Americans are moving into flood-prone cities at alarming rate: Data

Publish Date: July 24, 2023

Written by Ben Verde

- Originally published at Inman News - Ben Verde

Migration into flood- and wildfire-prone counties has more than doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a Redfin analysis of domestic migration data released Monday.

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Americans are moving into flood and fire-prone areas at alarmingly high rates, according to a new report.

The most flood-prone counties in the United States saw 384,000 more people move in than out in 2021 and 2022 — a 103 percent increase from 2019 and 2020, when a total of just 189,000 more people moved in than out, according to a Redfin analysis of domestic migration data from the U.S. Census Bureau and climate-risk scores from First Street Foundation.

The same trend played out in counties with high wildfire risk, with fire-prone counties seeing 446,000 more people move in than out in 2021 and 2022 — a 51 percent increase from 2019 and 2020.

Remote work, record-low mortgage rates and housing affordability concerns pushed Americans out of coastal cities, such as San Francisco and New York to more affordable Sun Belt areas in Texas, Arizona and Florida, where the risk of storms, fires, and drought and floods is more severe.

Daryl Fairweather

“It’s human nature to focus on current benefits, like waterfront views or a low cost of living, over costs that could rack up in the long run, like property damage or a decrease in property value,” Redfin Deputy Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather said in a statement. “It’s also human nature to discount risks that are tough to measure, like climate change.”

Many natural disaster-prone areas are more affordable because homebuyers and renters have a larger pool of homes to choose from and a growing share of homes are being built in places endangered by climate change, the report points out. Fifty-five percent of the homes built so far this decade face fire risk and 45 percent face drought risk, according to Redfin.

Comparatively, just 14 percent of homes built from 1900 to 1959 face fire risk and 37 percent face drought risk.

“The consequences of climate change haven’t fully sunk in for many Americans because oftentimes, homeowners and renters don’t foot the whole bill when disaster strikes,” Fairweather said. “Insurers and government programs frequently subsidize the cost of rebuilding after storms hit, and mortgages mean homeowners are ceding some risk to lenders — especially if their house goes into foreclosure after a storm.”

That may change soon, however, Fairweather noted.

“With natural disasters intensifying and insurers pulling out of disaster-prone areas including Florida and California, Americans may start feeling a greater sense of urgency to mitigate climate dangers — especially if their home’s value is at risk of declining,” she said.

Despite the intense flood risk, the most popular relocation destination of the past two years has been Lee County, Florida, which includes Cape Coral and Fort Myers and has seen 60,000 more people move in than out during 2021 and 2022.

A Redfin survey of 2,000 U.S. residents conducted along with the report found that 48.7 percent of people who moved in the last year believe that the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, rising sea levels and extreme temperatures will impact home values in their area during the next decade, according to the report.

Only about 5 percent of people who moved in the past year or plan to move in the next year listed climate change as a reason for their relocation, however.

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