Policy Minute: Multifamily Housing Resilience

Research & Policy | October 29th 2015

City Street with text Policy Minute

Three years ago today, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York City bringing with it a storm surge that flooded the city's streets and subway tunnels. The storm splintered boardwalks, flooded storefronts, and darkened lower Manhattan. In addition to these public manifestations of destruction, Sandy affected the lives of many New Yorkers; the storm surge reached nearly 9% of the city’s housing units. The vast majority of affected units were in multifamily residential buildings, underscoring the need to prepare this housing type for future storm events.

Retrofitting the nation’s multifamily housing stock to withstand more regular flooding events presents design and financial challenges that are distinct from those posed by single-family homes. A dialogue among policy researchers, housing industry professionals, and city governments has emerged to provide solutions to the thorny problem of adapting multifamily housing for future storms. 

Status Quo

  • Over 70% of housing units in New York City’s floodplains are in multifamily buildings. More >>
  • Of the cities studied by the NYU Furman Center, after New York City, Miami has both the second-largest number of multifamily units in the floodplain (over 400,000), and the second-largest share of units in its floodplain that are in multifamily buildings (37%). More >>
  • Owners of affordable housing “are caught in a catch-22. If they do nothing, their flood insurance premiums [may] rise to unaffordable rates. But to lower their rates, they would need to undertake expensive retrofits they may not be able to afford while charging affordable rents." More >>

Infographic: Sandy's Impact on Seniors

NYU Furman Center Research

  • Planning for Resilience in Coastal Cities
    Released this week by the NYU Furman Center, Planning for Resilience: The Challenge of Floodproofing Multifamily Housing outlines the unique challenges of retrofitting multifamily housing in urban coastal cities, describes existing policies and design approaches and their shortfalls, and provides recommendations for state and local practitioners to improve resilience of multi-family housing in their communities. More >>
  • Building Resilience Against Future Climate Threats
    A 2014 report by the NYU Furman Center lays out the challenges and costs of building resilience in the city’s multifamily housing stock. The report, The Price of Resilience: Can Multifamily Housing Afford to Adapt?, details the results of a design workshop that tasked designers, engineers, and other experts with identifying retrofit strategies for the city. It also offers policy recommendations for city officials and FEMA that may help remove barriers to achieving long-term resilience. More >>
  • Sandy's Effects on Housing in New York City
    Days after Superstorm Sandy made landfall, the NYU Furman Center began researching the effects of the disaster on housing and communities across the New York City metro area. The 2013 report, Sandy’s Effects on Housing in New York City (PDF), surveyed the property and demographic characteristics of the areas flooded by Sandy. More >>
  • JAPA Disaster Planning Special Issue Planning Note
    Density and Disaster: New Models of Disaster Recovery for Housing in High-Density Cities (PDF) highlights the importance of developing models for disaster recovery that address needs of urban areas. More >>

Other Research

  • The Future of Tidal Flooding
    Encroaching Tides, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, looks forward to a world with more frequent tidal flooding. The report predicts how the number of tidal floods will increase over the next 30 years and analyzes how that will affect 52 tide gauge communities across the U.S. More >>
  • Retrofitting New York City's Multifamily Buildings
    NYC Planning published Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk in 2014. The report offers strategies for retrofitting a number of building types including multifamily structures in a manner recognized by the National Flood Insurance Program, and makes suggestions about how FEMA might expand an insured owner’s retrofitting options. More >>
  • Rising Flood Insurance Costs and Affordable Housing
    The Center for New York City Neighborhoods’ report, Rising Tides, Rising Costs, “reveals how rising flood insurance costs and increased flood risk threaten both the housing affordability and safety of the over 400,000 New Yorkers who live in neighborhoods at high risk of flooding along and around New York City’s 520 miles of coastline.” More >>

Infographic: In the Path of the Storm

By the Numbers

New York City has 520 miles of shoreline. "There are nearly 71,500 buildings, 532 million square feet of interior space, and 400,000 residents located within the city's 1% annual chance floodplain." - NYC Planning


"Over 90% of the multifamily buildings in [New York City] areas vulnerable to flooding were built prior to 1983, when flood-resistance standards were added into the building code." 
-Jessica Yager, NYU Furman Center Deputy Director, in The Cost of Retrofitting Multifamily for Resilience Urban Land: The Magazine of the Urban Land Institute, July 2014


Spotlight On: New Orleans

Make It Right, a non-profit organization in New Orleans, has created an affordable neighborhood in the city's Lower Ninth Ward. The organization “will mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 2005 flood with the unveiling of a high-tech mini house meant to sell for less than $100,000. …The two-story home has a 28-by-12.5-foot footprint, with 430 square feet of interior space.” Nola.com (Doug MacCash), 8/18/2015

More Viewpoints

  • Symposium: Ready to Respond: Building Resilience in Affordable Multifamily Housing Communities (hosted by HUD and Enterprise Community Partners) More >>
  • Library: Enterprise Community Partners Resiliency Speakers Series More >>
  • Video: NYU Furman Center's Retrofit Solutions Workshop More >> 
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