Localize.city Finds 12 Percent of New Units Are Being Built on City’s Riskiest Land

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July 6, 2018
  • A new analysis from Localize.city shows that 12,350 apartments are under construction or planned to be built in the city’s most serious flood zones
  •  That follows more than 9,100 units in the past four years built in the city’s most serious flood zones

More than five years after Hurricane Sandy battered New York City, the pace of construction in the flood zone remains virtually unabated. Fear of flooding does not seem to deter development on land that’s most vulnerable to future storms and rising sea levels.

A new analysis by Localize.city, a website that uses artificial intelligence to provide buyers and renters with critical details for every home, found roughly 150 new residential buildings with 12,350 units — 12 percent of all units under construction, or in the planning phases — are in the city’s most serious flood zones.

“At least one out of every eight new units expected to open in New York City over the next four years will sit in a serious flood zone,” Localize.city data scientist Idan Richman said. “Moreover, 97 percent of the new buildings under construction in the floodplain are in areas that were inundated during Sandy.”

This report builds upon Localize.city’s analysis of flood prone areas, using FEMA’s 2015 Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map and Department of Buildings permit data.  It looks at construction of multi-family buildings — those with four or more units — in the city’s 100-year-flood zone, which means there’s a 1 percent risk of a flood event each year.

About two-thirds of these projects have started construction while a third have filed permits but have yet to commence. Given the typical construction timeline of residential development, these units are expected to be completed over the next two to four years.  

The largest concentration of these new buildings are in the far reaches of Brooklyn: Brighton Beach, Gravesend and Coney Island, where 45 new residential projects are underway, representing 30 percent of the total buildings planned for flood prone areas.

But in terms of sheer numbers of new units, three waterfront neighborhoods — Long Island City, Williamsburg and Greenpoint — have the lion’s share. Together, they have more than 5,500 units currently being developed in the floodplain, representing 45 percent of the total units expected to open in the city’s most vulnerable areas.

This new crop of buildings comes on the heels of nearly 100 residential buildings with more than 9,100 new units constructed during the past four years in the most serious flood zones. These represented 13 percent of the city’s total new units during that time frame.

Mapping City Efforts to Tackle Reality of Future Flooding

Localize.city’s team of urban planners continuously study the city’s flood mitigation efforts — some of which are expected to be completed sooner than others.

“The city is making every effort to protect the nearly 70,000 buildings in 100-year floodplain against future risks. However, many infrastructure projects won’t be completed for another decade — at least 15 years after Sandy,” said Localize.city urban planner Olivia Jovine, who authored the book “Disaster Preparedness NYC.”

“While Sandy is statistically a 1-in-100 year event, New Yorkers can expect less severe but more frequent flooding in the near term,” Jovine said, noting that when the city gets more than 1 inch of rain in an hour, the sewer system overflows.

“There are large-scale projects aiming to protect some areas, like Lower Manhattan, while places like Coney Island and the Rockaways, have seen a more piecemeal approach to recovery,” Jovine said.

The city’s biggest project, by far, is $1 billion flood wall around Lower Manhattan, stretching from East 25th Street to Montgomery Street in its first phase, followed by a second phase from Montgomery Street to Battery Park City. The project is still in the design phase, and construction is expected to be in full swing by the mid-2020’s and is expected to last five years. Nearly two decades will have elapsed before the 110,000 New Yorkers living in this area will have a flood barrier to protect them from another Sandy-like storm.

“In vulnerable areas like Coney Island and the Rockaways, there’s more of a focus on recovery work rather than long-term mitigation and storm protection,” Jovine explained. “We are seeing beach restoration and reconstruction along with roadway maintenance and green infrastructure, like bioswales, protected wetlands and increased drainage.”

In one small section of the bayside of the Rockaway peninsula, the city is taking a different approach: discussions are underway to relocate a handful of homes and replace them with a park.

Across the five boroughs, Jovine noted, the city is focusing on protecting public housing and public schools against future storms. The city, for example, is elevating grounds, adding flood barriers and building a new energy system at Red Hook Houses, a public housing complex whose residents were stranded for weeks without power after Sandy.

There are fewer city-led resiliency projects along the booming waterfront of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, where developers are mainly left to implement their own strategies to meet the city’s updated building code. The same is happening in Mott Haven, a Sandy-affected area where a new wave of residential development is underway. Developers of a site along the Harlem River on Third Avenue elevated the ground floor two feet above the 100-year floodplain, for example. Mott Haven is expected to see new stormwater infrastructure eventually. But it is not among areas prioritized under the city’s coastal resiliency plan.

“The bottom line is that all new construction in the flood zone is required to be built to the city’s new building code, and owners will be required to buy flood insurance,” Jovine said. “But buyers and renters should be aware of both the immediate and long-term outlook for how their home and neighborhood could be affected.”

Why You Need to Know if You’re in a Flood Zone

The short answer: insurance. As Localize.city flags homes in flood zones, the site explains that property owners must buy separate flood insurance to obtain a mortgage.  In terms of a typical 30-year mortgage, the 100-year flood zone gives you a 26 percent chance of suffering flood damage. The median premium in high risk areas is $3,000 per year and is projected to increase to $5,600, a recent study found. FEMA flood insurance covers up to $250,000 for a home’s structure and $100,000 for belongings.

And as the Federal Emergency Management Agency begins the arduous and controversial task of redrawing New York City’s flood maps,  tens of thousands of new residents will likely be added to the city’s flood zones. That means more New Yorkers would have to pay insurance.

How to Know if Your Home Is in a Floodplain?

It is crucial for buyers and renters debating a waterfront move to understand the flood risks and whether new buildings are required to follow stricter building codes, like elevating mechanicals above the floodplain, or whether they have plans in place for elevator stoppages. It is also important to know the flood history of a building and whether there may have been black mold or broken water and sewer lines.

To find out if a building sits in a flood zone and understand the severity of the risk, simply search the address at www.Localize.city. You can sign up for updates about a building and be notified about flooding issues, among many other topics.

Localize.city will also tell you where the nearest hurricane evacuation center is for homes in flood zones. After all, you might need to board-up windows and move to higher ground in advance of a major storm.

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