Many American communities, including Everson, are struggling to catch up as climate change intensifies the risk of flooding.
Federal rainfall mapping for the state of Washington, which underlies decisions on infrastructure and flood risk, dates to 1973.
In Whatcom County, where Everson is located, data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests nearly 5,900 properties are in Special Flood Hazard Areas, indicating they have a 1% chance of flooding every year and that buying flood insurance is almost always required, Roberts said. The First Street Foundation, which incorporates climate data into a similar analysis, finds that some 14,500 properties are at risk there.
“The hundred-year flood definition hasn’t kept up with the changes we’re seeing, and at this point it’s doing more harm than good because it’s more confusing to people,” Roberts said, referring to a common benchmark. used to determine who needs insurance.
Floods and housing
Flooding caused by a warming climate turned Everson’s most pressing problem, housing, into an emergency.
Before the flood, Everson, like many US communities, was mired in a housing crisis. The pandemic only added fuel to a hot market as urbanites searched for homes near Everson, many in search of space and Cascade Mountain air.
Developers couldn’t keep up with the torrid growth. Some Everson residents were unable to keep up with skyrocketing prices. The local housing authority in recent years restricted who could join its waiting lists for public and subsidized housing because these queues stretched over several years.
Whatcom County had a 1 percent vacancy rate for rental apartments before the flooding hit, according to the Washington Real Estate Research Center. Meanwhile, home prices in the county soared about 23 percent from the first quarter of 2021 to the same period in 2022. Then the floods forced 300 families out of their homes and into that dismal rental market. It also led to the closing of low-income apartments in Everson, an acknowledgment that parts of this community could not be restored, even though they have been there for decades.
“The housing crisis just compounds the effects that the flooding had,” Perry said. “I don’t think we’ll ever catch up.”
For Perry, the part-time mayor of Everson, the floods turned almost everything upside down in his life.
Perry’s grandson was trapped by the flood waters and required Brevik to pick him up. Fourteen properties that Perry’s family managed in nearby Sumas were flooded, forcing tenants to leave and requiring repairs.
After the waters receded, Perry began taking on the dual, and sometimes conflicting, responsibilities of housing Everson residents and leading the city’s recovery, while also seeking permanent solutions to redirect future flooding or move people away. of his way.
During an early May visit to Everson, many homes remained destroyed, with sandbags and flood debris still littering some yards. Residents continued to live in hotels, in trailers outside their uninhabitable homes, or with friends elsewhere. Some teetered on the brink of homelessness.