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Climate change could hurt housing affordability says SFU report

Working professionals are already struggling to cope with climate change uncertainty says SFU professor

The city placed sandbags at Kits Beach in November 2015 to protect against storm surges and King Tides.

Emily Jackson/Metro File

The city placed sandbags at Kits Beach in November 2015 to protect against storm surges and King Tides.

Climate change could make local housing more expensive, according to a SFU report.

Concerns about rising sea levels and flood projections are already having a negative effect on property developers who are unsure whether certain plots of land are safe to buy, said Deborah Harford, a professor at SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management.

She co-authored the Adaptation to Climate Change Team report, which sought input from working professionals on how climate change is affecting their industry.

One major consequence of climate change is a rise in sea levels, which is projected to increase by one metre by the year 2100, according to the B.C. government.

That translates to greater risk for developers who then download that cost to people who buy the condo units, said Harford.

“When there is higher risk, they are going to try and make their return higher and therefore it reduces affordability for the buyer in the end,” she said.

Current homeowners are also at risk, with about 73,000 properties in Vancouver alone in flood zones, and projections for higher sea levels will likely cover even more homes, she said.

Vancouver’s False Creek neighbourhood is in danger of being flooded when sea levels rise.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

Vancouver’s False Creek neighbourhood is in danger of being flooded when sea levels rise.

There is still uncertainty on which areas of Metro Vancouver are prone to flooding because not enough research was funded in the past, she explained. 

“We are very behind on that, in terms of producing flood plain maps that incorporate the projections on what may change due to climate change.”

But professionals in various industries are already trying to cope with the realities of climate change while the public continues to have lukewarm reaction to the issue, said Harford.

“There’s a disjoint between public awareness thinking this not really an issue, we’ll think about this in the future, and developers asking is it safe to buy here, realtors asking what should we be selling, engineers asking, where should we build, insurers asking, what role do we play?”

Authorities also need more information to create storm management plans, water storage plans in case of drought, and other problems that will increase in intensity due to climate change, she said. Many of those projects fall under municipal jurisdiction.

The City of Vancouver is currently working on flood protection policies which could include anything from barriers like dykes and sea gates, to adaptive measures like changing building codes, or even retreating from low-laying areas altogether.

But provincial and federal governments need to play a larger role in the preparation for climate change and there is a lot of catching up to do, said Harford.

“We had a government that refused to talk about it for 10 years. We didn’t have any federal leadership. We do now, but they’re still trying to dig out of that hole.”

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