Climate Change Could Be Devastating For Homeowners In Coastal Cities

If sea levels rise drastically, more than a million homes would be literally underwater by the end of the century.
An apartment for rent sign is seen in a flooded Fort Lauderdale, Florida, street in September 2015. The conditions were cause
An apartment for rent sign is seen in a flooded Fort Lauderdale, Florida, street in September 2015. The conditions were caused by the combination of the lunar orbit and what many believe are the rising sea levels due to climate change. By the end of the century, rising sea levels could leave a significant number of U.S. homes underwater.

While climate change is a pressing global concern, it isn’t at the top of discussions about the future of the real estate market. But a recent report shows how it could have devastating implications for housing in the U.S.

Almost 1.9 million houses nationwide could be underwater by 2100 if scientists’ more dire predictions come to pass, according to a report from real estate company Zillow released last week. Almost 300 cities would lose at least half their homes, the report states.

Zillow looked at which existing houses would be affected if sea levels rise 6 feet. They determined which houses would be underwater using maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that show how sea level rise will affect coastlines.

According to the EPA, estimates for sea level rise by the end of the century range between 1 and 4 feet, with an uncertainty range of 0.66 to 6.6 feet. In a recent study, researchers argue that earlier predictions don’t sufficiently account for Antarctica’s melting ice and that a more accurate estimate is over 6 feet of sea level rise if greenhouse gas emissions don’t go down.  

Sea levels began to climb in the 1900s, and evidence suggests the rate of their rise has accelerated, according to NOAA. There are three main reasons for rising sea levels, according to National Geographic: water expansion due to warming oceans; glacier and polar ice cap melt; and ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica.

According to Zillow’s report, which is based on an extreme scenario for sea level rise, the nearly 1.9 million houses that would be underwater represent about 2 percent of the housing stock in the U.S. and are worth a combined $882 billion. For comparison, 1.1 million homes were built last year.

Florida would take the largest hit, with one in eight houses underwater if sea levels rise 6 feet. More than 30 percent of homes in Miami would be at risk.

See how homes in Miami and other coastal cities would be affected by 6 feet of sea level rise in Zillow’s maps. (Story continues below.)

How Climate Change Could Affect The Housing Market

A host of scientists, engineers and officials are tackling the issue. In south Florida, the city of Miami Beach is already dealing with frequent flooding and working on a $400 million project to combat it with underground pump systems and raised roads. In New York City, there are a variety of projects to stave off flooding, including a $100 million infrastructure project for lower Manhattan. Last year, a competition in Boston called for ideas that would help the city adapt if and when sea levels rise, including a system of transit canals for public water taxis.

Scientists’ worst predictions for sea level rise are based on assumptions of unchecked global warming and emissions. December’s historic international climate change agreement includes pledges for countries to reduce emissions.  

There is one wild possibility if rising sea levels start driving people out of their homes in major cities: a real estate boom to develop cities with climate change fortifications in areas like Canada, northern Europe and southern Africa. That was British futurist James Martin’s prediction in 2013 for how the global elite could respond to climate change, according to Fast Company.

In south Florida cities, encroaching sea water hasn’t stopped construction, even in areas that could be dealing with severe flooding in a few decades ― raising the question of whether the real estate industry should be addressing climate change, and whether home buyers care.

In a Miami Herald poll of 100 local real estate professionals, 65 percent said they were concerned about how sea level rise would affect the housing market, a jump from 44 percent the year before. Only 22 percent of those surveyed said their clients had mentioned the same concerns.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz covers sustainable cities, housing and inequality. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.