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Zillow Data Used To Project Impact Of Sea Level Rise On Real Estate


It's a good time to be living on high ground. Not such a good time to be living down near the water. A study out today says more than 300,000 homes in the United States are likely to see chronic flooding within the next 30 years because of sea level rise and climate change. This could cause a crisis for the housing market in some areas. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: There are many communities around the country already seeing increased flooding as a result of seasonal high tides and storm events. In Bonita Springs, on Florida's Gulf Coast, homeowner Laurie Malone (ph) was shocked by the amount of water that came into her home during last year's Hurricane Irma.

LAURIE MALONE: I expected some, but not up to here. You can see the water line right here.

ALLEN: That's about 2 feet high, I guess.

MALONE: And the whole staircase was, like, this thick of just green mold.

ALLEN: A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists says in Malone's neighborhood, nearly 300 homes may begin experiencing regular flooding because of climate change. Bonita Springs isn't alone. Nationwide, residential and commercial properties valued at nearly $140 billion are at risk from the impact of sea level rise. Rachel Cleetus is with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

RACHEL CLEETUS: They start to see worsening chronic inundation, the sort of frequent high-tide flooding that's worsened by sea level rise, and it's very disruptive to daily life, to economies. And what we've found through our research is it's a real threat to coastal real estate.

ALLEN: Real estate in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Working with the online real estate company Zillow, the Union of Concerned Scientists examined sea level rise projections in hundreds of communities from Washington State to Maine. Not surprisingly, Florida is the state most at risk, with some 64,000 homes likely seeing chronic flooding by 2045. New Jersey, though, isn't far behind. Other at-risk areas include New York's Long Island, where $8 billion worth of coastal real estate may see flooding. Also, the San Francisco Bay Area, coastal Louisiana, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and beach communities from Texas to Massachusetts. With chronic flooding, Cleetus says, coastal areas are likely to see real estate values collapse. And, she says, they may not come back.

CLEETUS: Unlike previous market crashes where home values eventually tend to rebound, in this case, mortgages unfortunately will only tend to go further underwater.

ALLEN: That's figuratively and literally. In a separate study published earlier this year, Jesse Keenan of Harvard's Graduate School of Design found evidence increased flooding is already beginning to affect the sale prices of homes in some parts of Miami. This new report, he says, should alert people that climate change is not just a problem for future generations.

JESSE KEENAN: We're talking in this study about a 30-year time horizon, which is the amount of time that most people get a mortgage. So if you're going to buy a house today, and you're going to get a mortgage today and you're going to be anticipating paying that off in 30 years, this is what's at risk.

ALLEN: The study's authors are calling on policymakers to take action now on climate change. Strong measures to cut carbon emissions, they say, could head off the worst-case projections and limit the impact of sea level rise on vulnerable coastal areas. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. [Editor’s note on June 19: Although Zillow provided the data used in the study referred to in this report, the analysis was done independently by the Union of Concerned Scientists.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.