Miami Residents Are Homeless Due To Climate Change

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A study by Harvard University researchers points to climate change as a factor in homelessness because it encourages climate gentrification.

The Harvard Study:

The study was published in Environmental Research Letters, and focuses on Greater Miami – one of the world’s most at-risk places from climate change. The findings suggest that real estate at higher elevations increases at a faster rate than elsewhere. This increase is because those areas are safer due to risk of rising water levels in lower areas.

Climate change makes some property more or less valuable due to its ability to accommodate human populations. It is also associated with infrastructure. The volatile price fluctuations are a determinant of patterns in urban development that may lead to displacement, and in some cases, entrenchment of people.

The Specifics:

The authors track the difference between 1971 and 2017 of properties at different levels of elevation and risk from sea-level rise. The data comes from more than 800,000 property sales, including property value, year built, building size, bed and bath, as well as tax-assessment values.

The study found that there was large evidence of climate gentrification, as well as evidence in favor of the elevation hypothesis. This means that properties located at high elevations have experienced rising values. Those at lower elevations decline in value. Specifically, elevation has a positive effect on price increases in over three-quarters of the properties and 24 of the 25 separate jurisdictions that were examined by the researchers.

Areas where the elevation predicted the change in real estate fall along the coast, and are at the highest risk of flooding. They include Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, Sunny Islands, Golden Beach, and many executive island enclaves. All of these areas have significant water exposure such as lakes and drainage canals.

Climate Gentrification Occurs by Three Main Pathways:

  • When investors start to shift money to more elevated properties.
  • When climate change raises the cost of living so that only the wealthiest households can afford to keep residing there. Those with lower incomes need to move away because of increased costs of insurance, and property tax.
  • When the environment is reengineered to be more resilient – a “resilience investment pathway.”

It’s important to understand that gentrification does not only reflect the preferences and decisions of gentrifiers. It is often the result of larger structural forces, as well as massive public investments.

Trends in Real Estate Patterns:

In Miami, wealthy homeowners have preferred living along the coasts. But this will change with the risk of climate change. This change being because the wealthy will buy higher, less flood-prone ground inland, particularly around downtown.

Higher places, which are traditionally occupied by less advantaged and poor have seen the largest jumps in price appreciation.

The Bottom Line:

As water levels rise and the increase of flooding becomes more likely, the poor will have to move farther into the region’s hinterlands, or out of regions altogether. This will exacerbate the substantial spatial inequality that defines the region. Many of Miami’s residents might become homeless due to climate change.

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About Author

Nadia Zaidi

Nadia Zaidi is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work is featured in several print and digital publications. She previously developed and hosted a show on youth issues for community television, and produces short-documentaries for public outreach. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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