E&E News' Bolstad talks climate gentrification's impact on Miami housing market

Miami Beach real estate is in the midst of a dramatic shift, due to rising sea levels and skittish investors. On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E News reporter Erika Bolstad explains how climate change is causing a new type of gentrification in South Florida and talks about how minority communities are responding.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Miami real estate is in the midst of a dramatic shift due to climate change. E&E News reporter Erika Bolstad has spent some time on the ground there and has some new reporting on climate gentrification in South Florida. Erika, thank you for joining me.

Erika Bolstad: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: So, Erika, if any region in the U.S. is facing gentrification due to climate change, it is the Miami area. What is climate gentrification? Define that for us, and how are we seeing it as part of the conversation — of the real estate conversation in South Florida now?

Erika Bolstad: Yeah, it's a good question because it's not a popular term yet. It's something that's just starting to be talked about quite a bit, this idea of climate gentrification. And it might be helpful to maybe think about what gentrification is to begin with, which is this idea that people of color or people who are poor are involuntarily moved out of neighborhoods, whether it's through the market forces or they're priced out or other reasons, they're bought out, and they leave for reasons that are not entirely up to them. In Miami, that's happening quite a bit in a lot of neighborhoods already. Gentrification is a real estate force, and it often happens in neighborhoods that were undervalued or maybe had a lot of crime in the past, and sometimes it happens because governments come in and invest in those neighborhoods with new infrastructure, sidewalks, those sorts of things that make them more attractive to developers who want to invest there.

So in South Florida, where you have the threat of sea-level rise and flooding and some of the other issues that come with climate change, you have this sort of toxic mix of a real estate market that's affected by gentrification already and a real estate market that is also being affected by the forces that are much bigger than anyone on the ground in Miami, climate change.

Monica Trauzzi: And there's some historic housing patterns in Miami. You spent time talking to people in some of these affected areas. What are we seeing in terms of how those historic patterns are changing?

Erika Bolstad: Yeah, so in Miami, unlike a lot of places, the places that are probably the least at risk of flooding or sea-level rise are on high ground. They're places on high ground. They're not on, say, the beach, like Miami Beach. That's probably the most valuable real estate in the area, and they're away from the beach so they've been less valuable over time. And they're on higher ground because they're the old neighborhoods, the historic neighborhoods that were part of the city's founding, and they often were home to people of color especially, and in some cases, those were the places that they were restricted to by some of the Jim Crow laws of the South at the time. And so these are neighborhoods that have been undervalued for a long time, that are often where the homes are not fancy, and they don't have a beachfront view. Now they're perhaps more valuable in the eyes of developers who are taking a long view about what might not be flooded in 30, 60 years down the road.

Monica Trauzzi: And so what are the projections that we're looking at in terms of how the region might be affected by sea-level rise?

Erika Bolstad: So in South Florida, they use — all of the governments use the same projection, which is 2 feet by 2060, and that's over levels in the '90s is what their benchmark is. And, you know, that's just a couple of centimeters a year, not a lot every year, but over time, over the span of time, it is a lot, and that's the projection that everyone uses in terms of how they plan where they're going to put roads, what infrastructure they're going to invest in, and everyone knows it. Everyone understands it there, including the people who make real estate investments.

Monica Trauzzi: So how are the affected people who are inland and who are being affected by this gentrification, how are they responding to this new interest in their region?

Erika Bolstad: It varies. Some people are — you know, they're already under a lot of pressure from gentrification in Miami. There's some neighborhoods that were historically undervalued and that have been redeveloped in recent years, and they include neighborhoods like Windwood, which is an arts district, and that redevelopment, gentrification, whatever you want to call it has crept into neighboring areas like Little Haiti.

And so the people who live in those places, on the one hand, they're seeing developers knock on their door, speculators knock on their door because they have cheap property that could be maybe flipped or reinvested or developed in a different way at a profit, and so they know that that's happening. And they also know that climate change is happening. Sometimes they think it's happening at the same time and they're not always sure, but the response has been really interesting in some quarters. There's a group of young black investors who have pooled their money to buy homes in some of these places, rehab them and sell them, and what they're trying to do is keep the neighborhoods, if not in the same exact way that they have been, they want to keep them available and accessible to people of color, especially first-time homebuyers.

Monica Trauzzi: This is a great story, great reporting, and it's running in Climatewire on Monday.

Erika Bolstad: I believe so, yeah.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. We will be looking for it. It's a great read. I got to take a sneak peek and I thought it was fantastic.

Erika Bolstad: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for joining me.

Erika Bolstad: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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