By The American Shore & Beach Preservation Association
Talk about people who live along the coast and, for many, it conjures up images of the rich and famous – elegant mansions overlooking expanses of delightfully deserted beachfront.
However, in most coastal communities nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, post-Sandy and in the wake of similar storms on the Gulf Coast, the relevance and role of the middle class in coastal communities has been brought to the fore – as has the pressures (financial and otherwise) that are pushing some of them out of their longtime coastal homes. Coastal communities are often made up of hardworking men and women whose families have lived in the area for generations, folks who work as teachers, nurses, carpenters, firefighters, small business owners, the same kinds of people who live in any American community.
Some are being ousted from their communities by the simple cost of rebuilding after a disaster such as Sandy, hit with the prices of replacing a decades-old coastal home with a new, stronger structure. This is exacerbated when the new home not only has to meet current building codes but must be constructed to new coastal building standards that have been imposed since the original home was put in place. Another causality of this type of storm is the loss of affordable rental housing stock that is critical for young families and many in the service industry in coastal communities.
Add to the construction costs the likelihood of increased insurance costs and tax value increases, and it is easy to understand the challenges these coastal families face.
We don’t pretend that any of these improvements are unwise or unnecessary. Quite the contrary – better buildings mean greater survivability, and the coastal insurance programs do need to be sustainable, but in a way that is fair to all.
But we shouldn’t stand quietly by as longtime coastal residents are priced out of their properties. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not healthy for the communities who rely on their skills and savvy to keep the lights on and the doors open. And we can’t let the discussion over recovering from coastal calamities devolve into a “rich vs. poor” debate – because, in many communities, that’s not an accurate picture at all.
As with many coastal concerns, there are no easy answers or “one size fits all” solutions to keep the coastal middle class in place. Building standards and flood insurance are non-negotiable items, and still offer a good return for their increasingly higher investment. However, in the case of flood insurance, the risk needs to be spread out broadly and must include all who could be affected by floods – whether along the coast or along a river – and while the system needs to be self-sustaining, that goal needs to be achieved over time, not all at once through an overwhelming premium spike.
Property taxation is largely a local issue with multiple tools to help prevent sudden spikes in a tax bill, including homestead exemptions or annual caps on increases. Local coastal communities may need to look at how other parts of the American coast have handled such issues in the past.
The bottom line: The coastal middle class suffers most when conditions that are out of their control push property and structure prices up beyond their ability to pay. But, as the backbone of many coastal communities, those residents need to stay part of these communities – even if it takes a little special protection to do so.
Founded in 1926, the American Shore & Beach Preservation (ASBPA)
promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect