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Rising seas will likely mean rising taxes

Coastal flooding
Lisa Grieco
Climate Central
Climate Central says Virginia ranks fifth among states for likely loss of property tax revenue as the sea claims land and buildings.

As sea levels rise, properties along the coast will actually disappear according to a think tank called Climate Central. Senior Advisor Don Bain says that organization has crunched the numbers.

“We calculated the number of acres and the percent of each individual property that would fall below an elevation associated with a future water level. We have tax assessment values for that land, and we can calculate the potential impact to tax assessed value for the land and the buildings.”

He adds that some places will have to raise taxes to compensate for land and buildings lost to the sea.

“The county level is where this tax base local government depends on for funding its operations, and we depend upon for funding our schools.”

Climate Central concludes the city of Newport News will lose a billion dollars in taxable property by 2050. The sea will swallow nearly a third of Middlesex County in the Middle Peninsula and Northumberland County in the Northern Neck should also brace for big losses.

At the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center A.R. Siders says some residents who lose property will buy or rent another home in the area and continue to pay taxes.

“They have kids in school. They have jobs. They have family there. They are living there for a reason, so they do tend to stay locally, but there’s a big caveat," she warns. "They'll stay if there is housing that they can afford, and in many towns in the U.S. with the affordable housing crisis that’s a big if.”

So Climate Central says we have to start thinking differently about real estate and development.

“We still have this mentality that owning a home is a sound financial investment, and these days in coastal areas I think one of the big things this research shows is it’s actually a gamble," Siders explains. "It is not an investment where a home is definitely going to increase in value over time. It might increase in value if protective measures are made, or it might lose all value."

She says communities should discourage construction in areas likely to flood, build more affordable housing away from the coast, warn the public about risky real estate purchase and get on board with efforts to reduce carbon pollution that causes climate change.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.