Do We Need to Abandon the Coast?

Coaxing People to Move

In recent years hurricanes have been a hot topic, that is, at least while they are happening. They wreak billions of dollars of damage to coastal properties, cause injuries and deaths and ruin livelihoods, but it seems that once hurricanes pass, people rebuild houses on the coast. This seems a bit illogical to me. Homes and entire towns that are built in hurricane prone areas are


 to be damaged, it is only ever a matter of time. So how can we protect people and properties? There are really two options that I see. One is convincing people to leave the coast, and the other is rebuilding coastlines around people. This is what inevitably happens to coastal homes during storms.

Option1: Convincing People to Leave

Personally I think that this might be the most cost effective option. For years insurance rates for people living in high flood risk homes have been out of whack. The National Flood Insurance Program has been charging people much lower premiums than what would actually be necessary to cover the risk associated with building coastal homes. Ironically, part of the reason for the discounted rates was to encourage coastal home building. These rates should be, and are in the process of being, adjusted to match the real risk class. This will inevitably move some people away.

My second idea to get people off the coast is to do a reverse coastal subsidy for coastal residents. First the government should mandate some sort of "buyers warning" policy for coastal real estate transactions that warns people about impending hurricanes. Secondly, those living on the coast should be provided with financial incentives to move. They should receive some government subsidy off of the market price of inland homes to reflect the fact that they are moving to safety. If this was successful, even with the subsidy the government would likely save money because it would stop having to pay for the effects of hurricanes.

Option 2: Rebuild the Coast

There is a lot, a lot, of hurricane prone coastline in the United States. But perhaps we can't get everyone to leave. Maybe there are some areas that we could rebuild in a different way. There is currently a proposal for Long Beach New York that proposes the construction of levees through the island. During nice weather, these levees essentially serve as public parks and bike trails, but they provide organized spaces for flooding during storms. Proposals like this could help to actually protect the coast. Or we could build huge multi-billion dollar storm walls everywhere.

Either way, we have to do something. It's up to our policymakers to decide what.