Migration to Disaster-Prone Areas Goes Up in Past Two Years


Although remote work and record-low mortgage rates during the pandemic prompted scores of Americans to leave expensive coastal cities like San Francisco and New York for the Sun Belt in search of more affordable housing, warm weather and/or lower taxes, states like Florida, Texas and Arizona continue to gain in popularity despite increasing risk from storms, drought, wildfires and extreme heat. In fact, a recent report from Redfin shows that Americans’ migration to disaster-prone parts of the United States has more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic.

The U.S. counties most likely to flood saw 384,000 more people move in than out in 2021 and 2022 – a 103% increase from the prior two years, when 189,000 more people moved in than out.

Lee County, Fla., which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral and was ravaged by Hurricane Ian in September, saw nearly 60,000 more people move in than out during the past two years. That’s the largest net inflow of the 306 high-flood-risk counties Redfin analyzed, and represents an increase of about 65% from the prior two years.

The same trend took hold in the places most vulnerable to wildfires and heat as the pandemic homebuying boom and a housing affordability crisis pushed Americans into disaster-prone areas. The counties with the highest wildfire risk saw 446,000 more people move in than out over the past two years, a 51% increase from 2019 and 2020.

In Riverside County, Calif. – home to Riverside and Palm Springs – nearly 600,000 homes face high wildfire risk. That’s the most among the 306 high-fire-risk counties Redfin analyzed, and represents two-thirds of the county’s total homes. Nevertheless, nearly 40,000 more people have moved into than out of Riverside County in the past two years, a 36% jump from the prior two years.

Counties with the highest heat risk saw 629,000 more people move in than out, a 17% uptick. In Maricopa County, Ariz., home to Phoenix, 76,000 more people moved in than out during the past two years – the largest net inflow among the 1,019 high-heat-risk counties Redfin analyzed. In all of those counties, roughly 100% of homes face high heat risk.

The explosion in Phoenix’s population has coincided with a dire climate crisis: a lack of water. Arizona recently said it will stop issuing homebuilding permits in some parts of the Phoenix area as migration and extensive development strains limited water resources. That will cap the number of new communities that can be built in the area, which could eventually increase the cost of housing.

Still, Maricopa County gained more residents than any other U.S. county in 2022, attracting scores of remote workers from expensive coastal cities like Seattle, where the cost of living is significantly higher.

Image by wirestock on Freepik.

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