New Report on 2022 Kentucky Floods Highlights Impact of Disasters on Affordable Housing

A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on flooding in Kentucky in July 2022 finds that floods exacerbated affordable housing shortages and pre-existing weaknesses in local labor markets. The report, Resilience and Recovery: Insights from the July 2022 Eastern Kentucky Flood, reveals the devastating effects of the floods, which led to permanent displacement and population out-migration, which in turn reduced the available workforce.

A series of intense thunderstorms resulted in heavy rainfall, deadly flash floods, and severe river flooding in eastern Kentucky and central Appalachia during the last week of July 2022. Hourly rainfall rates exceeding four inches over the course of several days and subsequent flooding led to 39 fatalities and federal disaster area declarations for 13 eastern Kentucky counties.

Across the 13 counties, the floods affected 8,950 homes, disproportionately those of low-income residents. Low-income households and renters are at a higher risk of permanent displacement due to occupancy of lower-quality housing that is more likely to be demolished instead of being rebuilt following a disaster. The likelihood of displacement is exacerbated by limited relocation options in rural areas and the prohibitive cost of flood insurance.

The report finds that in Breathitt, Kott, Letcher, and Perry counties, residential vacancies increased by 19% in the months following the floods. Given that an average of 600 people a year have left the area since 1984, the data indicate that significant increases in displacement and out-migration are occurring.

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