NYU’s Furman Center has released a Research Brief, Planning for Resilience: The Challenge of Floodproofing Multifamily Housing. The Brief opens,
As sea levels rise and storms become more frequent and severe due to climate change, many urban areas along the coasts and rivers of the United States are facing a flood-prone future. Especially in the older urban areas along the eastern seaboard, there is a significant stock of multifamily housing that will be increasingly at risk. Much of this housing is out of compliance with federal flood-resistant design and construction standards. Some of these buildings have housing units that are out of compliance because, regardless of their age, they were only recently mapped into the floodplain. And, even buildings that have been in the floodplain for longer may be out of compliance with the rules because their construction predated their jurisdiction’s adoption of the standards. (2)
And it concludes,
As the nation’s floodplains expand, the number and types of housing units at risk of flooding also grows. Multifamily housing makes up a larger share of the at-risk housing in the floodplain than was previously understood, and mitigating the risk to this housing and its residents presents unique challenges that local governments must be prepared to face. While there is no easy answer to how to fund the often costly and disruptive retrofit measures needed in these buildings, there are steps that local governments can take to make it easier for buildings to adapt, such as educating owners about risks, providing them with information about retrofit strategies, and helping them finance improvements. Including strategies like these in a long-term resilience plan will make communities stronger and will ensure that multifamily buildings and their residents are not left behind as flood-prone areas adapt. (10)
There is no doubt that this is right. New York City under both Mayors Bloomberg and De Blasio have taken this issue very seriously, but a lot of work remains to be done. And the odds are that the amount of work will only increase with time as sea levels rise higher and higher. Because many other local governments do not have the resources of NYC, they will get their wake up calls the hard way.
Given the broad effects of climate change, resiliency efforts would ideally be led by the federal government. But I don’t see that happening for a long time, probably after an avoidable tragedy on a large scale spurs Congress to action, notwithstanding its ideological commitments.