Hazard Vulnerability and Housing Inequality after the Tuscaloosa, Alabama Tornado: A Critical Analysis of Rebuilding Efforts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 48
Oral Presentation
Kasi SMART , University of Alabama, AL
Ariane PROHASKA , University of Alabama, AL
The tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa, AL and surrounding areas on April 27, 2011 caused tremendous destruction to both residences and businesses. The highest levels of damage occurred among low-income residences, both single and multifamily.  In this paper, we apply hazard vulnerability theory to the rebuilding of infrastructure in Tuscaloosa.  Hazard vulnerability theory focuses on how social factors, including include race, gender, place, and socio-economic status,   affect a population’s preparedness for a natural disaster. We extend this perspective into the recovery process, particularly on the availability of low-income, multifamily housing approximately two years after the storm.  Data from multiple sources, including city planning resources, apartment websites, and interviews with city personnel, indicate that multifamily residences that have been constructed to replace destroyed or damaged housing complexes generally demand higher rents and have fewer units available for rent than the complexes that existed before the storm. Additionally, even as a residential construction boom has occurred in Tuscaloosa following the storm, the new complexes are almost entirely marketed to the college student population, even though none of the multifamily housing complexes destroyed in the storm solely housed college students.  Although low-income populations were more affected than student populations, the economic advantages of building for student populations (i.e. “disaster capitalism”) have outweighed the social responsibility of rebuilding residences for low-income individuals. We conclude that low-income residents of Tuscaloosa were doubly vulnerable to natural disasters; not only were they more likely to be living in structurally flawed housing before the storm, they were also left out of the rebuilding process after the tornado. We discuss some of the potential consequences of the reconstruction of Tuscaloosa, and propose suggestions that can limit social inequality in the rebuilding process for Tuscaloosa and other cities that have been harmed by natural disasters.