Report paints devastating picture for coastal real estate in the Sunshine State

More than 300,000 homes and commercial buildings along the coastlines of the United States are in danger of constant flooding by high tides over the next 30 years.

Homes and businesses in hundreds of U.S. communities will face an unprecedented challenge as sea levels rise, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists claims. Many of those communities, such as the barrier island town of Hampton Beach, N.H., shown in an image from the report, developed over time for the greatest possible proximity to the ocean. But the ocean is on the move, and the cost of that proximity is becoming evident, scientists say.

In fact, thanks to the predicted rising sea level, these homes and businesses in 23 coastal states – about 175 communities – could face devastating floodwaters 26 times a year by 2045 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t significantly reduced, a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists claims.

The report, titled “Underwater: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate,” was released following an in-depth study of sea level rise projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the data cited being worst-case scenario.

The report claims that along the East Coast, where some of the most developed land in the country borders the Atlantic Ocean, constant flooding could wipe out economies and leave cities and towns struggling to make ends meet.

With chronic flooding, homeowners and owners of commercial properties are directly at risk of significant financial losses as the value of their properties declines. Such losses have ramifications for the local community, which could see its property tax base eroded and its ability to fund local services compromised. There also will be implications for the wider economy, including for banks with outstanding mortgage loans on properties at risk of flooding, coastal property developers, investors and insurers, owners whose places of business may face flooding, and U.S. taxpayers who could face increased taxes to pay for measures to cope with flooding and to reduce risk. This graphic is part of the recent Union of Concerned Scientists report.

Not surprisingly, Florida stands to lose the most over the next 30 years, with 64,000 homes in danger of facing these floodwaters – 12,000 of those in the Miami Beach area alone, where high rises popular with residents and tourists tower over the beach, just steps from the ocean.

By the end of the century, the projection in Florida gets even worse – one million homes in danger of damage from rising sea levels. And that means the Sunshine State will account for more than 40 percent of the nation’s at-risk homes.

While the study’s authors suggest that world leaders must work on ways to reduce the eventual sea level rise by reducing carbon emissions, they also point out that states like Florida, New Jersey and New York, to name a few, could see their economies crash if action isn’t taken soon.

A recent Union of Concerned Scientists report says communities in 23 coastal states are in danger of facing constant flooding by high tides over the next 30 years.

Constant flooding issues could put mortgages at-risk of default, as many homeowners will have no choice but to walk away from their devalued properties, the report says. Normally, banks attempt to recoup lost mortgage income through reselling homes. But with the dire projections put forth, that scenario will no longer exist. And that means lenders could lose millions upon millions of dollars, with some banks, no doubt, eventually collapsing and shutting their doors.

Other business owners could face similar risks. Constant flooding could mean loss of traffic, in-person sales and inventory. Employees won’t be able to travel to work on flooded roadways or park in water-filled lots. And struggling or bankrupt business owners will no longer pay salaries or invest in their communities, meaning many economies will take yet another hit.

These curves depict illustrative trends in home prices with and without chronic flooding. The black line represents a typical historical trend. Going forward, home values in healthy real estate markets would typically trend upward over time (orange line). However, with chronic flooding, some coastal real estate markets could face sharp devaluations (blue line). Other communities with a longer time to respond or the ability to invest in adaptation measures could face a slower, stepwise decline in property values (green line). This graphic is part of the recent Union of Concerned Scientists report.

Flood insurance for chronically inundated coastal properties could become extremely expensive – or not available at all. And even though growth could occur on inland properties, the devastation left behind in coastal towns easily could become too much for communities across the state to combat.

Of course, properties won’t be the only things devastated by the flooding. Roads, bridges, power plants, public buildings, airports, ports, military bases and other critical infrastructure also stands to be severely damaged or destroyed. And the costs of replacing that infrastructure could cost billions of dollars, once again leaving struggling municipalities with devastation that won’t be repaired or rebuilt for years to come – if at all.

Over the next 30 years, 64,000 homes in Florida are in danger of facing floodwaters – 12,000 of those in the Miami Beach area alone, where high rises popular with residents and tourists tower over the beach, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists claims.

Other ramifications for coastal towns include lack of tax money to fund things like schools and emergency services, such as police and fire departments. Those two issues alone could paint a picture that includes poorly educated students and rises in crime rates that will be difficult to combat with reduced law enforcement staffs, not to mention the suffering residents could face due to cuts in emergency medical and fire protection services.

The bottom line, the report states, is shocking: By the end of the century, as many as 2.4 million of today’s residential properties and 107,000 commercial properties, worth $1.07 trillion today – roughly equivalent to the entire gross domestic product of Florida – stand to be at risk of chronic flooding. Those properties alone currently house about 4.7 million people – the equivalent of the entire population of Louisiana.