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Housing Developers Rejoice, Communities Threatened as Trump Weakens Flood Protections

By Alan Zibel

President Trump’s announcement this week of an executive order designed to speed the construction of major infrastructure projects was overshadowed by his failure to fully denounce the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Nevertheless, Trump delivered a big gift to the building industry — a rollback of flood protections from rising sea levels — that was easy to miss amid the Trump administration’s characteristic dysfunction.

Under the guise of promoting improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges, highways and railroads, Trump revoked an Obama-era order requiring federal agencies to consider the future impact of climate change in federal infrastructure projects.

The Obama initiative also had serious implications for housing developers, many of whom rely on federal programs. Mindful of the massive damage caused by hurricanes and tropical storms since 2005, the Department of Housing and Urban Development last year proposed a requirement that developers in flood-prone areas raise the elevation of new housing by two feet. “If we’re serious about protecting people and property from flooding, we have to think differently than we did 40 years ago,”  former HUD Secretary Julián Castro said at the time.

This requirement, which HUD could now rescind, would impact homes purchased with federal mortgage insurance or constructed with federal affordable housing grants.

Deelopers opposed the flood-protection requirements, arguing they would have increased costs. Earlier this year a coalition of developers wrote to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, claiming that the rules “have the potential to significantly burden private sector multifamily builders’ and developers’ while at the same time, jeopardizing affordable housing opportunities for countless families.”

After Trump’s rollback on Tuesday, developers were thrilled.

The National Multifamily Housing Council, which represents apartment builders, applauded “a major win for the multifamily industry.” The National Association of Home Builders’ chairman praised Trump for rescinding “an overreaching environmental rule that needlessly hurt housing affordability.”

Environmental advocates were infuriated. Alex Taurel, deputy legislative director of the League of Conservation Voters,  called the move “yet another outrageous example of Trump’s insistence on putting corporate interests ahead of people’s health and safety.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called the Trump administration’s action “climate science denial at its most dangerous, as Trump is putting vulnerable communities, federal employees, and families at risk by throwing out any guarantee that our infrastructure will be safe.”