Study Shows a Decade of Climate Eroding Housing, Highlighting Larger Crisis

Damage caused by Hurricane Michael. Image: The White House/Flickr

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

New research published Monday shows that climate change has significantly impacted Florida’s housing market, and it has been quietly doing so for nearly a decade. Despite the common, false assumption that a climate housing crisis is largely a future threat, research shows that climate change has already impacted communities and the economy irreversibly. Between 2013 and 2018, the picturesque neighborhood of Bal Harbour, Florida, whose homes once sold for $3.6 million, saw a 50% drop in home sales. All across Florida’s low-lying neighborhoods, researchers found similar trends.

In 2016, the Chief Economist at Freddie Mac forecasted that up to $160 billion worth of real estate would be below sea level by 2050, displacing millions of people. This would be an economic disaster far greater than that of the 2008 recession.

Why This Matters: As Florida begins to see the cracks in its housing economy, it will have numerous reverberations. Businesses will flee rising sea levels, taking jobs and money out of the local economy. Banks and lenders will incur losses as borrowers understandably refuse or fail to make mortgage payments on badly damaged or underwater properties. 

Homeowners and landlords in lower-risk areas will be overwhelmed by the demand for housing and climate refugees from the coasts won’t be able to afford rising housing prices

A Shaky Forecast: This new research is particularly ominous, showing that this major loss of economic value is already happening, and right under the noses of community leaders, many of whom deny that climate change is causing the problem at all.  

People who own homes on the coast are faced with a dilemma: pay higher and higher premiums for flood insurance every year or forfeit their home value and flee to less risky areas. For people who rent, climate change can lead to mass homelessness, and too often, the affordable housing they move to is also at risk of destruction

It’s not only upscale neighborhoods like Bal Harbour that face economic and physical disaster; rental homes on the Florida coastline have been repeatedly battered and damaged by worsening hurricanes. When Hurricane Michael hit Florida in 2018, over 10% of Bay Country residents were left homeless; three-fourths of all properties damaged by the storm in Bay County were rental properties. People fleeing the damage found themselves unable to pay rent in neighboring areas, whose housing prices skyrocketed due to the sudden housing shortage. 

A Parallel Problem: Climate change-driven housing crises are being witnessed throughout the nation. . In California, unaffordable home prices that have been compounded by wildfires that have destroyed housing, causing a further shortage.  This drove some Californians to seek affordable housing in Oregon, only to be met by wildfires and subsequent homelessness

Shannon King, who left the Bay Area to escape soaring housing costs, moved to a mobile home park in Oregon, where she hoped to raise her children. That park was destroyed in a fire, and King now fears that developers will try to use the land where her home once stood to build trendier more expensive housing. The median rent in Oregon has increased by 14% in recent years, and those displaced by the fires, who have already suffered a financial burden, often don’t have anywhere else to go.

  • Even those who have homeowners or renters insurance, or received financial aid through FEMA or other programs, may face impossibly low housing availability in their areas. In King’s case, the area has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country at just 2%. 

Growing Inequality: Climate change and housing instability continue to disproportionately impact people of color and low-income people. When climate crises strike, it is often low-income housing that is impacted the most; historical discrimination, redlining, and segregation have relegated vulnerable groups to flood and fire-prone areas and left them with outdated infrastructure. 

In Oregon, Phoenix City Councilor Sarah Westover said, “it’s like this fire went after the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community,” and emphasized that, “if we want people to stay, we have to take action now to make sure there’s transitional housing…We can’t put our tax base above the needs of the people who live here.”



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