What would Miami look with rising sea levels?
Would you move to a city that could be partially submerged by rising sea levels in the next 50 years? Miami is already experiencing early signs of what life with rising sea levels could entail; residents refer to “sunlight floods” where water floods blocks by coming from under the streets through the porous limestone that makes up street cement. The city needs to address rising sea levels because it has the potential to be the single largest destruction of wealth the city could ever face; analysts at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predict sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060.1 Swiss Re estimates that a 3 foot rise in sea level in Miami will result in a $145 billion loss and destroy 300,000 homes.2 At 6 feet, Zillow estimates that the losses could exceed $400 billion and destroy over 900,000 homes.3
The city of Miami has taken some measures to address the impact of rising sea levels due to climate change. While basic, the city’s acknowledgment of climate change itself represents a break in policy from the state of Florida. Although the governor of Florida hasn’t yet acknowledged climate change, Miami’s mayor, Philip Levine, points to his acknowledgment as a factor that helped get him elected. The city has also launched a $400 million fund to address infrastructure projects including the construction of 80 water pump stations throughout the city to pump water out of the streets back into the ocean and an initiative to re-build roads at a higher level. In total, 21 city blocks will be raised above sea level.4
What if sea levels rise fewer than 3 feet?
While these short-term measures might help incrementally, more substantive efforts will need to be instated. Jim Carson, mayor of neighboring city Coral Gables, is concerned cities along the coast will have to deal with these issues far before sea levels rise materially. There are thousands of boats that have to go under bridges to pass from the inlet they are stored in to the ocean; when these boats’ masts start hitting the bottom of bridges because of rising sea levels, this could be a potential trigger event for declining real estate prices in the area. He says, “When the boats can’t go out, the property values go down.” As fewer people want these properties, banks could stop writing longer-term mortgages for these homes by the water, further depressing the real estate market and sending prices even lower. Miami faces a similar problem. As the city has no state tax, Miami relies on real estate taxes and as the tax base shrinks, the city will not have the money to provide the local services that make them desirable. Furthermore, the city will not have enough money for the $400 million infrastructure fund. This could all happen before a single home is submerged; in fact, residents are already selling homes to lock in value.
The city needs to put more safeguards in place to encourage property owners to hold onto their properties. The clearest way they can do this is by articulating a plan that demonstrates they are building the necessary infrastructure to protect property values and then execute this plan. They should partner with other cities that are facing similar challenges to identify the most effective ways to counter rising sea levels and then band together to force the federal government to provide climate change support. Recently, an Obama directive that required the federal government to account for sea level rise when building highways and floodwalls, among other things, was recently rejected by President Trump saying that it “needlessly hurt housing affordability.”6 Without local, state, and federal governments working together, we put these coastal cities at risk. Finally, city officials acknowledge that the current measures are stop-gap solutions. But Miami needs to enact these short-term measures to buy themselves another 50 years and hope that breakthroughs in science will provide more long-term solutions.
Miami risks billions of dollars of real estate being worthless if it does not act soon. Freddie Mac’s chief economist warns that a housing crisis in coastal areas could be even worse than the Great Recession because, unlike the recession, there would be no hope of a recovery in property values. 7 One must ask: will the city be able to encourage residents to stay in the city (so Miami can collect tax revenue) while all this is happening? Finally, assuming the different levels of government can work together, will these short-term solutions actually buy them enough time for a longer-term solution?
Word count: 753
1Sweet, William, “Global and Regional Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, January 2017, https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/publications/techrpt83_Global_and_Regional_SLR_Scenarios_for_the_US_final.pdf, accessed November 2017
2”Cost of Climate Change,” VICE on HBO, February 22 2017, https://video.vice.com/en_us/video/hbo-assad-syria-climate-change-cost/58ac53d2d081c04e5f9e37b0, accessed November 2017
3Krishna Rao, “Climate Change and Housing: Will a Rising Tide Sink All Homes?” Zillow Forecasting Trends, June 2, 2017, https://www.zillow.com/research/climate-change-underwater-homes-12890/, accessed November 2017
4Allen, Greg, “As Waters Rise, Miami Beach Builds Higher Streets And Political Willpower,” NPR, May 10,2016, https://www.npr.org/2016/05/10/476071206/as-waters-rise-miami-beach-builds-higher-streets-and-political-willpower, accessed November 2017
5“Bailing out Miami,” Vice News, March 5, 2017, https://news.vice.com/story/how-the-miami-real-estate-market-is-benefitting-from-rising-sea-levels, accessed November 2017
6Leavenworth, Stuart, “Real estate industry blocks sea-level warnings that could crimp profits on coastal properties,” Miami Herald, Sept 13, 2017, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article173114701.html, accessed November 2017
7“Life’s a Beach,” Freddie Mac Insight, April 26, 2016, http://www.freddiemac.com/research/insight/20160426_lifes_a_beach.html, accessed November 2017