Sea-level rise to prompt displacement of Miami’s low-income, minority communities, study finds

Talk of relocation from coastal areas is “unpopular,” even though it is likely climate change outcome, report says

Miami /
Feb.February 23, 2022 10:30 AM

A map from the report (The Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University, iStock)

Sea-level rise and the resulting climate gentrification are expected to hit low-income, minority communities in Miami-Dade County the hardest, according to a new report.

The county, as well as several of its cities and neighborhoods, have comprehensive policies to tackle the two issues at the nexus of climate gentrification — sea-level rise and housing unaffordability. Yet, the success of how these plans are playing out is a different story, according to the study by the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University.

“There is a disconnect we identified between what policies are on the books and what is actually happening on the ground,” said William Butler, lead report author. He spoke generally for all the Florida areas studied and not just Miami-Dade.

Localities “have really, really robust affordable housing policies, but then you still see this big gap in seeing actually affordable housing created or protected,” Butler added.

At the same time, local governments also have extensively addressed climate change in planning efforts. Yet, real estate construction along the coasts, which are the areas most threatened from sea rise, continues, Butler said.

The LeRoy Collins Institute study parsed through localities’ policies and preparations for sea-level rise, and plans to increase the affordable housing stock in Miami-Dade, as well as in Pinellas and Duval counties.

Climate gentrification is still an under-studied issue, with the general consensus that it will impact low-income communities near the coast. But the issue is expected to play out differently in Miami-Dade.

Development has long focused on coveted coastal areas, with Miami Beach and neighboring barrier island cities becoming the hub of high-end real estate and home to relatively more affluent residents. In the meantime, the Miami neighborhoods of Little Haiti, Liberty City, Overtown, Allapattah and Little Havana, which are not only inland but also on some of the highest ground in the county, historically are home to minority immigrant groups.

Locally, climate gentrification will start with coastal dwellers being displaced from the barrier islands, once sea-level rise makes living there impossible. These residents are largely expected to move inland, an influx that would prompt property value increases and the eventual gentrification of the higher ground neighborhoods, according to the report.

The study identified 543 Miami-Dade areas faced with a high displacement risk from gentrification. Over 40 percent of the areas’ population is Black, and nearly half is Hispanic. Overall, 22.2 percent of the areas’ households are living below the poverty level.

Already, these inland neighborhoods have attracted a development wave, although there is no hard proof developers are attracted to the area’s higher ground.

“A lot of the places like Allapattah, Little Havana and Little Haiti, those are places experiencing enormous redevelopment pressures, where developers are coming in buying properties,” Butler said. “As they amass this property, they are setting themselves up to a massive redevelopment project, which means the folks there can’t stay.”

The LeRoy Collins report also found that although localities are preparing for sea-level rise by building seawalls and pumps, the reality of an eventual population retreat from the barrier islands is seldom addressed. “Talk of relocation efforts is generally unpopular in Florida,” according to the report.

Ultimately, despite local governments’ comprehensive policies, affordable housing and sea-level rise planning have been so far largely moving along as separate, siloed efforts, even though the issues are inherently linked when it comes to climate gentrification, the report found.

“We are just now getting into folks working in housing and affordable housing recognizing that they need to be in the conversation about resilience to sea-level rise and resilience to climate change, and vice versa,” Butler said. “There are all these cascading effects.”





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