Sea level rise and coastal flooding threaten affordable housing
Authors: Maya K Buchanan, Scott Kulp, Lara Cushing, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Todd Nedwick, and Benjamin Strauss
Journal: Environmental Research Letters
Publication Date: December 2020
The frequency of coastal floods around the United States has risen sharply over the last few decades, and rising seas point to further future acceleration. Residents of low-lying affordable housing, who tend to be low-income persons living in old and poor quality structures, are especially vulnerable. To elucidate the equity implications of sea level rise (SLR), we provide the first nationwide assessment of recent and future risks to affordable housing from SLR and coastal flooding in the United States. By using high-resolution building footprints and probability distributions for both local flood heights and SLR, we identify the coastal states and cities where affordable housing—both subsidized and market-driven—is most at risk of flooding. We provide estimates of both the expected number of affordable housing units exposed to extreme coastal water levels and of how often those units may be at risk of flooding. The number of affordable units exposed in the United States is projected to more than triple by 2050. New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts have the largest number of units exposed to extreme water levels both in absolute terms and as a share of their affordable housing stock. Some top-ranked cities could experience numerous coastal floods reaching higher than affordable housing sites each year. As the top 20 cities account for 75% of overall exposure, limited, strategic and city-level efforts may be able to address most of the challenge of preserving coastal-area affordable housing stock.