Bill Offers Tax Break for Building Seawalls, Elevating Homes
January 28, 2019
PROVIDENCE — Should the priciest waterfront homes get a tax break for guarding against climate change? A bill in the General Assembly does that by allowing cities and towns to offer a new property tax reduction, much like discounts offered veterans and senior citizens.
House bill (H5030), sponsored by Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, creates a one-year window for owners of homes along the coast and in floodplains to get a discount on their property taxes for elevating, moving, tearing down, or building walls or levees to keep encroaching waters at bay.
“Rising waters in Rhode island are eroding the value of our coastal homes,” Carson said at the Jan. 24 hearing.
It would be up to municipalities to decide if they will offer the tax deal, but according to the legislation certain costs to address climate change can be carried forward to future years if the amount exceeds the annual property tax bill.
Carson submitted the bill on behalf of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. Carson and the association’s David Salvatore noted a recent article in the Providence Journal showing that Rhode Island lost $44.7 million in real-estate appreciation between 2005 and 2017 because of the risks and costs of flooding and climate change.
“If we don’t do something soon, the map of Rhode Island will change in the coming decades,” Salvatore said of the coastal regions threatened by rising seas.
Rep. George Nardone, R-Coventry, pushed back on the legislation, saying the tax break unfairly benefits the people who can most afford to pay for the work.
Carson said not all homes are upscale beachfront mansions and that many middle-class properties are in river floodplains in Cranston and Warwick.
“I don’t want to erode the property tax base in those towns, so let’s keep those homes expensive so they keep paying a lot of taxes,” Carson said.
No one testified against the bill, but the environmental legal group Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) submitted a letter expressing concern that the legislation encourages construction of seawalls and other structures that harden the shoreline. These barriers have the unintended consequence of accelerating beach erosion and threatening ecosystems.
“Coastal armoring can have significant external costs to the long-term health of the shoreline and to public access to the coasts,” according to the letter by CLF staff attorney James Crowley.
CLF also wants to be sure the legislation addresses environmental justice issues, such as low-income renters and property owners who have “the least capacity to adapt” to climate change.
The bill passed the House in 2018 but never made it through the Senate. The latest bill was held for further study by the House Committee on Municipal Government.
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I would have a lot of questions about this bill. My first reaction is resoundingly negative for several reasons. But I see it’s "held for further study" which is normally the kiss of death so I’ll wait to get all riled up.
I fail to see how this bill protects "the property tax base in those towns." It would help the individual property owner to extend the use of their property – at taxpayer expense. But efforts to harden the coastline will increase impacts on adjacent properties, requiring them to also invest in structures, and only delay the impacts of flooding. Properties with short time horizons whether elevated or walled will have lower values – period. We need to develop a more strategic, long-term approach to this problem because it is real and it is coming, and we can’t ignore it anymore. But having taxpayers support short-term, individual band-aids doesn’t seem sensible.
The real question is: if the Assembly won’t do anything to protect property values, then let the municipalities do it if they decide they want to do it. There are plenty of homes owned by hard working middle class Rhode Islanders in Warren, Bristol, West Warwick and Warwick that could use a break to protect their homes. As for low income renters – I am open to ideas on how to incentive landlords to fortify their properties . Come and meet with me and give me your ideas – protection from sea rise and climate change should not be income dependent. Thanks – Rep. Carson
Someone please do the math. If the 1001 properties in the flood zone in a North Kingstown were taken off the tax rolls, how much would that reduce the tax base for the whole town? Are people in-land ready to pick up the slack by paying more in theirs?
No one is asking for a hand-out. But paying $30,000+ to raise the house would be ver hard p, if not impossible for this retired middle class American in one lump sum – give us terms and a fair interest rate.
If the houses are gone and the people move away, there is less need for the municipal services their taxes paid for. If they move inland and rebuild, then you still get taxes. Just don’t let anyone start building seawalls as they will only cause more problems.