Last month, Miami-Dade County, Miami Beach and Miami launched their “Resilient305” initiative. This was another strategy supported by the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Program, which recently and unfortunately went out of business.
Identified as a “living process, this strategy is intended to address the region’s resilience challenges through government and community collaboration and is designed to build on existing networks and endeavors. This effort can be compared with other Rockefeller supported plans, “Climate Ready Boston”, and “RainReady San Francisco”.
In both programs, there are provisions to provide low interest loans and grants and subsidies for residents and smalls businesses to help them with flooding and to become more resilient.
Local governments tend to place most of their resilience focus on public infrastructure, new buildings and building codes. These are longer-term initiatives, however.
About 95 percent of the building stock in most communities is existing structures — already “at risk” for flooding. Without making these buildings more resilient, drastically increasing flood insurance uptake rates, and providing financial support, residents and businesses won’t be safer from floods, natural hazards and climate impacts in the near term.
To make the existing building stock more resilient, however, it will take more than better building codes and public infrastructure improvements. It will require new local, state and federal financial incentives, such as: risk mitigation investment tax breaks, grants to low income and elderly residents and small businesses, and low interest loans.
Unfortunately, we typically don’t see those approaches being implemented in recent efforts of local governments to address the impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rise, heavier rainfall and higher storm surges.
In most communities, new building codes and long-term capital projects may fail to keep communities viable and real estate values and tax revenues at current levels if individuals and small businesses cannot afford to protect and insure their properties now.
The “flood insurance gap” in the United States, where many people who are exposed to flood risk are not covered by flood insurance, is a huge part of the nation’s “resilience gap.”
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is the primary source of residential flood insurance. Only 5.1 million homeowners have flood insurance policies. The flood insurance uptake rate in the U.S. is about 14 percent of homeowners and, in Miami-Dade County – one of the highest in the nation – it is about 34 percent.
This means that 66 percent of the residents of the Resilient 305 area have no flood insurance. This is not resilient. A 2018 studyled by the University of Bristol and The Nature Conservancy found that 41 million Americans are at risk from flooding rivers, which is more than three times the current FEMA estimate of 13 million people.
The study analyzes only those at risk from flooding from rivers. The estimate does not include the tens of millions of additional Americans who are at risk of coastal flooding.
What does all of this mean for the “living” Resilient305 strategy? As the local government participants work toward gray and green infrastructure solutions, they must also investigate, identify and implement ways to keep homeowners, condo dwellers, small businesses, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and public buildings safer and more resilient.
For example, when streets are raised, the residents and businesses on either side of the streets will likely see more run-off onto their properties, unless there are site-specific, flood protection measures installed.
Who will pay for these protections? Will local government “resilience” bonds be used for low-interest loans to private property owners affected by infrastructure upgrades? Coastal flood insurance rates are getting more and more expensive each year, even from the federally subsidized NFIP.
Will local government participants establish a captive insurance company to make affordable flood insurance available to low income residents, the elderly and small businesses?
Resilient305, Climate Ready Boston and Rain Ready San Francisco are admirable initiatives and are to be commended. But, when the next flood or tropical storm hits, it is unlikely that promised infrastructure upgrades will be in place or will protect most of the inhabitants of these regions.
Much more needs to be done from the “bottom up” — existing building stock — to keep these communities safer.
Albert Slap is president of Coastal Risk Consulting, LLC, which identifies the flood, natural hazard and climate change impact risks of every building in the U.S. at www.floodscores.com.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.