Wildfire Toolkit: Regulations & Policies

Land Use Planning & Cost Burdens

Policies and regulations at all levels of government - local, state, and federal - can have profound effects on communities and families before, during, and after a wildfire. It is critical for community members, organizations, agencies, and decision makers to understand the intersectionality of land use planning, zoning, insurance policy, affordable housing, transportation and other urban and rural policies in order to survive, mitigate illness, death, and property damage, and recover from catastrophic disasters such as wildfires. Proactive and integrated policies and regulations particularly matter for our most underserved and marginalized communities that rely on prepared, organized, and coordinated agencies and organizations to provide critical services during emergencies, which already expose these communities to even more vulnerabilities.

Latinos have a higher poverty rate compared to the national average, experience a higher housing cost burden, and have a greater ratio of renters compared to homeowners. Because of these circumstances, Latino communities are at a greater risk of rental gouging and price gouging for goods and services, in addition to difficulty in accessing affordable housing, recovery services, and disaster relief after a wildfire. When discussing solutions for wildfire preparedness and mitigation through policies and regulations, it is also important to consider energy insecurity, poverty rates and low income households, particularly in deciding whether ratepayers, taxpayers, utilities or other funding structures bear the cost burden of preparing for, recovering, and adapting to life with wildfires.

  • The amount of Latinos who are “housing cost burdened” — spending 30% or more of household income on housing costs — grew from 42.4% in 2000 to 56.9% in 2015.
  • More Latinos rent their homes (54%) than their white peers (28%).
  • Since 1990, the Latino population in the rural United States has more than doubled. A 2010 study found that overall, rates of Latino segregation were the highest when they settled into new destinations lacking established Latino communities, particularly in suburban and rural areas.
  • 12% of US Latinos do not have access to a car, almost double the percentage of their white counterparts (6.5%). Latinos are more likely than any other group to live in a multigenerational household with young and/or aging family members who can’t drive themselves to school, work, healthcare and other services.

Not only is mobility an issue for rural Latinos to access schools, jobs, healthcare, food, and other daily services and necessities, but it is also a critical component to evacuate and access services, school, and employment during and after a wildfire.

  • About 10% of California’s wildfires are triggered by utility equipment. While this is a small percentage, they are often some of the largest and most damaging fires. San Diego Gas & Electric reports that 60% of its lines are buried underground, including rural power lines that run through wildfire prone areas.
  • Over 40% of Latino households are energy insecure - they cannot afford the energy required to heat and cool their homes, refrigerate food and medicine, or they make the tough decision between paying their electric bill or paying for food, medical care, and other basic necessities. Households experiencing energy insecurity were also more likely to live in homes built before 1990.

With increasing threats of wildfires resulting in higher costs for wildfire damages, liability, recovery, and utility-caused wildfire prevention and mitigation strategies, there are discussions and legislation being introduced across the country regarding the funding structures, and who should be responsible for these costs - utilities, tax payers, ratepayers, or other funding structures. It is critical for communities, decision makers, public utility commissions and legislators to understand the cost burden and impact the resulting policies and regulations will have on low-income and Latino communities.

Additional Resources

Research & Resources for Solutions

From prohibiting price gouging, expediting building permits and fees for recovery, implementing power line monitoring, to working with Latino planners and understanding how to build for and with Latino communities - decision makers have the opportunity to incorporate existing and successful land use planning tools and work with organizations and members of their community to plan for, build and adapt their municipalities and states to be more resilient to wildfires and inclusive of all constituents.

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