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CA - California's Climate Idea For Coastal Homes: Buy, Rent, Retreat

At a normal tide on a normal day on the Southern California coast, ankle-high waves glide over a narrow strip of gold sand. On one side sits the largest body of water in the world. On the other, a row of houses with a cumulative value in the hundreds of millions of dollars, propped on water-stained stilts.

October 31, 2016

Property value ebbs and flows, but when it comes to coastal real estate "the trend lines are pretty clear," says California state legislator Ben Allen, squinting in the sun. "And they're not pretty."

Within the span of a 30-year mortgage, more than $100 billion worth of American homes is expected to be at risk of chronic flooding. As the climate warms and oceans rise, narrow strips of sand like the one Allen is standing on, will be submerged, leaving coastal communities — affluent and not — with the torturous question of how to adjust. Build seawalls? Dump sand? For how long and at what cost?

"It's becoming a really serious resource question for a lot of local governments," says Allen, who represents coastal communities in the Greater Los Angeles area that are spending millions to keep their beaches intact.

It's expensive to fight the sea. It's expensive not to. When property values plummet, so do property taxes. But right now property values here are still high and Allen wants to put that value to use before it's gone.

That's why the 43-year-old Democrat has proposed legislation to create a revolving loan program, allowing California counties and communities to purchase vulnerable coastal properties. The goal would then be to rent those properties out, either to the original homeowner or someone else, and use that money to pay off the loan until the property is no longer safe to live in.

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