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In Many Cities, Climate Change Will Flood Affordable Housing

Rising seas risk inundating housing markets in coastal cities that lack options for low-income residents, says a new study.

In South Florida cities like Fort Lauderdale, critical affordable housing units are threatened by sea level rise. 

In South Florida cities like Fort Lauderdale, critical affordable housing units are threatened by sea level rise. 

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America

Norfolk, Virginia, a city and naval base perched on the southern entrance of the Chesapeake Bay, knows the vagaries of tides and sea level rise. Increasingly severe flooding due to climate change has led the city to plan ahead for the slow-motion inundation that will reshape the coastal community. But while military facilities and million-dollar homes may be saved by remediation and resilience efforts, new research shows that the city’s affordable housing stands to suffer during the coming decades of rising water. By 2050, 710 units of affordable housing, 6.7% of the city’s total, will be exposed to frequent flooding, threatening homes for thousands of residents.

That’s according to a new research paper released Dec. 1 that offers the most detailed account to date of the risk affordable housing faces from rising seas. “Sea level rise and coastal flooding threaten affordable housing,” published in the journal Environmental Resource Letters, examines how climate change will slowly drown a significant part of the nation’s already inadequate stock of subsidized and market-driven affordable housing. The number of units exposed to frequent flooding from 2000 to 2050 will triple. By mid-century, the report finds, the U.S. will lose 24,519 units due to repeated flooding, mostly concentrated in northeastern and mid-Atlantic states such as Virginia, Massachusetts and New Jersey.