CanadaUpdated flood plain maps will send the housing market underwater: Neil Macdonald
Governments look to buyouts for flood victims
As the Ottawa River begins to recede after bursting its banks for the second time in two years, politicians are beginning to ask whether it makes sense to allow residents to rebuild in flood-prone areas. "The federal government and the provinces and municipalities need to think through very carefully how we prevent ourselves from simply doing the same old thing over and over and over again, and expecting a different result," federal public safety minister Ralph Goodale told reporters earlier this week after touring flooded areas of Ottawa and Clarence-Rockland.
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.
Note to outraged conservative readers: this opinion column was not assigned by Katie Telford. (The only world in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief of staff actually assigns journalists is the fever swamp of right-wing conspiracy theories).
No, this column was inspired by the sight of sandbags and portable toilets on the streets of a neighbourhood near the Ottawa River where I very nearly bought a house four years ago. That those negotiations fell through, in retrospect, was a bolt of luck for which I am now profoundly grateful.
Living in a flood zone? Don't use well water, health officials warn
Even as floodwaters across the region stabilize, health officials are warning residents — particularly those who get water from wells — to remain vigilant. Hundreds of homes have been damaged by the devastating floods that have washed through eastern Ontario and western Quebec, forcing residents and volunteers to spend days filling and loading up sandbags to protect their communities. Dr.
I would never consider buying near the river nowadays, for obvious reasons, and my guess is the miserable residents on those sandbagged streets spend a lot of time contemplating both their home values and the next catastrophic flood. There have been two in the last. The Ottawa River surged past its banks weeks ago, and is still frighteningly swollen.
It never occurred to me, back in 2015, to check whether the home we tried to buy was at risk of flooding. Being near the river was a plus, not a threat. And even if I had checked, it probably wouldn't have done much good. Flood plain maps in Canada are about 25 years out of date.
But that's about to change. Next year, the federal government will begin uploading nearly 2,000 user-friendly flood plain maps, updating them with the most recent geospatial data. Eventually, entire communities will find themselves publicly identified as at-risk. What that will do to the value of their homes and their flood insurance premiums (assuming they can even get insurance), is obvious.
Citing concerns for flood victims, Ontario, Quebec opt out of alert-system test
OTTAWA — The country's two biggest provinces won't take part in what was supposed to be a nationwide testing of Canada's Alert Ready system on Wednesday. Public Safety Canada says it received notifications last week from Ontario and Quebec that the provinces are opting out of the testing because neither wants to send unnecessary alert tones to residents dealing with historic flooding. The alerts sound when emergency officials send signals to cellphones, TV consoles and radio stations.
Drastic market devaluation
"Oh! Oh!," says Prof. Blair Feltmate, delighted to have been asked. "There is going to be a massive devaluation of the housing industry in Canada, guaranteed. A million will turn into $500,000 very rapidly."
Feltmate is head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo, one of those elite, leading-expert Cassandras so many of us just try to ignore.
Now, before the fever swampers start yelling conspiracy, this push to update flood plain maps is not coming from Liberal climate-change evangelists like Catherine McKenna, Trudeau's environment minister. Or David Suzuki. Or the Green Party. It is coming from the insurance industry. Put another way, conservatives: market forces. Feltmate's centre is largely funded by Intact Insurance, one of the industry's biggest players.
That's hardly surprising; no industry's profits are more immediately threatened by climate change than insurance. Between 1983 and 2008, says Feltmate, annual insurance payouts for catastrophic events in Canada, mostly flooding, averaged$250 million and $450 million a year. In nine of the 10 years since 2009, the average annual payout has been $1.8 billion. The average payout for a flooded basement is $43,000 and rising.
Risks Are Receding in Canada’s Housing Market, Agency Says
Recent rule changes by Canadian policy makers, including tightened mortgage lending, appear to be bringing the country’s real estate market more into balance. The federal housing agency lowered its assessment of the overall vulnerabilities in the national market to “moderate,” from “high,” according to a report Thursday from Ottawa. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. cited evidence of easing price acceleration for the country as a whole, with prices in Toronto and Vancouver moving closer to levels supported by fundamentals.
So the industry wants two things: to push for flood-proofing, and to reassess premiums (or decide where not to insure, period). For that, it needs data. New, updated flood risk maps will give it clear justification to begin dramatically hiking premiums for some homeowners, or refusing them insurance completely. It doesn't take much imagination to guess what will happen when the new maps begin to appear.
"It will put the new areas (newly included in flood plains) into panic mode," says Feltmate.
"There will be big pushback, big alarm. Now your home is stigmatized. A home is worth exactly as much as someone is willing to write a cheque for, and who would write a big cheque for a house suddenly identified as at risk of flooding?
"You will see people begin to default on their mortgages, because they know they owe more on the home than it will ever be worth."
The shorthand term for that in the real estate market is "going underwater." Until now, that term was figurative, not literal.
From 36K in flood damage to $143: How small changes saved one family heartache — and money
The 2018 flood cost one New Brunswick couple almost $40,000 in damage, but this year, the Whalens' bill for flood cleanup was less than $150.
Furthermore, says Feltmate, the new data will also confirm what experts have known for some time: five per cent of at-risk homes in Canada cannot be saved. Their owners will have to evacuate.
Incentives to relocate
That's already begun. The (conservative) Quebec government, citing climate change, has decided to cap flooding relief, and is nowresidents in areas at extreme risk of flooding $200,000 to move somewhere else.
The reaction, of course, was immediate. Flooded homeowners all over the province told reporters that the government offer doesn't begin to cover what they think is the value of their homes. In fact, their homes' true value, in some cases, is now probably close to zero. After the catastrophes of 2017 and 2019, who would buy a home near the water in Pointe Gatineau, across from Ottawa? Or Lac Deux Montagnes, west of Montreal? Or parts of London, Ontario, or Calgary?
Feltmate says governments may eventually have to force high-risk residents to leave: Here's some money, we're shutting off your utilities.
And, he says, it's not a matter of whether there will be more flooding.
"What we have seen so far is nothing compared to what is coming. It is simply fact that the atmosphere is warming, and warmer air carries more moisture. This is the new normal."
The changes that have taken place so far, says Feltmate – and this is on public record, most recently affirmed in the alarming report by federal scientists released last month – are irreversible. And it is going to get worse, faster, and soon.
2nd flood peak expected this weekend
Just when it seemed flood-weary residents of the Ottawa-Gatineau area might catch a break, the Ottawa River is rising again and isn't expected to peak until Sunday or Monday. After reaching their initial peak more than a week ago, water levels began dropping, then rising again as rain drenched the region and reservoirs filled to the brim. Another 10 millimetres of rain is expected across the region Friday, and parts of the Outaouais could see even more: a rainfall warning is currently in effect in Maniwaki, Que. The Ottawa River is currently 1.5 to 2.5 metres above average May levels between Pembroke, Ont.
Home inspectors, most of them until now minimally trained in basement flood assessment, are taking courses that will no doubt become mandatory. Colleges are actually putting the courses online. Mortgage providers will almost certainly begin demanding such assessments as a condition of approval. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which insures mortgages, will likely start insisting on it.
If there is any good news here, it is that communities and homeowners can take steps to drastically reduce flood risk. It will be possible to effectively remediate yourself off those flood plain maps, and protect the value of your home. But it will cost money.
Feltmate's Intact Centre lists steps anyone can take to keep the basement dry during anything short of Noah's flood. Installing two sump pumps with battery backup that will keep working when the power goes out. Waterproofing windows at ground level. Ensuring downspouts empty a good distance from your foundation. Installing backflow valves. Clearing eavestroughs and drains. Even digging up and replacing the grading around your house.
And, says Feltmate, people with homes on higher ground shouldn't feel smug. "Waterbomb" storms, now happening far more frequently, can (and will) turn an entire city into a flood plain instantly. At-risk communities can install concrete barriers, berms, diversion channels, underground cisterns, and improve natural swales – wetlands and marshes that act as natural drains.
And governments must start forbidding new home construction on flood plains. Unbelievably, most provinces – Ontario is the only one that asserts provincial control — leave that decision to municipalities, some of which, idiotically, still allow it, under pressure from developers and craving new property tax revenue.
The plain reality is that flood-proofing Canada will be staggeringly, historically costly. But the cost of not flood-proofing Canada will be incalculable.
It absolutely has to be done, and it has to be done now. The only question is, who's going to pay for it?
That's a political question. And it's not a subject Katie Telford, or anybody in any party trying to win this fall's election, probably wants to talk about right now. There's a reason those maps weren't updated for a quarter century.
More on that next week.
This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our.
Paying some piddling carbon tax will do nothing to defend us from what lies ahead: Neil Macdonald.
The tax provides an excellent diversion to keep the public's attention away from something our politicians are not saying a word about: the monumental cost of preventing, or paying for, the damage climate change will deliver from now on. © Provided by Canadian Broadcasting CorporationCanada needs to be flood-proofed, and somebody has to pay for it. Yes, there are other threats, too – fire, hail, wind, snow load, permafrost loss and shoreline erosion will all cost a great deal of money to remediate – but flooding is the big, urgent one. Entire neighbourhoods will have to be evacuated in the next few years.
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