Houma Courier: Rising seas threaten local home values. New program aims to help keep them afloat

A wetlands-advocacy group is working on a program that seeks to limit a decline in local property values that could result after new flood insurance maps are released.

Terrebonne and Lafourche’s maps have been delayed for nearly a decade after the parishes appealed drafts that showed sinking land, rising seas and coastal erosion have increased the risk of flooding for thousands of homes and businesses. That could have driven flood insurance costs to unaffordable levels for many residents.

Local officials had said they expected the Federal Emergency Management Agency to release the new maps last summer, but that never happened. As a result, the parishes continue to operate under maps last updated in the mid-1980s, which in many cases underestimate the actual flood risk.

Val Marmillion, a Houma native and managing director of the America’s Wetland Foundation, noted that most residents of Louisiana and other coastal communities have their life savings tied up in their homes.

“The stigma associated with high-risk communities vulnerable to sea level rise, stronger storm events and even nuisance flooding can begin to bring down home values,” he said in a news release. “We are committed to help Gulf Coast communities avoid this possibility by taking specific actions to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of sea level rise that can preserve cultures, jobs and ways of life we all hold dear.”

America’s Wetland is assembling a group of agencies and institutions that will oversee what it calls the Sea Level Rise Communities of Innovation program. Communities that take specific actions to adapt to the increased flood risk will be designated as such.

The goal, Marmillion said, is to help communities communicate the actions they take so businesses, investors and homeowners see they are “limiting vulnerability and telegraphing that they are open for business and here for the long term, thus avoiding the negative stigma of an at-risk community.”

Even the perception that a community is increasingly vulnerable to flooding can lower property values and deter business investment, foundation officials said.

“The new FEMA flood maps that are about to be released promise to impact the insurability of coastal communities and adapting to ways to keep local economies strong and growing is an intended outcome from sessions like these. It is important to remember that as insurance rates spike, there is a corresponding loss of home values,” said Sidney Coffee, the foundation’s senior advisor “Communities that fail to act and adapt to sea level rise face the growing threat of reaching a tipping point when the perception of risk turns home values upside down,” Coffee said. “If real-estate values decline and investments diminish, the tax base for basic services becomes depleted and what follows is obvious.”

Flood-inundation maps from the real-estate website Zillow and Climate Central estimate close to $1 trillion in U.S. real estate will be lost if seas rise 6 feet, he noted. Climate Central’s research predicts seas will rise a foot by 2030.

“A one-foot rise in only slightly more than a decade will have an incredible impact on Louisiana and coastal areas like Houma and Thibodaux and surrounding communities,” Marmillion said. “While taking actions to adapt to what is called the ‘new normal,’ the foundation is making the case that retreat is not the answer. Instead, we advocate for living with water and building with nature as a formula for sustaining coastal communities and environments facing rising seas and saltwater intrusion which destroys coastal lands.”

— Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or keith.magill@houmatoday.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.https://www.houmatoday.com/news/20200215/rising-seas-threaten-local-home-values-new-program-aims-to-help-keep-them-afloat