Disaster Capitalism, Housing Vulnerability, and the Tuscaloosa Tornado: A Critical Analysis of Rebuilding Efforts

March 2017 (VOL. 35, NO. 1)

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In this paper, we assess how social vulnerability to disasters continued into the recovery phase following the April 27, 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado, particularly by examining how social class affected housing availability approximately three years after the storm. Data from multiple sources indicated that apartment complexes that were constructed to replace destroyed or damaged housing are generally demanding higher rents and have fewer units available than the complexes which existed before the storm. Additionally, even as a residential construction boom has occurred in Tuscaloosa following the storm, the new complexes are almost entirely marketed to the college student population, even though none of the multifamily housing complexes destroyed in the storm solely housed college students. These findings support a disaster capitalism model of recovery that has mainly focused on building high-end student housing, resulting in the perpetuation of vulnerability for lower-income, permanent Tuscaloosa residents. We discuss some of the potential consequences of the reconstruction of Tuscaloosa, and propose suggestions to reduce vulnerability in the rebuilding process for cities that have been decimated by natural disasters.