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Waterfront properties on Lake Union in Seattle.
Waterfront properties on Lake Union in Seattle. (Photo via Shutterstock).

The U.S. housing market is finally recovering from the Great Recession — but now comes the tide of an equally insidious threat: Climate change. New Zillow research shows that unchecked climate change could leave 1.9 million homes underwater by 2100.

Underwater, in this case, does not refer to negative equity. If sea levels rise by the estimated six feet in 85 years, about two percent of U.S. homes are at risk of being submerged. Those properties are worth a total $882 billion, according to Zillow.

“In pure dollars and cents, the potential for property and home value destruction from rising sea levels and climate change is every bit as large as the value lost during the Great Recession,” said Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell. “In fact, it’s likely the potential value lost could be much higher.”

Seattle-c4cfecFlorida faces the greatest risk, with 12.56 percent — or one in eight — homes expected to be underwater. In Hawaii, one in 10 homes, amounting to just over nine percent, are at risk. Rising sea levels also pose a serious threat to New Jersey, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

In Zillow’s hometown, Seattle, 1,663 (or 0.9 percent) of homes would be submerged by the estimated sea level increase. Those waterfront properties are worth a total of $2.3 billion.

As Zillow’s study notes, a lot can happen over 85 years. Between now and the date projected for sea levels to rise six feet, the impact of climate change could be reduced.

“If there’s a silver lining to this research, it’s that we’re identifying the problem early and hopefully can now begin getting in front of it and addressing it head on,” said Gudell.

In December, 195 nations reached a historic agreement to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions at the U.N Climate Accord. At that time, Seattle billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos — as well as several other tech leaders — formed the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in zero-carbon energy technologies.

But even with help from world leaders and tech innovators, we have a long way to go to address the threat of climate change. And even if emissions are reduced, rising sea levels will still pose a threat to many homes.

“Given the enduring popularity of living near the sea, despite its many dangers and drawbacks, it may be that even more homes will be located closer to the water in a century’s time, and these estimates could turn out to be very conservative,” says Zillow Economic Director Kristin Rao in the report. “Either way, left unchecked, it is clear the threats posed by climate change and rising sea levels have the potential to destroy housing values on an enormous scale.”
zillow rising sea levels

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