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Study: Affordable Housing In Mass. Among Most Vulnerable To Flooding

Affordable housing in Massachusetts ranks among the most vulnerable to flooding, according to a new study and mapping tool from the nonprofit Climate Central.

Researchers say it’s the first study to overlay affordable housing data — including both subsidized and free market low-income units — with sea level rise and flood risk data. It found that, along with New Jersey and New York, Massachusetts has one of the largest numbers of affordable housing units endangered by extreme water levels.

And researchers say the next three decades could see the number of at-risk units triple across the country.

"The large majority of the past research on the impacts of sea level rise of coastal flooding has focused on property damage and population as a whole,” says Scott Kulp, a computational scientist and Climate Central researcher. “We wanted to dig down into: what are the impacts on the most vulnerable populations?”

A flood risk projection for 2050 shows some densely populated areas that could be flooded in a storm. (Courtesy of Climate Central)
A flood risk projection for 2050 shows some densely populated areas that could be flooded in a storm. (Courtesy of Climate Central)

The study noted that just 20 cities account for 75% of overall exposure to coastal flooding. That list includes Quincy, Revere and Boston.

And costal neighborhoods like Quincy and Revere could face drastic scenarios. Researchers say over 90% of affordable housing there will be exposed to flooding in the coming decades.

Tom Chase is with the company New Ecology, where he advises affordable housing developers in the Boston area on sustainable building practices. He says the new research and mapping tools help illustrate some key points.

"We have actual building footprints, projected sea level rise with the location of flooding that may impact buildings,” Chase says, "and it's overlaid on to an understanding of which of those buildings are affordable."

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Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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