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, "Coastal and Riverine Home Protection," 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.

In summary, the bill would enables cities and towns to provide property tax relief to individuals who take resiliency measures to rehabilitate their property because of flood hazards. 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 David Salvatore, the Realtors' government affairs director, noted a recent article in The Providence Journal quoting an academic study suggesting that Rhode Island had 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.

Rep. George Nardone, R-Coventry, pushed back on the legislation, saying the tax break unfairly benefits people who can most afford to pay for the work.

Carson said, however, that not all homes are beachfront mansions and that many middle-class properties are in river floodplains, such as those in 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 Conservation Law Foundation submitted a letter expressing concern that it would encourage 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 James Crowley, staff attorney with the foundation. 

The conservation group also wants to be sure that 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.

A Sun editor contributed to this article.

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