June 18, 2018

New Study Finds 251,000 New Jersey Homes Worth $107 Billion will be at Risk from Tidal Flooding

About $1.7 Billion in Annual Property Tax Revenue Also in Jeopardy

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 Jersey’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 2.1 feet of sea level rise for New Jersey in 2045 and 7.3 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 Jersey are quite sobering. The analysis finds that without additional measures to adapt to rising seas:

  • New Jersey is second in the nation for most homes at risk both in 2045 and by the end of the century. By 2045, more than 62,000 of today’s residential properties, currently home to about 80,000 people, are at risk of chronic inundation. Of New Jersey’s beach towns, 10 are projected to have at least 1,500 homes at risk by 2045, with Ocean City topping the list at more than 7,200. The total number of at-risk residential properties jumps to about 251,000—currently home to roughly 376,000 people—by 2100.
  • Nearly 20 percent of the at-risk homes in New Jersey in 2045 and 2100 were built after the year 2000, which speaks to recent, ongoing development in flood-prone locations. In fact, roughly 2,600 at-risk homes in 2045 were built or rebuilt after Hurricane Sandy devastated the state in 2012.
  • The total value, in today’s dollars, of New Jersey’s at-risk properties is the second largest of any coastal state. By 2045, about $27 billion-worth of residential properties (based on today’s values) are at risk of chronic flooding. The quarter of a million homes that would face this flooding at the end of the century are currently worth more than $107 billion collectively.
  • The New Jersey homes at risk in 2045 currently contribute about $390 million in annual property tax revenue. The homes at risk by 2100 currently contribute roughly $1.7 billion collectively in annual property tax revenue, which places New Jersey second in the U.S. for largest possible hit to its municipal property tax base.
  • Many of the New Jersey communities facing chronic inundation in the next 30 years are home to people with fewer resources to adapt. Communities such as Monmouth Beach and West Cape May for instance, which have elderly population rates above the national average, could see more than 15 percent of their homes at risk by 2045. And in communities such as Atlantic City and Wildwood, 40 percent of homes at risk by 2045 and roughly one-third of residents are living below the national poverty line.
  • New Jersey ranks first and second in the nation for the most commercial properties at risk by 2045 and 2100 respectively. By 2045, more than 2,600 of today’s commercial properties, currently assessed at $2.1 billion, are expected to experience chronic inundation. In 2100, this number jumps to more than 11,000 properties—assessed at more than $11 billion today. Nearly all (96 percent) of these properties are retail establishments, a category that includes hotels, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and pharmacies.
  • 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 70 percent of New Jersey’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 New Jersey’s 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 Jersey and the nation toward greater resilience.

To view the report PDF, click here.

Spreadsheets with data about the chronically inundated properties are available and can be sorted by state, by community (delineated by the Census Bureau as county subdivisions), and by ZIP code.

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.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.