Can raising roads for sea rise make a Miami Beach home more valuable?
In Miami Beach's bitter battle over raising roads to keep communities dry in the face of sea level rise, it's all about property value.
Critics of the policy worry that elevated roads will slop water onto their lawns, and eventually, homes, and make them less desirable for buyers and insurers.
But a new consultant report says that the city's raised roads, pumps and pipes have increased the value of one neighborhood by $41.2 million dollars in only a handful of years.
"This has never been done anywhere, to our knowledge," said Peter Schultz, the vice president of ICF, the consulting firm heading the report, which concluded the city's adaptation efforts so far "significantly outweigh their costs." The city has committed over half a billion dollars to raise roads and keep them dry, one of the biggest investments in climate action for a city in the country.
The analysis found that from the time the city upgraded Sunset Harbour in 2016, the more than 1,300 condominiums there gained 11.9% in value just from the elevated streets and new stormwater pumps.
If the roads around a property are higher, the property is worth around 4.9% to 11.1% more per foot of road elevation, the study found. Elevated homes are worth more, too. Between 8.5% to 11.5% higher per foot, according to the analysis.
"You can actually add to a value of a home and actually knock out the value loss due to flooding," Schultz said.
However, the report only focused on Sunset Harbour, which is mostly condominiums, and the upcoming project in the First Street neighborhood that would largely affect high rises and single-story shops. Most complaints about the city's road raising strategy come from the single-family homes on Palm and Hibiscus Islands.
There, homeowners have complained of roads so high that garages are inaccessible, driveways so steep that cars bump their undercarriage on the way down and newfound puddles on lawns while the streets remain dry.
The report also didn't separate out the impact of raised roads versus just using flood pumps, a strategy some in the city have advocated for.
The cost-benefit analysis was presented as part of a daylong meeting about the city's resilience strategy and followed a workshop last week from another set of consultants about road raising.
Residents haven't been shy about voicing their displeasure with the city's adaptation program, particularly the road raising.
"For some in the community it seems as if resilience is something we're doing to them," said Commissioner Mark Samuelian.
But city leaders look at the numbers — two feet of sea rise by 2060 — and worry about what happens if they don't raise roads.
City Manager Jimmy Morales, citing a NOAA study, explained how the city will see more and more high tide floods every year as seas creep higher.
"By 2060, every day in Miami Beach we're going to have regular high tides that are today's king tides," he said.
In the last three years, he said, Sunset Harbour has escaped 84 tidal floods because of its pumps and newly elevated roads.
Trying to find solutions that offer the most protection for residents with the least amount of disruption is tough, said Mayor Dan Gelber. And though he acknowledged the city's many missteps in Palm and Hibiscus Islands, he said the city needs to press forward to continue to protect property values.
"Clearly, at some point, people looking at homes are going to say 'I don't want to live in a place where the streets flood 20 percent of the time,' " Gelber said. "We're going to get hundreds of people who say 'my most valuable asset is being devalued' to the point where they're underwater financially. That's the great fear."
Joyce Coffee, president of Climate Resilience Consulting and head of the Urban Land Institute expert panel that reviewed Miami Beach's resilience strategy a few years ago, said data has long shown that investing in protection ahead of time pays off.
"What's remarkable about this study is it does it for a locality, and local governments are where the rubber really hits the road," she said. "This is a formidably important report because it helps local governments figure out what to do next."
Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he hoped the "hard numbers" in this report will calm down residents concerned about home values and show that the city's strategy will help, not hurt. But he doesn't think everyone will be convinced.
"I still think there's going to be people who no amount of logic and facts are going to sway, whether it's climate change deniers or people who don't want to go through the inconvenience of construction or people whose timelines for staying in their property is less than it takes to get done with the work," he said. "As policymakers, we have to think about the long-term future of our city and make the appropriate decisions."
Some Sunset Harbour residents, like 38-year-old Cody Patrick, love the change. Patrick, who runs Sweat440 and S.H.I.F.T. personal training, said the king tide floods used to be so bad a decade ago that he was forced to buy an SUV to handle the floodwaters.
His take: the annoying construction for a couple years was worth it. He sees far less flooding now and even attributes the bump in his condo's value to the new roads and pumps.
"A little bit of inconvenience for construction leads to a lot of property protection," he said.
Other business owners, like Sunset Harbour hairdresser Gustavo Briand, say the higher sidewalks dump water into his studio even after a light rain. He has to cut hair in flip flops, and his landlord changed out the flooring from tile to cement to cope with the floods.
"My shop would never get as flooded as it gets now," he said.
Another highlight from the report: It's not cost beneficial to elevate an existing home. Instead, it makes more financial sense to tear down the home and rebuild it higher.
The report considered the several hundred thousand dollars it would take to elevate a 2,500-square-foot home four and a half feet higher. The consultants figured that height would save a home $100,000 in damage from a hurricane, add on $80,000 in property value and save the residents about $1,800 a year in flood insurance.
"While there could be strong reasons to elevate a home, we estimate that the costs will likely exceed the benefits, using the assumptions that we've adopted," Schultz wrote in an email to the Miami Herald.
Several commissioners called that finding surprising, including Arriola.
"In a city like Miami Beach, where we pride ourselves on historic preservation, that's a really tough conversation," he said. "Nothing lasts forever. There's a reason we don't live in tepees and log cabins anymore."
Flood Hazard Mitigation Specialist Roderick Scott, who specializes in raising homes, said he'd like to see that finding re-examined, and said it doesn't take into account the lifetime savings from avoided flood damage. He said Miami Beach alone has more than 9,000 homes that could be elevated, many in historic districts.
"It's one of the biggest investments in their family and we're telling them it's not worth it? That they're going to have to swallow it?" he said. "That doesn't make sense."