On December 20, 2022, President Biden signed the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act, directing the federal government to designate the communities most at risk of environmental hazards to accelerate resilience actions in those places. These community disaster resilience zones (CDRZs) will guide the distribution of pre- and postdisaster resources, shape climate policy, and incentivize private and nonprofit investment in underserved places to reduce losses.

The White House’s newly released National Climate Resilience Framework (PDF) describes the CDRZs as helping to “focus resources to communities most in need.” The CDRZ Act requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use the National Risk Index to identify the 50 US census tracts with the highest hazard risk ratings and to include at least 1 percent of the most at-risk census tracts in each state. In addition to natural hazard exposure, the index includes pillars for social vulnerability and community resilience.

On September 6, 2023, FEMA announced the initial list of 483 CDRZs, with the designation of tribal and territorial communities to come later this year. But who lives in the CDRZs, and how do those census tracts compare with the regions they’re in and the country as a whole?

Given the range of criteria for designating CDRZs and their geographic diversity, knowing more about the zones as a group will be important for targeting resources to community needs. We used data from the American Community Survey to profile the CDRZs and the households living in them.

The Social Vulnerability Index, which is used in part to determine CDRZs, uses household characteristics like poverty rate and members with a disability, with both characteristics present in higher rates in CDRZs than the nation or surrounding regions. The median household income in CDRZs is $21,413—lower than the national average—while the poverty rate is significantly higher (20.2 percent compared with 13.5 percent). More households in CDRZs have a member with a disability (16.5 percent) than the national average (13.4 percent), with the highest share in the Midwest (19 percent). However, the share of the population in CDRZ’s who are younger than 17 or 65 and older is consistent with the share nationally.

Homeownership rates are lower in the CDRZs compared with the nation, most notably in the Northeast, where homeownership rates lag the regional average by nearly 20 percentage points. Despite having lower incomes and higher poverty rates, the share of households who are rent burdened—defined as spending more than 30 percent of their household income on rent—is only slightly higher in CDRZs than census tracts nationally. However, at the regional level, households living in CDRZs in the Northeast (50.6 percent) and South (46.9 percent) are more rent burdened than the average, while households living in CDRZs in the West are less so.

Read the full article about community disaster resilience by Andrew Rumbach, Sara McTarnaghan, and Amy Rogin at Urban Institute.