At any given moment the United States is facing an unparalleled number of crises. While there’s much debate over which ones are actual threats to the American well-being, and which may actually be existential, two that are undeniably impacting the average American are ongoing climate issues and housing crises. With natural disasters leading to increased costs and impacts throughout the majority of the United States, homebuyers are beginning to weigh whether they would rather deal with hurricanes or wildfires when deciding where they want to settle down.
It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a place in the United States that hasn’t been afflicted by a catastrophic weather event recently. Whether it be flooding in Upstate New York, smog in the Midwest, or wildfires in California, Americans are feeling the adverse effects of climate change right in their backyards alongside government and market failures and ineffectual public policy.
In 2021, the federal government declared at least one non-COVID related disaster emergencies in 41 states. A recent survey done by Morning Consult shows that 51 percent of homeowners and 56 percent of renters are concerned about the possible impacts climate change will have on their living situation. The same survey found that younger generations are particularly worried as they attempt to enter the housing markets for the first time, with 61 percent of millennials and 54 percent of Gen Z holding concerns about climate change effects on housing.
Another survey conducted in 2022 by the real-estate firm Redfin polled around 1,000 homeowners who were planning to buy or sell a home in the upcoming year. The survey found that 62 percent of respondents did not want to move to an area that was experiencing side effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels or increased risk of natural disasters. Following the trend set by the previous survey, Redfin also found that the vast majority of younger respondents, 71 percent of Gen Z and 62 percent of millennials, were wary of residing in areas they believed would be hit the hardest by climate change.
Despite these cautious sentiments, people are continuing to move to seemingly high-risk areas in droves. The United States is seeing a mass migration away from states in the Northeast, Midwest, and Coastal West, with many Americans opting to relocate in the Southeast. With its relatively warm and mild weather, low taxes, and affordable cost of living, the Southeastern states are attracting hundreds of thousands of new residents. The top recipients have consistently been Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas. Coastal areas within the South have especially seen massive growth as more Americans want to be closer to the beach. However, the guise of temperate weather and low cost of living may soon be ripped out from under these new residents if large-scale natural disasters occur and the proper infrastructure and policy frameworks are not implemented, leaving the residents exposed.
With increasing sea-level and powerful hurricanes, these high-growth areas could soon be saddled with deadly weather and large reconstruction costs that would likely trump the high taxes many Northern/Western transplants were hoping to escape. Hurricanes are starting to average $20 billion in relief and reconstruction costs per storm. Storm damage costs is, of course, a function both of the storm’s intensity and the level of development, and protective infrastructure (the same storm intensity hitting a low-population density area as a high-density area will have two different costs). Just last year, Hurricane Ian rocked Florida’s gulf coast, costing the state $109 billion in damages according to the National Hurricane Center. This comes as Orlando and Jacksonville landed on a 2022 top-ten list of number of housing construction permits issued for metros holding over a million people.
According to PODS moving data, six of the top 20 migrated to cities in the United States are in Florida. On FEMA’s Expected Annual Loss score, Florida ranked 78.5 for Hurricanes and 68.5 for Coastal Flooding out of a max score of 100. For comparison, North Carolina, a state that also frequently wrestles with tropical cyclones, ranked 62.7 for Hurricanes and 31.5 for Coastal Flooding.
In Texas, a state that gained nearly four million people between 2010 and 2020, growth has yet to slow down. With rapidly growing metro areas and several large tech companies such as Tesla and Hewlett-Packard relocating their headquarters to the state, the economic development in Texas is off the charts. Similarly to Florida, Texas’ future with climate change leaves unanswered questions.
Since 2012, Texas has been impacted by 73 separate disasters that cost over one billion dollars, a little over half of the 145 over-billion disasters nationwide. Since 1980, the state has racked up over $250 billion in natural disaster damages. This comes as Austin, Houston, and Dallas all landed on the top-ten housing permits list, with Austin taking the number one spot issuing 31.1 permits for every 10,000 residents. Three out of the 20 top migration spots according to PODS were also in Texas: Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and San Antonio.
To further elevate the issue, finding insurance to cover the damages caused by certain natural disasters is becoming harder to find. Just in the span of 2020-2022, insurance agencies have paid out $275 billion for natural disaster damages, according to the American Property and Casualty Insurance Association. California has been hit the hardest with State Farm, Allstate, and the American International Group all ceasing new home-owners insurance policies in the state citing the constant threat of destruction from natural disasters – some of which are the result of policy choices and failures on the part of the government. AIG has taken things a step further and has begun cutting services to 200 high risk zip codes all across the country. In Florida, 47 local insurance agencies have recently had to shut their doors. With private firms abandoning certain areas, many residents have had to turn to state-owned agencies in order to receive coverage.
As more people flock to these high risk areas every day in hopes of more comfortable living, more lives and property is at risk of being affected by storms and catastrophic weather events that continue to pummel the Southeastern United States. Whether or not these calamities will reverse mass migration to the afflicted areas, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Written by Jake Smith, Public Policy Intern
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.