This research explores the impacts of climate displacement on residents following the 2018 and 2019 Wolastoq River floods. The team’s research revealed that flooding deepened housing insecurity for the area’s already socially and economically vulnerable people — many of whom face racism, colonialism and sexism.
This research helps us to better understand the housing needs of lower-income and other disadvantaged groups following housing damage or loss. It provides evidence-based policies to ensure the basic human right to housing for people displaced by climate change.
As Canada faces increasing frequency of floods, fires and severe storms, this knowledge is key to improving housing stability and climate-resiliency.
3 Key Findings
We need national, unified policies to address housing damage and loss due to climate disasters.
Policies addressing housing loss and disrepair must offer equitable support to low-income households and other disadvantaged groups.
Indigenous Peoples’ knowledge of the land provides vital insights into housing and climate policy and developing climate-resilient housing and communities.
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(Visual: Government of Canada logo, National Housing Strategy logo and CMHC logo fade in together. A drone shot moves over the University of New Brunswick campus. A sign for a housing research lab is shown on the wall of a building. Cut to internal shot of a sign beside an open office door that reads: “Home-RL”. The camera pans across the open concept office space.)
I’m Julia Woodhall-Melnik. I work at the University of New Brunswick. I’m an associate professor and I’m the director of the housing mobilization and engagement research lab or HOME-RL.
(Visual: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik, the person speaking, appears on camera. Flooded landscapes, communities, and homes in New Brunswick are shown in a series of done images.)
(Text on screen: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik, Associate Professor — University of New Brunswick)
One of the many research projects we have going on here was to do a study of the 2018 and 2019 floods in New Brunswick and look at the folks who lost their housing or had severe damage done to their housing and what they did following the flood to rebuild their lives.
(Visual: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik is shown in a series of images working in her office.)
So we think that this will have a huge impact on policy moving forward because we know that we’re seeing more and more flooding and more huge climate related disasters and events happening.
(Visual: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik appears on camera. She continues to speak.)
We’re going to have to as a country look at how we respond to the very real threat of housing loss and the reality of housing damage and loss for people who have been exposed to these disasters.
(Visual: Government of Canada logo, National Housing Strategy logo, and CMHC logo fade in together. Logos fade to white.)
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Project scope and expected outcomes
Consulting with people who have experienced housing damage and loss
The research team investigated the impacts of the 2018 and 2019 Wolastoq River floods. Through focus groups and one-on-one interviews, they discovered that housing damage and loss are devastating to all survivors. However, people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage were disproportionately impacted.
The research team also discovered that social policy failed to address socioeconomic disparities in the disaster relief offered to households. Households without access to funds to repair damage and plan for future floods faced challenges in re-securing their housing. This made the most vulnerable study participants housing insecure and homeless.
Deepening knowledge of climate change displacement
The research team will build on their earlier work to ensure greater national uptake of their policy recommendations. They will do this by:
- engaging with people with lived experience of housing loss and damage due to climate disasters. This will be done through 4 regional virtual focus groups in New Brunswick, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.
- delivering an interactive virtual workshop and infographic of policy recommendations. These will be presented to national associations that provide disaster relief such as Red Cross and groups that inform housing policy, such as the Expert Community on Housing.
- developing and delivering a policy brief and summary report of recommendations. This will promote updated evidence-based solutions for responding to housing damage and loss. The team will create a policy brief and summary report for disaster mitigation, climate adaption and housing ministries in federal, provincial and territorial governments. They will advocate for national and regionally based policies that respond to housing loss and damage. The effectiveness of policy implementation will be evaluated through a feedback survey to policymakers following each meeting.
Indigenous knowledge — vital insights
The team will also expand the scope of their research to include Indigenous knowledge for managing climate disasters and housing damage and loss. Because of their historic connection to the Wolastoq, the 2018 and 2019 floods had significant impacts on Indigenous People. For example, through key informant interviews, the team learned that many Indigenous Persons used their knowledge of the land to avoid living in areas that are prone to flooding.
The team will explore ways to establish partnerships that value Indigenous knowledge on housing and climate change. The research team will complete these activities:
- a literature review of Indigenous policy consultation
- seek opportunities to share findings with Indigenous Elders
- seek input for partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and groups for housing and climate change research
Disproportionate impacts of housing damage and loss from climate disasters
Climate disasters often force people to relocate from their homes. This disproportionately impacts people and communities that are disadvantaged.
Disadvantaged groups are:
- more frequently exposed to climate threats
- more susceptible to damage caused by climate changes
- less able to cope and recover from damage
Residents who left their homes had limited access to funds for repairs of flood mitigation. They also experienced stress due to concern with the possibility of repeated disasters. These residents experienced:
- financial constraints
- housing instability or homelessness
- diminished well-being
The research found that lower-income people don’t have access to funds to wait for government reimbursements to cover differences between supports and building costs. This results in increased housing insecurity and financial vulnerability.
Disaster relief that leaves no one behind
Groups that are disproportionately impacted by climate disasters include:
- people living in poverty
- people living with physical or mental health concerns
Policies addressing housing loss and disrepair must include equitable supports to low-income households and other disadvantaged groups. These include:
- providing low-barrier access to households in need of repairs
- mitigation construction to avoid future damage following disasters
This research highlights the need for equitable and effective disaster relief and makes these recommendations:
- Promote equity in the uptake of disaster relief supports to ensure that individuals with access to less funds are not made homeless or housing insecure.
- Provide mental health care to people who are displaced from their homes and communities.
- Align with best practices to achieve adequate and stable housing.
- Support households to ensure that their human rights to housing and housing choice are respected.
Program: CMHC Housing Research Awards
Activity Stream: CMHC President’s Medal for Outstanding Housing Research
Title of the Research: Climate Change and Housing Loss: Investigating residential displacement, housing damage and associated vulnerabilities from the 2018 and 2019 flooding of the Wolastoq in New Brunswick
Lead Researcher: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik, University of New Brunswick
Project Coordination: Dr. Julia Woodhall-Melnik, University of New Brunswick
- Cassandra Monette, University of New Brunswick
- Emily Nombro, University of New Brunswick
- Rachel Bryant, Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, University of New Brunswick
- Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction and Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response