WASHINGTON (June 18, 2018)—Accelerating sea level rise, primarily driven by climate change, is projected to worsen tidal flooding in the U.S., putting as many as 311,000 coastal homes in the lower 48 states with a collective market value of about $117.5 billion in today’s dollars at risk of chronic flooding within the next 30 years—the lifespan of a typical mortgage—according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released today. Roughly 14,000 coastal commercial properties assessed at a value of nearly $18.5 billion also are at risk during that timeframe. By the end of the century, 2.4 million homes and 107,000 commercial properties currently worth more than $1 trillion altogether could be at risk, with New York’s coastal real estate among the most exposed.
The analysis combines property data from the online real estate company Zillow with a peer-reviewed methodology developed by UCS for assessing areas at risk of frequent flooding. Using three sea level rise scenarios developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and localized for this analysis, UCS determined how many residential and commercial properties along the entire lower 48 coastline are at risk of becoming chronically inundated from high tides—flooding on average 26 times per year or more (or the equivalent of once every other week)—in the coming decades even in the absence of major storms. The core results in the report are from the high sea level rise scenario—an appropriately conservative projection to use when estimating risk to homes, which are often the owner’s single biggest asset. This scenario projects an average of 1.9 feet of sea level rise for New York in 2045 and 7 feet in 2100. The analysis also projects how many properties might avoid such flooding if sea level rise is constrained through the achievement of the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement and if ice loss is limited.
The results for New York are quite sobering. The analysis finds that without additional measures to adapt to rising seas:
- New York ranks third in the nation for most homes at risk by the end of the century. By 2045, nearly 15,500 of today’s residential properties, currently home to about 42,000 people, are at risk of chronic inundation, with most of these homes located in the Hempstead, Babylon and Queens areas of Long Island. The total number of at-risk residential properties jumps to about 143,000—currently home to more than 366,000 people—by 2100.
- The New York properties on track to face chronic inundation in the coming decades are currently worth billions in combined property value. By 2045, more than $8.5 billion-worth of residential properties (based on today’s values) would be at risk of chronic flooding. The homes that would face this flooding at the end of the century are currently worth about $98 billion collectively.
- The New York homes at risk in 2045 currently contribute about $170 million in annual property tax revenue. The homes at risk by 2100 currently contribute nearly $2 billion collectively in annual property tax revenue.
- Some New York communities facing significant risk in the next 30 years are home to communities that may be at an inherent disadvantage to prevent or recover from chronic flooding due to longstanding social and economic inequities. In Queens, a community that has above average percentages of African American and Hispanic residents, there are over 2,700 homes at risk by 2045.
- New York ranks third in the nation for most commercial properties at risk at the end of the century. By 2045, more than 500 of today’s commercial properties, currently assessed at $50 million, would experience chronic inundation. In 2100, this number jumps to more than 9,000 properties—assessed at roughly $6 billion today.
- If nations adhere to the primary goal of the Paris Agreement—capping warming to below 2 degrees Celsius—and there is limited loss of land-based ice, about 89 percent of New York’s at-risk homes would avoid chronic flooding by the end of the century, thus safeguarding the vast majority of property values and annual property tax revenue.
Once market risk perceptions catch up with reality, the potential drop in coastal property values could have reverberations throughout the economy—affecting banks, insurers, investors, and developers—potentially triggering regional housing market crises. Homeowners whose properties become chronically inundated may find themselves with mortgages that exceed the value of their homes or face steeply rising flood insurance premiums and may end up defaulting on their loans. Lenders carrying large numbers of these risky mortgages could lose money or even become insolvent, with smaller banks concentrated in areas with high flood risk being especially exposed. Coastal real estate investors and developers may similarly experience financial losses in some coastal areas.
There are currently many federal, state and local policies that, while originally well intentioned, mask risk and create incentives that reinforce the status quo or even expose more people and property to risk. The market’s bias toward short-term decision-making and profits can also perpetuate risky development and investment choices. These flawed policies and incentives include incomplete or outdated flood risk information, subsidized insurance, lax zoning and building codes, incentives for business-as-usual building and re-building, and incomplete credit ratings. Identifying and improving upon the most important policies and market drivers of risky coastal development is a necessary, powerful way to better protect communities and move New York and the nation toward greater resilience.
Decisions are also being made in the courtroom. In fact, New York City is currently suing some of the largest oil corporations to hold them responsible for climate change related damages that have already occurred and that will occur in the future. While similar lawsuits are cropping up in other states, the case in New York is unique in that they have already established the amount of funds needed—$20 billion—to best prepare for future climate change and extreme weather impacts.
To view the report PDF, click here.
To use the interactive mapping tool, click here. The map allows you to learn more about the impact of chronic inundation on properties, people, home values and the tax base in specific states, communities or ZIP codes. When you zoom in, the maps become more detailed. You can also click on a specific state or community for more details about it.
For all other materials, including our methodology document, a compilation of interviews with additional experts on this topic, and Spanish-language materials, click here.
Data provided by third parties through the Zillow Transaction and Assessment Dataset (ZTRAX). More information on accessing the data can be found at http://www.zillow.com/ztrax.
The results and opinions presented in this report are those of the Union of Concerned Scientists and do not reflect the position of Zillow Group. See full disclaimer at www.ucsusa.org/underwater.