Study reveals impact of rising sea levels on affordable housing

Infographic depicting affordable housing affected by sea level rise
Joseph Casey/Senior Staff
A recently published study found that by 2050, the number of affordable housing units in the United States that are at risk of coastal flooding resulting from rising sea levels is projected to triple. The study also noted that structurally, affordable housing units are more vulnerable to climate change effects.

Related Posts

In a study published Tuesday, researchers examined the risks of sea level rise and coastal flooding on affordable housing units across the United States, which could affect the city of Berkeley.

The study identified that the number of affordable housing units at risk of coastal flooding due to rising sea levels is expected to triple by 2050, according to Benjamin Strauss, study co-author and Climate Central’s CEO and chief scientist. The study also pointed out that affordable housing units were structurally more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“Compared to their neighbors, affordable housing residents already have few options and fewer resources to move, prepare or recover as coastal flooding poses a bigger and bigger threat to their homes,” Strauss said in an email. “This study can help governments and agencies understand where the risks are concentrated, so they can take efficient steps to protect local affordable housing stocks and the people who need them.”

According to Strauss, the study used a database from Microsoft Building Footprints to locate buildings that had affordable housing units. If estimated regional flood levels reached the heights of those buildings, the housing units were considered at risk of flood exposure.

U.S. cities were ranked based on the annual number of housing units exposed to high flood levels by 2050, according to the study. Rachel Morello-Frosch, study co-author and campus professor of environmental science, policy and management, noted that the 20 highest ranked cities accounted for an estimated 75% of the predicted annual flood exposure in the United States. She said this provides important information about where to direct efforts to preserve affordable housing.

Morello-Frosch added that Foster City was noted to have a high projected annual number of exposed affordable housing units. She said this has important implications for Berkeley residents because the impacts in Foster City, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, could have “regional reverberations” that could affect nearby cities, including Berkeley.

“This issue related to climate change and sea level rise is relevant in thinking about threats to our infrastructure overall,” Morello-Frosch said. “Any conversation about how we build community resilience to the effects of sea level rise and flooding have to include protections for vulnerable populations, including those who live in affordable housing.”

Todd Nedwick, study co-author and housing and energy efficiency policy director of National Housing Trust, said secure housing is crucial to maintaining an individual’s well-being, noting the importance of investing in and building more affordable housing in response to climate events.

Morello-Frosch expressed similar thoughts and cautioned that without investments, communities will be displaced and families will face “profound disruptions.”

“We need to get serious about preparing for these climate impacts because they’re going to be more common,” Nedwick said. “We have to really trust and believe in the science and act now before it gets more difficult to act and more costly to act as impacts become more frequent.”

Contact Amudha Sairam at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.