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U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing and Extreme Heat Events

/ Blog Post

Headshot of Adrieanna Hutson
Photo of Adrieanna Hutson

By Adrieanna Hutson, a 2022 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program. Adrieanna’s project focuses on providing civil legal aid to communities in the aftermath of disasters, such as tornadoes, and on increasing the resilience of communities to future disasters. 

As a result of climate change, there is a need for increased infrastructure to sustain communities throughout the U.S. and beyond. Environmental and climate disasters increase in frequency and intensity each year, so building resilience is a necessary response to climate change. It is imperative that we respond to the changes that climate change is bringing, regardless of mitigation efforts, and the changes that have already occurred. For example, the increased frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters, such as extreme heat. Extreme heat events—such as heat waves—are incredibly dangerous to the health and safety of communities. 

The impact of such disasters is multiplied when they occur in areas of the country that don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to offset the high temperatures. When communities are unprepared for extreme heat, large groups of people may fall ill and even die—an occurrence that will get significantly worse if resilience isn’t established. This is especially evident when people, usually in the South or Midwest, don’t have access to air conditioning. The complex issues that extreme heat presents are exacerbated by another problem: the increasing unaffordability of housing.

Extreme heat is the number-one weather-related cause of death in the U.S., killing more people most years than hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes combined. Further, the number of heat-related fatalities is expected to rise due to climate change; waves are starting earlier and lasting longer. Arkansas, where I live and work, has the third highest rate of heat-related death in the nation; with Arkansans in urban environments at the highest risk. Heat is especially dangerous for disabled and elderly populations. However, children are also particularly vulnerable because they may not be able to regulate their body temperatures as effectively as adults. Children with disabilities have been removed from the biological parents’ home because the home is not safe for the children, in the absence of air conditioning, due to extreme heat. 

Arkansas, where I live and work, has the third highest rate of heat-related death in the nation; with Arkansans in urban environments at the highest risk.

Adrieanna Hutson /
2022 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has put into effect regulations for National standards for the condition of HUD housing. These regulations state that extreme heat is a health and safety hazard, and that the unit must be free of such hazards: 

The inside, outside and unit must be free of health and safety hazards that pose a danger to residents. Types of health and safety concerns include, but are not limited to carbon monoxide, electrical hazards, extreme temperature, flammable materials or other fire hazards, garbage and debris, handrail hazards, infestation, lead-based paint, mold, and structural soundness. 

The regulations don’t explicitly require HUD housing to provide air conditioning but do require compliance with state and local requirements and impose an obligation to free the unit of extreme temperatures. The assumption is probably something like, “if air conditioning is necessary for safety, then the local law will reflect that.” For the time being, those are the tools that HUD has given us. 

However, given the climate changes that are occurring and that we anticipate, I believe that state and local governments, as well as HUD, have to do more to ensure that low-income people are not being exposed to extreme temperatures. 

Read about the Disaster Resilience Program here. To learn more about Adrieanna’s work, click here. 

I believe that state and local governments, as well as HUD, have to do more to ensure that low-income people are not being exposed to extreme temperatures. 

Adrianna Hutson /
2022 Fellow in the Disaster Resilience Program

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