Researchers Explore the Intersection of Climate Change, Property Values, and Municipal Finance

By Katharine Wroth, April 7, 2022


Perched at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, the city of Norfolk, Virginia, has long relied on its proximity to water as a source of economic strength, from its history as a key port in the 18th and 19th centuries to its current role as the site of the world’s largest naval station. Miles of beaches and a downtown riverfront trail draw tourists and residents alike. But the location of this low-lying coastal city makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, flooding, and increasingly powerful and frequent coastal storms. 

To address these risks, leaders in Norfolk have put climate adaptation at the center of their long-term planning. In 2018, the city revised its zoning to codify resilience standards and nudge new development toward higher ground. A new study by Smart Growth America (SGA) will examine the economic impacts of that zoning change, including its effects on the municipal budget and projected effects on property values. The research—which will be led by Katharine Burgess, vice president of land use and development, and supported by the Lincoln Institute—will also include a national scan to identify and categorize other resilience zoning initiatives and develop a list of complementary policy approaches, addressing topics such as anti-displacement, housing affordability, and environmental justice. The team hopes those findings will serve as a resource for policy makers in cities across the United States. 

The study by SGA is one of seven projects the Lincoln Institute is supporting through a call for research on the intersection of land-based climate change adaptation, property values, and municipal finance. Over the next year, each project will explore the fiscal impacts that various climate adaptation approaches—such as green infrastructure, floodplain buyouts, and rezoning—have on the places that implement such approaches. 

“The findings of these research projects will illuminate fiscal dimensions of land-based adaptation measures and help communities identify more effective and equitable strategies to advance their climate goals,” said Amy Cotter, director of climate strategies at the Lincoln Institute. “We hope this research will help inform and change public policy, and ultimately change practice.” 

In addition to SGA’s study of resilience zoning in Norfolk, the following projects will receive support from the Lincoln Institute: 

  • Erwin van der Krabben, professor of planning and property development at Radboud University in the Netherlands, will lead a team studying the current and prospective role of land-based financing mechanisms in urban climate adaptation, comparing cases from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. 
  • Researchers from the South Africa–based consulting firm PDG will investigate the effect of stormwater infrastructure projects on property values and municipal fiscal health in Cape Town, which experiences persistent flooding exacerbated by climate change. 
  • Resources for the Future will examine the effects of eliminating federal incentives for development in U.S. coastal areas at risk from climate change, analyzing the long-term effects of the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982 and quantifying the program’s net impact on local property tax revenues. 
  • A team from the Universidad de Costa Rica will conduct a comparison of the property value impact of municipal and national land use regulations for flood mitigation in the Quebrada Seca-Río Bermúdez watershed, located in the Heredia Metropolitan Area, using a dataset of 1,697 real estate listings and simulations of recent flood events. 
  • Texas A&M University researchers will examine the effects of floodplain buyouts on nearby tax-assessed property values in the Houston metro area, with the goal of offering suggestions for municipalities on the appropriate scale, pace, and clustering of buyouts to minimize negative impacts on neighboring property values. 
  • Jeffrey Cohen, professor of finance at the University of Connecticut and research fellow at the Federal Reserve’s Institute for Economic Equity, is leading a team that will study the current and projected impacts of green infrastructure on housing prices in shoreline areas of New Haven, Connecticut, and consider the potential of property assessment as a tool to encourage and finance additional green infrastructure projects. 

To learn more about current Lincoln Institute requests for proposals, fellowships, and other research opportunities, visit our research page



Katharine Wroth is the editor of Land Lines

Image: Low-lying Norfolk, Virginia, is taking steps to build climate resilience. Credit: Jupiterimages via Stockbyte/Getty Images.