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18 million rental units are at risk as climate disasters get more common, Harvard study says

Filip De Mott   

18 million rental units are at risk as climate disasters get more common, Harvard study says
  • More than 18 million occupied rental units are exposed to climate-related risks, Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies said in a new study.
  • This could strain rental stock supply, boost prices, and cause a jump in evictions.

41% of occupied rental units in the US are located in areas exposed to severe climate-related threats, a new study published by Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies reported.

Specifically, about 18.2 million units are at risk of substantial loss damage, whether from hurricanes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and similar hazards. That accounts for 35% to 40% of multifamily buildings, and 45% of single-family rentals.

"Notably, newer rental units are much more likely to be vulnerable to weather- and climate-related hazards. Nearly half of rentals built in 2000 or later are located in areas with substantial losses, double the 24 percent of rentals built before 1940," the report said, citing that 52% of manufactured units are at risk.

But older rental stock has the highest rate of inadequacies, leaving them also vulnerable to environmental damage. US rental supply is now at its oldest level ever, with millions of rental units deficient in some form. Energy upgrades are also needed as rising temperatures and changing weather boost renter use.

To limit future threats, the report emphasized a need to invest in pre-disaster mitigation and adaptation strategies, helping ensure that the dwindling stock of rental housing doesn't fall, and curb evictions and rent increases that typically follow climate-related disaster.

Last year, 28 climate events cost $92.9 billion, though this estimate may rise, a January report from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information found.

This is translating to higher insurance costs for both renters and homeowners, as well as less coverage, as insurers retreat from high-cost communities. Housing markets are still adjusting, with around 39 million homes still insured at prices that don't reflect today's climate hazards, First Street Foundation previously reported.

Climate-related risks could also come to eventually batter down home values, with 20% of the housing market at risk of devaluation from flood damage exposure, DeltaTerra's Dave Burt projected last year.

Among homebuyers, four-fifths now take climate change into account when property shopping, though many still move to at-risk regions due to affordability.

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