The Destructive Relationship Between Sea Level Rise and New Coastal Real Estate Development

Living in a coastal community that’s experiencing sea level rise flooding, I’m amazed at the hundreds of millions of dollars of new commercial and residential real estate being built in neighborhoods that are flooding today or that will soon be subject to floodwaters as the seas continue to rise.

When I ask my real estate agent friends what they think about the situation, they are always quick to remind me that Florida’s economy is heavily reliant on new building projects and the jobs, investment and tax dollars they bring for its very survival.

Many cities and towns along he Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines are equally addicted to new development to keep their economies rolling and their governments solvent. There is, however, clearly a downside to this relationship.

As sea levels continue to rise, those same coastal cities and towns are going to have to start to invest heavily in flood mitigation strategies, such as raising roads and water and sewer pipes, building or raising sea walls and installing pumps. In some cases, they may even have to buy-out homes and whole neighborhoods that flood repeatedly. When this day arrives — and it has already arrived in parts of the Florida Keys and other vulnerable locations — what seemed like a good idea today — allowing hundreds of millions of dollars in new development in areas vulnerable to sea level rise — will have enormous costs to taxpayers and property owners.

Taxpayers will have to pay the tab to protect the expensive new flood mitigation projects. And the higher taxes to pay for those projects, combined with the higher insurance premiums that go hand-in-hand with sea level rise flooding, could cause property values to plummet.

Linda Shi, an assistant professor in Cornell University’s department of city and regional planning, wrote an op-ed titled “The fiscal challenges of climate change” for the Boston Globe. In it, she explains the challenge posed by new coastal development in the age of rising seas. She studied the Massachusetts coastline in detail and discovered:”Statewide, 40 percent of local revenues come from property taxes; along the coast, 60 percent; and in some coastal suburbs, 70-80 percent. State expectations that local governments self-finance most of the services they provide inevitably incentivize continued development wherever possible, placing coastal sites and cities on a collision path with rising seas.”

Shi says the negative cycles could be reversed if cities and states included fiscal considerations into sea level rise flooding vulnerability assessments. She also said regional land-use planning agencies and non-governmental organizations could help by evaluating “how climate change affects local budgets, how fiscal vulnerability and adaptation choices impact the region and vice versa.” Their input would help communities to decide where to allow new real estate developments to minimize the eventual costs that arise due to sea level rise flooding.

The future costs of placing new developments in or near sea level rise flood zones is an important issue to consider today. Making informed decisions will protect subsequent generations from the high cost of protecting or decommissioning billions of dollars worth of real estate our generation knew was at-risk before ground-breaking shovels were turned.

Miami’s Sea Level Rise Real Estate Challenges Coming Soon to a Coastal Community Near You

Miami’s extremely low elevation puts the city at the front lines of the battle against sea level rise flooding. The city is constantly grappling with ways to control floodwaters that are serving as a general guide for other cities and town all along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines.

This week, the city of Miami unveiled its “Miami Forever Climate Ready” plan to combat climate change and sea level rise flooding. Jane Gilbert, the city’s resiliency chief, said the plan outlines 86 actions that need to be taken to control flooding and reducing the city’s carbon footprint.

Among the recommendations to address climate change heat are making buildings more energy-efficient, buying electric vehicles, and planting more trees. To meet the challenge of rising seas, the city plans to upgrade failing stormwater system, raising sea walls, installing stormwater pump stations, and creating wetlands to shift floodwaters from city streets. In areas that experience extreme flooding, the city is considering buying out private property, which, in many cases, is cheaper than rebuilding structures that are repeatedly damaged by floodwaters.

Massive amounts of money will be needed for the city to address sea level rise flooding and climate change, which will worsen in the decades to come. City officials say the challenge is finding funding for the projects when real estate could lose value, which would reduce the amount of tax revenue the city has to work with. If this happens, issuing bonds to pay for the projects could also become more difficult.

Despite the challenges, the report says Miami shouldn’t wait to implement the recommendations. The report says, “Now is the time, while Miami’s economy is still growing, to turn this climate change into an opportunity.” In 2017, Miami voters approved a $400 million bond to improve the city’s sea level rise flooding defenses.

Buyers, sellers, owners, and real estate agents need to know what their local governments are doing to combat sea level rise for several reasons: 1) The projects could impact their tax rates and flood insurance premiums; 2) The projects could determine whether or not their property floods; 3) The project’s effectiveness could impact their property value; and 4) The projects could impact their quality of life if nearby seawalls are raised or pump stations are installed.

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