All along the coast of the southeast United States, the real estate industry confronts a hurricane. Not the kind that swirls in the Atlantic, but a storm of scientific information about sea-level rise that threatens the most lucrative, commission-boosting properties.
These studies warn that Florida, the Carolinas and other southeastern states face the nation’s fastest-growing rates of sea level rise and coastal erosion — as much as 3 feet by the year 2100, depending on how quickly Antarctic ice sheets melt. In a recent report, researchers for Zillow estimated that nearly 2 million U.S. homes could be literally underwater by 2100, if worst-case projections become reality.
This is not good news for people who market and build waterfront houses. But real estate lobbyists aren’t going down without a fight. Some are teaming up with climate change skeptics and small government advocates to block public release of sea-level rise predictions and ensure that coastal planning is not based on them.
“This is very concerning,” said Willo Kelly, who represents both the Outer Banks Home Builders Association and the Outer Banks Association of Realtors and led a six-year battle against state sea-level-rise mapping in North Carolina. “There’s a fear that some think tank is going to come in here and tell us what to do.”
The flooding and destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey has again highlighted the risks of owning shoreline property. But coastal real estate development remains lucrative, and in recent months and years, the industry has successfully blocked coastal planning policies based on ever-higher oceans.