Combating Climate Displacement in Miami and Beyond

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Flooded neighborhood

When natural disasters strike, neighborhoods distanced from the coastline and sitting at the highest elevations remain the most protected. However, this makes them a prime target for climate gentrification.

Climate gentrification occurs when climate-driven development (i.e., targeting areas more resilient to the effects of climate change such as those in higher elevations) displaces existing low-to-moderate-income marginalized communities.

Rather than focus on the many factors that can lead to climate gentrification, the Environmental Justice Clinic at Miami Law focuses on alleviating the main unwanted consequence of gentrification: the displacement of people, particularly low-to-moderate-income minority communities.

To combat displacement, the EJC, in collaboration with stakeholders, designed the Displacement Vulnerability and Mitigation Tool to assess and mitigate displacement of protected classes and vulnerable populations created by proposed developments.

The DVMT will allow government entities to identify, monitor, and assist populations vulnerable to displacement.

“Designed to be completed by a developer as part of the permitting process, the tool provides a framework by which developers and local municipalities can make informed decisions when considering new developments,” said Abigail Fleming, practitioner-in-residence for the EJC.

The tool identifies potential mitigation strategies such as financial contributions to trust funds, constructing affordable housing, and relocation assistance. The mitigation efforts identified are non-exhaustive; thus, the developers, local government, and the community are encouraged to include mitigation efforts that best meet the community’s needs.

“The framework will allow municipalities to work collaboratively with developers and community residents to design and implement mitigation strategies that will empower communities, not break them apart,” said EJC intern and a second-year student, Dimitri Syros. “The framework is meant to be flexible, meaning any local or state government could adapt the DVMT to its needs.”

Others are already taking note. The Washington State Bar Association invited the EJC to present the DVMT as part of a Continuing Legal Education course titled “Climate Displacement & Migration: Challenges and Opportunities.” During the presentation, Syros led and walked the audience through the tool. Afterward, Fleming moderated a panel discussion with community activists.

Panelists included Daniela Tagtachian, a poverty lawyer and a sociology Ph.D. student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Theresa Pinto, J.D. ’20, the executive director of PEER Group, Inc. and a lecturer at the University of Miami; and Mayra Cruz, a community activist and the Climate Justice Director at Catalyst Miami.

“We are incredibly thankful to the Washington State Bar for allowing us to present the tool, ensuring equity and inclusivity beyond Miami,” said Fleming. “The presentation gave voice to community activists fighting displacement daily. It also allowed my students to build invaluable presentation skills.”

In addition to preparing for and taking part in the presentation, EJC students have worked with the GIS Resources at UM Libraries to gather and analyze data that informs the mitigation strategies for the DVMT.

“Abraham Parrish has been an amazing support. I am learning more than I could have ever imagined,” said EJC Intern and second-year student, Taylor Hill. “I have learned how to use GIS to visualize the data, making it more accessible to our community partners. The knowledge I learned through this experience has empowered my advocacy skills.”

Looking ahead, the EJC plans to continue workshopping the DVMT and building a coalition to help make a tangible difference in preserving the cultural make-up of some of Miami’s most storied communities.

Read more about Miami Law’s Environmental Justice Clinic

Read more about Miami Law’s Environmental Law Program