Nearly 40 percent of Americans live close to a coastline, and with the accelerating pace of single weather disasters causing damages of at least $1 billion, the implications for housing are obvious.
A comprehensive report by the Center for American Progress on the impact of extreme weather on affordable housing cites Hurricane Harvey’s damage, in 2017, to almost 200,000 houses across Texas, and just one month later, Hurricane Maria’s destruction of more than 70,000 houses in Puerto Rico, an event that left 60 percent of a single town’s residents homeless.
According to NASA, the wildfire season has lengthened across one-quarter of the world’s vegetated surface, becoming nearly a year-round hazard in California. Massive fires have now burned in Alaska and Siberia, and thousands of houses were destroyed in Australia’s massive wildfires of 2019-2020. A hotter, dryer world will obviously pose greater risk to the destruction of housing by fire.
As with its impacts over all, climate change will disproportionately hurt the poor. The United States has a shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental units for extremely low-income renters, and affordable housing tends to be built in areas vulnerable to sea level rise and lacking adequate infrastructure to shield them from flooding. A National Public Radio investigation concluded that minorities and poorer Americans receive less in federal disaster aid than white and more affluent citizens.
Even now, though, Americans remain divided as to whether or not climate change is even real, and that impacts real estate in more ways than simply where and how to build. A 2019 study by the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business found that the cost of real estate can depend not on future sea level rise, but rather the belief in it. 10% to 12 percent of houses in Florida could be under water by 2100, but those in an area where climate change denialism is strong sell for approximately 7 percent more than where it is acknowledged.
Another Center for American Progress report urges the federal government to support adaptation and mitigation strategies including more resilient infrastructure. Congress, the authors write, should strengthen federal building requirements and increase funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency so that flood maps can be updated. At the same time, of course, the federal government could act to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, with the goal of achieving 100 percent of energy needs from renewable sources.