As Irma Hits Florida, Trump's Risk Is Different from His Neighbors'

by David Flores

September 09, 2017

As Hurricane Irma takes aim at the Florida coast, questions about property and community vulnerabilities abound, including for some of President Donald Trump's properties. A brief analysis by the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) has found that while Trump's properties, including Mar-a-Lago, face significant risk of damage from the hurricane and from the ongoing impacts of climate change, surrounding neighborhoods and communities will have a much more difficult time rebuilding and recovering from the storm. 

Three Trump developments in South Florida rank among the top seven most climate-vulnerable of his properties nationwide – Trump National Doral Miami, Trump National Golf Club, and Mar-a-Lago, all of which are located in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. All are vulnerable to storm surge and flooding with potential inundation of at least part of each property, but should the president (or his not-so-blind trust) choose to repair and rebuild them once the storm has passed, he'll be able to do so with relative ease. He disclosed earnings of more than $20 million in 2016 and early 2017 from Trump National Golf Club and more than $123 million from Trump National Doral Miami, and Mar-a-Lago brought in more than $37 million during the same time period. Assisting the president further will be his access to cash assets and lines of credit. 

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In contrast, working families in Florida do not have resources like that and will have to wait for federal and state assistance to begin rebuilding and recovering from Irma. In the meantime, they'll also need to be concerned with finding safe housing and getting back to work – two concerns the president won't have. For one measure of community vulnerability and disparities, see maps of areas surrounding Trump National Doral MiamiMar-a-Lago, and Trump National Golf Club - Jupiter.

Indeed, the communities surrounding these properties will suffer substantial hardship in recovering from the hurricane because of lack of flood insurance and issues of housing affordability in South Florida. According to the Associated Press, only 34.3 percent of homes in southernmost Florida are covered by flood insurance. Hundreds of thousands of residents in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties pay more than 30 percent of their incomes toward housing. If they own their own homes, much of their wealth is likely tied up in property, leaving little in the way of reserve funds for repairs not covered by insurance.

Palm Beach County 

  • Of 412,150 total homeowner households, 166,028 (40.3 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on mortgage payments and other housing costs.
  • Of 162,540 total rental households. 90,943 (56 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. 

Miami-Dade County

  • Of 526,517 total homeowner households, 238,490 (45.3 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on mortgage payments and other housing costs.
  • Of 414,602 total rental households, 259,575 (62.6 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. 

Broward County 

  • Of 487,521 total homeowner households, 208,887 (42.8 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on mortgage payments and other housing costs.
  • Of 238,845 total rental households, 141,229 (59.1 percent) are cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. 

Renters will face their own set of problems. They are particularly vulnerable to disasters because they can be threatened with eviction for failure to pay rent, even though their housing may be damaged and unlivable. And many renters will be unable to pull down a paycheck because of storm-based disruptions to their work. 

Undocumented immigrants are also particularly vulnerable to disaster because they cannot access all forms of government assistance and are reluctant to seek it due to threat of detainment and deportation. A recent Pew study estimates 450,000 undocumented immigrants reside in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area, comprising 7.5 percent of the total population. 

Trump's policy decisions over the past eight months could make the challenges for working families even worse. While his budget proposals may not come to fruition this fiscal year, he has proposed cutting the community development block grant and eliminating the FEMA Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis program despite the flooding risks exposed by Irma and Hurricane Harvey before it. He's also rolled back a federal flood standard that requires projects funded by federal taxpayers to consider future flood conditions before building, including accounting for the effects of climate change. That means federal recovery money distributed after the hurricanes might not even require or encourage communities to rebuild in safer ways. 

Millions will be affected as climate change continues, storms grow stronger, and flooding becomes both more frequent and more intense. But the most vulnerable among us (the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the undocumented) will be hurt the most. We need to reorient public policy on the federal, state, and local levels to do whatever is possible to keep people out of harm's way, build safer communities, and help all, not just the wealthy, recover in a fair and speedy way when disaster strikes. Resilience isn't just for the country-club set. It's for everyone.

Parcel maps courtesy of Chesapeake Commons. Satellite image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This post will be updated periodically.

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Also from David Flores

David Flores, J.D., is a CPR Policy Analyst. He joined CPR in 2016 to work on climate adaptation policy and advocacy. Before joining CPR, Mr. Flores spent eight years working for watershed nonprofit Blue Water Baltimore, where he managed water quality monitoring research, legal and regulatory advocacy, and Clean Water Act compliance monitoring and enforcement programming.

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