US property crisis looms as sea level rises, experts warn

Along sun-splashed shorelines in the US state of Florida, home prices are on the rise, developers are busy building new complexes, and listings just blocks from the beach describe homes that are “not in a flood zone,” meaning no flood insurance is required.

But experts warn that ignoring sea level rise won’t prevent a looming economic crisis caused by water-logged homes that will someday become unsafe, uninhabitable and too costly to insure.

A reality check may come sooner than many may think, according to a report out Monday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which finds as many as 64,000 coastal residences worth $26 billion in Florida are at risk of chronic flooding in the next 30 years, the life of a typical mortgage.

Across the United States, 311,000 coastal homes with a collective market value of about $120 billion in today’s dollars are at risk of chronic flooding by 2045, it said.

By century’s end, if current trends continue, more than $1 trillion in commercial and private US property may be at risk, “with Florida’s coastal real estate among the most exposed,” said the report.

And it’s not because of the increased risk of hurricanes or storm surge.

Rather, the danger comes from flooding due to high tides — sometimes called sunny day floods, or nuisance flooding — when water pools into streets, sidewalks, storefronts and homes.

“This risk is relatively near-term, well before places go underwater completely, and even in the absence of storms,” said Rachel Cleetus, lead economist and policy director with the Climate and Energy program at the UCS.

Coastal real estate markets are not currently factoring in these risks, she told AFP.

“But market perceptions can shift and they can shift quickly in some places,” she added, describing a market correction as “inevitable.”

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