Southeast Florida County Governments Urge Real Estate Developers to Get Involved in Sea Level Rise Resilience Efforts

Real estate developers rarely take the long-view when they’re considering new projects. They see their role in the economy as simply planning, building, and selling projects at the greatest return on investment. As a result, in Southeast Florida, billions of dollars worth of real estate development has proceeded even in areas known to be at risk of — or currently experiencing — sea level rise flooding. The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact — a partnership between Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Monroe County — believes it’s time for real estate developers to recognize the larger threat sea level poses to the region and their industry and to get involved in mitigation efforts for the good of everyone.

To make their case, the Compact used a state grant to pay the Urban Land Institute (ULI) — a group comprised of 45,000 real estate and urban development professionals interested in creating sustainable communities — to assess the costs and benefits in cold hard cash of implementing projects now to address sea level rise flooding, which is expected to worsen as up to 40 inches of sea level rise accumulates by 2070.

ULI recently released its findings in a report titled “The Business Case for Resilience in Southeast Florida.” In it, researchers concluded that tens of billions of dollars will be lost over the next 50 years if the region doesn’t invest in resiliency, such as elevating structures and roads and infrastructure and building higher seawalls and berms, now. The report specifically estimates that spending $22.6 billion on flood mitigation between now and 2070 could prevent $56 billion in losses over the same period.

ULI said its approach to drafting the report was to view sea level rise not as a net negative but as an opportunity to actually build the economy by investing in resiliency today, an effort that would create business opportunities and new jobs. In a report summary ULI said: “The findings … identify opportunities for the real estate industry to achieve a positive return on investment by futureproofing developments and investing in community wide resilience infrastructure over time to build incremental solutions that protect people and property and grow the economy of Southeast Florida in years to come.”

The report, which is meant to convince business interests to join the sea level rise resilience movement, isn’t perfect however. It overlooks one of the most seemingly insurmountable problems unique to South Florida: The region’s real estate is built on porous limestone, so even if you block the rising seas with higher seawalls and other structures at the coast, the seawater will still migrate beneath the surface and cause flooding along the coast and well inland.

Despite this flaw, the researchers said the investment in resilience is worth it. They estimate Miami-Dade County will benefit from a 9 to 1 return on investment, Broward County 2 to 1, and Palm Beach County 1.3 to 1. Unfortunately, they did not see any benefit for Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys. The report said the Keys population is too small to benefit compared with its highly populated neighboring counties to the north. Rhonda Haas, resilience officer for Monroe County, told the Miami Herald: “We are probably going to have to spend more per resident for resilience and that’s okay. Just because we have a lower rate of return on that investment, that doesn’t mean the Keys should not make the investment. We should and we are.”

The preface to the report notes that there are no easy answers to climate adaptation but all interests need to get involved. It also warns developers that not participating in mitigating sea level rise flooding could lead to negative consequences beyond their control. “Developers have control over the confines of their own parcels,” it states, “but they could be faced with negative consequences from reduced investor interest and lack of financing and insurance –if this is the case, it may be too late to recover. Though financial assets are at risk, this is also the time for the real estate industry to coordinate with the public sector on resilience planning initiatives and co-create new models for partnerships, policy, and funding to help the region continue to thrive.”

The lesson from the report for everyone living and operating businesses in coastal communities in Southeast Florida and everywhere else is that we’re all in this together and saving our lifestyles and livelihoods will take a team effort.

California Warns Against Shelving Plans to Address Sea Level Rise during Covid-19 Pandemic

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) warned this week that the state can’t afford to delay efforts to deal with sea level rise flooding because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a report titled “What Threat Does Sea-Level Rise Pose to California?”, the LAO said: “While the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic and resulting economic impacts have rightly drawn the focus of the Legislature’s and public’s attention since March 2020, other statewide challenges continue to approach on the horizon. Among these are the impending impacts of climate change, including the hazards that rising seas pose to California’s coast.”

Report authors quote scientific estimates that California could face a half-foot of sea level rise by 2030 and up to seven feet by 2100. The threat posed by sea level rise could be amplified by storm surges, exceptionally high king tides that occur in the fall, and El Nino events.

Many coastal communities are already experiencing the negative effects of sea level rise and the situation is only going to get worse. Cities and towns are dealing with nuisance flooding, beaches are eroding, cliffs are collapsing — often carrying homes with them — and public infrastructure is being wrecked or overwhelmed. Natural resources, water supplies and entire economies are also at risk.

The report predicts that California will see up to $10 billion worth of property underwater by 2050 and up to an additional $10 billion worth of property inundated during high tides. When sea level rises four feet, 28,000 socially vulnerable residents in the San Francisco region alone could experience daily flooding. Furthermore, by the end of this century, up to two-thirds of the state’s beaches could be completely eroded away.

LAO officials said in the report that they recognize the burden the pandemic is placing on government and the economy. “However, given the significant threats posed by sea level rise in the coming decades–and the additional public safety and economic disruptions that will result absent steps to mitigate potential impacts –the state and its coastal communities cannot afford to defer all preparation efforts until economic conditions have fully rebounded from the recent crisis,” they said. They recommend that the government undertake activities to address the threat posed by sea level rise that require little funding, such as continuing to draft plans, meet and share information.

In the U.S., federal, state and local governments are bending under the enormous administrative and economic burden posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The California LAO’s insistence that efforts to address sea level rise continue even in these troubled times is on the mark. The fact that regardless of the pandemic, global warming continues to cause sea level rise, putting hundreds of billions of dollars worth of real estate and critical infrastructure at risk. Protecting property and infrastructure isn’t cheap and it can’t be accomplished overnight. Letting down our guard now, will have grave consequences in the future.

All coastal communities and real estate owners and buyers need to heed the California LAO’s warning.

Sea Level Rise Flooding at Superfund Sites Poses A Threat To Coastal Communities

Sea level rise flooding poses a multi-dimensional threat to coastal communities. Residential and commercial real estate, the economy, mortgage and insurance markets, tax bases and critical infrastructure are all at risk from rising waters. As if this list isn’t enough, the Union of Concerned Scientists — a non-profit organization that advocates the use of science to address pressing problems — recently released a report that points out that flooding at Superfund sites could spread dangerous chemicals in coastal communities threatening lives and property.

The researchers warn that there are about 2,000 Superfund sites contaminated by extremely hazardous chemicals located within 25 miles of the East or Gulf Coasts. They say in their report titled “A Toxic Relationship” that rising seas could flood many of the polluted sites which could lead to people in surrounding communities coming into contact with the health-threatening chemicals. The scientists note that the areas around the Superfund sites are “disproportionately populated by communities of color and low-income communities” and they are calling on the government to take steps to protect them.

“Decisionmakers must take action now to protect the health and safety of the communities located near these facilities,” the report says. Among their recommendations is that the government agencies work together to evaluate the risk climate change and sea level rise pose to Superfund sites. Officials should use the information gathered to draw up plans to prepare communities for the risk and improve the resiliency of Superfund sites faced with potential inundation by floodwaters.

Real estate buyers and owners in coastal communities should consider the proximity of their property of interest to Superfund sites and other facilities — such as ports, power plants and factories — when evaluating the risk of sea level rise flooding. If nothing is done to identify and address the threat, lives and property could be harmed.

New Report: Millions of U.S. Property Owners Are Unaware Their Properties Are At Risk of Flooding

As many as six million U.S. properties face a substantial risk of flooding without their owners being aware of the threat. That’s according to a report recently released by the First Street Foundation, a non-profit research and technology group committed to defining America’s flood risk.

The researchers combined data from a number of different sources to develop a model that determined 1.7 times more properties face a substantial risk of flooding than are awarded that designation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the Federal Flood Insurance Program.

In real numbers, 14.6 million properties are at substantial risk of flooding. However, due to the well-known shortcomings of FEMA’s chronically outdated and/or incomplete flooding maps, the report says the owners of 5.9 million properties are “currently unaware or underestimating the risk they face because they are not being identified as being within the FEMA designated SFHA (Special Flood Hazard Area) zone.” Interestingly enough, the researchers also found that some areas that are listed by FEMA as being in SFHAs actually shouldn’t be.

The danger to real estate owners in all of this is that millions of property owners who should buy flood insurance might not have it because they’re not aware of the risk. Others who have it, might be paying for coverage they don’t actually need. Among the problems for homes that flood is they can be expensive to repair, experience a loss in value, and can be hard to sell. They can also flood again and again, compounding the owner’s misery.

When creating the report, the researchers considered many potential sources of flooding, including rivers, rainfall, storm surge and tidal source. To estimate the future risk of flooding, they also took climate change-generated extreme weather and sea level rise into account. First Street estimated that 21.8 million properties are at risk of flooding this year. Climate change will boost that number by 1.7 million properties over the next 30 years.

First Street created the report to help real estate buyers and sellers to make informed decisions regarding properties at risk of flooding. This is especially important for buyers since states vary widely regarding the amount of information sellers have to disclose to them and the flood insurance history of a property is protected by privacy laws.

In addition to the groundbreaking flood report, First Street has created a tool called Flood Factor that real estate buyers and owners can use to determine the current and future risk of flooding to a particular property by entering the address. When put to the test, Flood Factor provided reports for some addresses but not all addresses, including those that are located in well-known flood prone areas. A screen would appear that said “Information for (X Address) is unavailable. Please try another location or find out why this address isn’t listed.” When we clicked to find out why an address wasn’t listed we were taken back to the address search screen.

When First Street works out the kinks, Flood Factor will be a very useful resource to all real estate owners and buyers. Knowing the risk of flooding with a few key strokes will even the playing field in real estate transactions in a way that’s now not always possible. The researchers also hope that the information will be used by mortgage providers and insurers to better assess risk and by government planners to decide how to better address flooding.

15 U.S. Communities Set High Tide Flooding Records Due To Sea Level Rise

“Sea level rise flooding of U.S. coastlines is happening now, and it is becoming more frequent each year.” That warning is the opening sentence of a new U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report titled “2019 State of U.S. High Tide Flooding with a 2020 Outlook”.

Agency scientists report that in 2019 fifteen communities, including Miami, Charleston, and Savannah, set records for the number of days that they experienced so-called “sunny day” flooding that isn’t related to rain storms or storm surge. From May through April, East Point, a city near Houston, TX, reported 64 days of high-tide flooding.

According to the report, the situation is going to get much, much worse as sea levels continue to rise in the coming decades. In some cases, it will reach the point that the high tides now bringing “nuisance” flooding will one day be considered the normal high tide.

It’s important to note that NOAA only measures high-tide flooding at 89 sites, so there may be many more communities experiencing regular sea level rise flooding on an increasing basis that aren’t included in the agency’s findings. The experts list New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington among the communities that could see 100 days a year of high-tide flooding by 2050.

Of special interest to real estate owners, the report mentions that the bouts of sea level rise-driven flooding are already “damaging to infrastructure and cause other economic impacts (transportation delays, businesses closed, tourism impacts, etc.) in coastal communities”. As we’ve seen, coastal cities and towns are already scrambling to find hundreds of billions of dollars to pay for projects — such as sea walls, pumps and the raising of roads and water and sewer pipes — to deal with sea level rise flooding. With federal funds hard to come by, the burden of paying for the much-needed projects will likely fall on taxpayers. Owners and buyers need to stay informed about this pressing problem to protect their financial futures.

Global Consultant Recommends Steps to Protect Florida Real Estate Value from Sea Level Rise Flooding

McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, released a report this week that analyzes the risk sea level rise flooding poses to billions of dollars worth of Florida’s residential real estate and recommends steps that could be taken to mitigate the damage.

The report, titled “Will mortgages and markets stay afloat in Florida?”, starts by stating the simple fact that Florida’s unique location — in a hurricane-prone zone — and geology — extra low elevation with a porous limestone foundation that allows sea water to move freely — makes it very susceptible to sea level rise flooding. In fact, the authors cite a First Street Foundation study that concluded sea level rise will increase the number of days that many coastal areas experience tidal flooding each year from a few days today to 200 days a year by 2050. In addition, the average annual damages from storm surges will itself surge from $2 billion today to up to $4.5 billion by the middle of this century.

The report goes on to discuss how sea level rise is already depressing home values in areas that experience sea level rise flooding compared with those that don’t. “About 25,000 homes in Florida already experience flooding at frequencies of more than 50 times per year (almost once a week on average),” according to the report. “With rising sea levels, 40,000 coastal properties representing $15 billion of value could run this risk by 2030, and 100,000 properties worth $50 billion by 2050.”

The threat to the value of Florida’s residential real estate isn’t posed only by direct flooding, either. The report says as buyers are increasingly made aware of the flooding and the expenses involved in owning a property in a flood zone, prices will likely drop. Buyers could also balk at the higher insurance premiums and taxes that are sure to be levied as a result of flooding. A final point of pressure is the mortgage market. With the risk of flooding increasing every year, experts are wondering how long mortgage providers be willing to write 30-year-mortgages — or even 15 year mortgages, for that matter — for high risk properties when the owners might never pay back the loans.

The report authors offer a few potential solutions that could help mitigate the risk. Among their recommendations are that: 1. Real estate markets become more transparent about the risk of sea level rise flooding, so buyers don’t lose confidence in the market; 2. More money be spent on projects needed to upgrade the infrastructure — such as sea walls and storm sewers — needed to fend off the flooding ; and 3. Policy makers, engineers, investors and community organizations band together in groups to decide which properties to protect from sea level rise flooding and which to abandon.

In the end, the authors write that “While the state and communities face hard choices in the face of rising sea levels and worsening hazards, planning today can help manage the consequences and minimize the costs of climate change in the future.”

It’s clear from this report that the day of reckoning is here for buyers, sellers, owners and real estate agents in coastal communities. Understanding the roles played by individual property owners, governments, insurers and mortgage providers in the health of a real estate market impacted by sea level rise flooding is critical to protect your financial future.

Florida’s First Sea Level Rise Resiliency Officer Leaves Bombshell Report

Julia Nesheiwat, Florida’s first sea level rise resiliency officer, left her position after only a few months on the job, but a report she left behind in late 2019 should act as a call to action for the state.

According to the 36-page annual report she prepared for Governor Ron DeSantis that was acquired by the Tampa Bay Times, Nesheiwat evaluated how Florida was dealing with sea level rise and concluded that their response was too slow and disjointed. “Florida’s coastal communities and regions do not have a lot of time to waste,” she wrote. Her main concerns are that local communities are trying to cope with sea level rise on their own and, as a result, they are duplicating fact-gathering and planning.

“Florida needs a statewide strategy,” she wrote. “Communities are overwhelmed and need one place to turn to for guidance.” One of the facts fueling her concern cited in the report is the “$26 billion of residential property in Florida at risk of chronic flooding by 2045.”

Nesheiwat said the state should serve as the repository for information and guidelines so coastal communities wouldn’t have to duplicate efforts to come up with solutions to common problems posed by sea level rise flooding. She also made it clear that the state can’t rely on cities to address the enormous challenge alone. One of the examples she provided was the $75 million Monroe County needs to raise less than 3 miles of road in Sugarloaf Key.

With sea levels predicted to rise several feet by the end of the century, Florida’s residential and commercial real estate holders can’t afford to ignore Nesheiwat’s warning and advice.

San Francisco Bay Officials Release a Report that Outlines the Cost of Inaction on Sea Level Rise

Government agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area took a dry-eyed look at the threat sea level rise poses to their region and reached this stark conclusion: “Flooding and rising sea level pose a risk to everyone in the Bay Area, from local communities where homes and jobs may flood, to residents who rely on transportation to connect us, keep our economy humming, and potentially play a role in mitigating the impacts of climate change down the line.”

That finding was included in a recently published report titled “Adapting to Rising Tides — Bay Area” that considered what would happen in the region if no effort was made to address climate change and sea level rise flooding.

Drawing on hundreds of data sources, the report authors found that shoreline flooding would impact everyone who lived in the region. “Even if your home is far from the shoreline, the roads, rails and ferries we rely on; the schools, childcare, and hospitals we depend on; the job at which we work; and the beautiful natural areas we love are at risk,” the report said.

Among the dire predictions for real estate in the region, the report said with four feet of flooding over the next 40 to 100 years nearly 13,000 housing units would “no longer be habitable, insurable, or desirable places to live.” It also said 70,000 badly needed new housing units might not be built or will be built outside the area where they’re most needed.

The agencies that produced the report — Caltrans, Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments, Bay Area Regional Collaborative, and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission — are encouraging Bay Area entities to use it to “plan for rising seas level in a way that preserves and enhances the future for not just a select handful of cities or assets, but for everyone.”

NASA: Greenland and Antarctica Ice Melt Speeding Up Sea Level Rise

NASA reported this week that Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are melting six times faster than they did in the 1990s, a development that could have a severe impact on coastal real estate.

NASA scientists published their statement on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website in response to a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that showed Greenland and Antarctica combined lost 6.4 trillion tons of ice in three decades. “Unabated, this rate of melting could cause flooding that affects hundreds of millions of people by 2100,” according to NASA.

Researchers used observations from 11 satellite’s that monitor Greenland and Antarctica ice loss to arrive at their disturbing conclusion. They calculate that the meltwater has raised global sea level by .7 inches. This doesn’t sound like much, but it can have a significant effect on coastal populations. “Every centimeter of sea level rise leads to coastal flooding and coastal erosion, disrupting people’s lives around the planet,” said Prof. Andrew Shepherd, a scientist at the University of Leeds.

Ice melt isn’t the only factor fueling sea level rise. Ocean heating and expansion and the melting of smaller land-based glaciers also contribute to higher seas.

UN Climate Report Makes Dire Prediction for Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

Humans need to nearly half greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade or face dire climate consequences. That’s the warning issued by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization which released its annual State of the Global Climate report this week in New York.

“Greenhouse gas concentrations are at the highest level in 3 million years – when the Earth’s temperature was as much as 3 degrees hotter and sea levels some 15 meters higher,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “We count the cost in human lives and livelihoods as droughts, wildfires, floods and extreme storms take their deadly toll.”

The WMO’s report discussed the many signs of climate change experienced around the globe in 2019, including increased heating of land and ocean, accelerated sea level rise, and ice melt. Each decade since 1980 has set a global heat record, and 2016 was the hottest year on record. Scientists say that record will likely be broken in the next five years.

“We need all countries to demonstrate that we can achieve emissions reductions of 45 percent from 2010 levels this decade and that we will reach net-zero emissions by mid-century. We know this is the only way to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Secretary Guterres said.

WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said not heeding reducing the release of greenhouse gases will continue to hasten sea level rise. “Reported record temperatures in Antarctica were accompanied by large-scale ice melt and the fracturing of a glacier which will have repercussions for sea level rise,” Secretary Taalas said.

The UN and WMO are calling on developed countries to commit $100 billion a year toward developing renewable energy sources and green technologies.