damaging as a hurricane.

As the rest of the country is suffering from record droughts, heat waves, floods, and super-storms, the Portland metro region (and the Pacific Northwest in general), with its moderate climate, is seen as a safer, more stable, and (relative to other West Coast Cities) more affordable place to live among people who have the means to move. I call this “climate gentrification”, because the people moving in have higher incomes and more wealth, and their in-migration results in higher rents and housing prices that push lower-income people and people of color out of their neighborhoods and often out of the city altogether.

It’s important to distinguish between climate gentrification and climate refugees. Climate refugees are forcibly displaced because of a climatically-induced disaster; they have no other choice, and they do not have the means and privilege to deliberate on the most ideal locations to resettle. Low-income African-American residents who were displaced by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, or the people of the Pacific Islands who are increasingly losing their homelands to saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion, and drought—are examples of climate refugees.


As the child of Vietnamese refugees, I know that the US has a history of welcoming at least *some* refugees to its shores. Today the best way to make sure that refugees and immigrants can thrive (along with the people who’ve lived here for generations) is to build and preserve affordable housing for everyone. Climate change is a threat multiplier. It isn’t causing the affordable housing crisis, but it is exacerbating the existing housing crisis and making it worse, and in turn, it is making it harder for communities to build their resilience to climate change. As people are pushed further out into neighborhoods without public transit, or sidewalks, they have to drive, which increases expenses and emissions, and reduces access to jobs, services, and opportunity.

Stable communities are more resilient communities. Strategies for climate resilience, therefore, must include policies, such as inclusionary zoning, rent control and other tenant protections, and massive investments in public and private affordable housing. We at APANO are pushing to make sure that housing justice, and the needs of communities most impacted by displacement, are included in the climate justice policy agenda.

APANO’s work with the Jade District is focused on development without displacement. To support this work, consider donating to APANO so we can continue our work based on our anti-displacement values. As if that was not a good enough reason, as awardees of the Coulter Foundation, all donations to APANO at $100 or more will be matched dollar for dollar- that means you can double your gift and extend its impact!

Want to see what others have created for AAPI Heritage Month? Find a list of our Heritage Month posts here!

Follow APANO during heritage month by using hashtags #APIsBuildingPower and #AAPIHM, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter: @APANONews.