Wealthy homeowners will escape flooding. The middle class can’t.
The Langfords got out of Houston just in time. Only two months after Sara and her husband, Phillip, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in June 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck, destroying their previous house and rendering Sara’s family homeless.
By comparison, Norfolk felt like paradise. In Larchmont, the neighborhood the Langfords fell in love with, young children scratched chalk doodles on the sidewalks, college students and senior citizens ran side by side on nature trails, and crepe myrtle trees popped pink along silent streets.
But as the couple toured the area, situated on the banks of a sluggish river that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, they noticed something alarming about the homes they were seeing. “We were looking at one house close to the water, and [our real-estate agent] started talking about flood insurance,” Sara recalled to me. “I said, ‘Really? In this area?’” The houses were about half a mile from the river, but monthly flood-insurance premiums on the homes were $800 to $1,000—almost as much as their mortgage payment.
Driving down a waterfront street called Richmond Crescent, the Langfords noticed that every home had been elevated at least 10 feet off the ground, perched atop a giant frame of concrete. Flooding had never been an issue in decades past, but as the sea levels around Norfolk had risen, it had become far more common. Now some streets in Larchmont flood at least a dozen times a year at high tide, and the wrong combination of rain and wind threatens to turn the neighborhood into a labyrinth of impassable lakes and puddles. For Sara, whose family was still recovering from Harvey, the elevated homes were a deal breaker. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘Absolutely not,’” she told me. “I said, ‘We’re just not even considering the area anymore…’”