Housing in Brief: Sea-Level Rise Threatens Affordable Housing

Also: Tacoma protestors briefly occupy a vacant school, and Tampa offers loans to affordable-housing landlords. 

Flooding in Miami, Florida (Photo by Phillip Pessar / CC BY 2.0)

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Sea-Level Rise Threatens Affordable Housing

The number of affordable-housing units in the United States that are at risk of regular flooding is expected to triple by 2050 as sea levels rise, according to a new analysis from Climate Central. Half of coastal states had some amount of affordable housing at risk of yearly flooding in the year 2000, according to the analysis. By 2050, affordable housing in every coastal state will be at risk, it says. New York, Atlantic City, and Boston each have thousands of units that will be at risk of “chronic coastal flooding” by 2050, according to the analysis. By 2050, the entire affordable-housing stock of Foster City, California, is expected to be at risk as well, the report says. The researchers also produced an online mapping tool showing the risk to affordable housing stock in different areas.

Sea-level rise will affect cities that aren’t traditionally thought of as coastal as well. Philadelphia is 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, for example, but situated on two tidal rivers. Some neighborhoods there with affordable housing already flood regularly. In 2030, according to the Climate Central analysis, 85 affordable housing units in the city will be at regular risk of flooding. By 2100, the number is expected to grow to 253. Across the U.S., an estimated 24,518 units will be at risk of flooding by 2050, up from 7,669 in 2000, according to the analysis.

“Understanding current and future exposure of affordable housing to flood-risk events, including the number of units that could be affected and how often, can support strategic resilience planning,” the researchers conclude. “In the cities and states with the greatest threats, flood-threat reduction measures, such as building retrofits or flood-proofing, and land-use regulatory policies are tools for stakeholders to protect affordable housing stock, and the lives and livelihoods of those who live there.”

Tacoma Homeless Residents Briefly Occupy Vacant School

“Roughly ten” people experiencing homelessness in Tacoma, Washington, briefly took over a vacant public school before being removed by police last month, echoing other protest occupations this year in Oakland, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, according to a report in The Stranger.

The group, Tacoma Housing Now, was responding to the recent deaths of two unhoused Tacomans, according to the report. They had a list of six demands, including that the school be placed into a community land trust along with enough additional housing to serve every person experiencing homelessness, the report says. The residents who occupied the school, who had been living in an encampment under a bridge, told The Stranger that the city’s shelter system was insufficient. The school building had been vacant for more than a decade and has dangerous mold, asbestos, and structural conditions, according to the report.

Police told the occupiers that they could either leave the building or face felony charges, and the residents decided to leave voluntarily after a few hours of negotiations, according to the report.

They have launched a fundraiser to pay for new camping supplies and to “replace items that the cops wouldn’t let residents retrieve.”

Even though the occupation was short-lived, Tacoma Housing Now organizer Rebecca Parson told The Stranger, residents “finally feel like someone’s talking about what they’re going through, and it’s getting some attention.”

Tampa Offers Forgivable Loans to Landlords of Affordable Housing

The City of Tampa launched a program last month to loan money from the federal CARES Act to landlords of affordable housing who have lost significant rental income during the pandemic, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.

In order to qualify, landlords have to show that they lost at least 25 percent of their rental income between February and July compared to the same period in 2019, according to the report. The program is meant to help landlords cover the cost of necessary maintenance and repairs and keep the city’s affordable-housing stock intact, the report says. The loans will be offered from $100,000 to $500,000 based on the amount that landlords put up themselves, with zero percent interest and forgivable after 10 years as long as landlords keep their units affordable. According to the city’s website, the goals of the program are “to stave off evictions due to uninhabitable units, to allow for monitoring of affordable units, to improve housing conditions, [and] to develop a relationship with affordable apartment owners to help house homeless and others seeking affordable rentals.”

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 90.3 percent of tenants had paid full or partial rent for last month by November 20, down 1.6 percent from the previous year. Many cities launched their own small rental-assistance programs during the pandemic. In addition to Tampa’s landlord-assistance program, Philadelphia runs a rental-assistance program that makes rent payments directly to landlords, as does Virginia. Washington, D.C., recently launched a $10 million grant program to help landlords cover lost rents as well, as DCist reported.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: affordable housingcovid-19climate changehomelessnessfloodingrenttampatacoma

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