After hurricanes, what makes people decide to stay or to go?

The flooding and destruction from hurricanes Ida and Nicholas pose a difficult choice for residents of the Gulf Coast, many of whom will choose to stay in their homes even after suffering significant damage. Anna Rhodes, an assistant professor of sociology at Rice University, is available to discuss what drives post-disaster housing decisions.

Rhodes explores this topic in her newly published paper, “Best Laid Plans: How the Middle Class Make Residential Decisions Post-Disaster.” Her research specifically looks at how middle-class families navigated the choice to remain and rebuild or relocate after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“As families plan for the future, these hopes and dreams are often tied to a specific place,” she said. “In the aftermath of a disaster, if a family does not already have plans to move or a clear idea about where to go, it is difficult for them to relocate. Instead, their residential decisions are guided by their plans for stability in their existing community, which ultimately lead people to rebuild and return.”

Rhodes’ work shows that most disaster assistance programs motivate storm victims to rebuild their homes. In the absence of policies that encourage residents to consider moving, she says, they will probably stay even if they live in high-risk areas prone to more flooding.

“Our changing climate means that more families will face this decision in coming years, just as families across the Gulf Coast are facing these decisions today in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Nicholas,” she said.

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