'The Real Estate Risk Fix'
Climate change poses a global property catastrophe conundrum: Real estate underpins contemporary financialized capitalism, yet several high value property markets are increasingly vulnerable to devaluation by disaster. Against an emerging landscape of financial market responses to this challenge, property (re)insurance remains the primary market mechanism for financing real estate climate risks. Unlike other real estate interests, (re)insurers possess the profit motive and technical capacity to marketize real estate climate risks at scale. The fast-growing Insurance-Linked Securities (ILS) market is one of the primary mechanisms through which (re)insurers raise capital to write high value property catastrophe risk, through which policyholder promises-to-pay are transformed into a lucrative capital market investment product. Today the ILS market provides roughly $82 billion of global property protection, and has been celebrated by capital market investors, multilateral development institutions including the World Bank, and urban resilience advocates like the Rockefeller Foundation as an “untapped source” of risk capital -- one with the promise to put hundreds of billions of dollars of institutional investment capital to work to manage property catastrophe risks in the world’s most vulnerable cities. Despite this global promise, today approximately half of all ILS capital remains invested in a single geography: Florida hurricane risk, largely enmeshed within the state's residential insurance market.
In this PhD, I examine how and why the market for ILS capital is constituted through Florida’s risky real estate sector, the latter which arguably represents the highest value, highest risk property market in the world. Florida and its largest urban regions -- metro Miami and Tampa Bay -- routinely top indices of both historic disaster losses and future climate vulnerabilities. My core argument is that ILS capital provides a dual 'real estate risk fix' for Florida cities. On one hand, risk capital serves a critical infrastructural role within Florida cities, which enables the reproduction of the state’s $4 trillion real estate market -- at least for now. On the other, Florida real estate constitutes the largest material source of a global ILS trade, which appropriates substantial value from risk through an institutional architecture of (re)insurers and risk capital intermediaries. Drawing on over 60 elite interviews, a forensic financial analysis of Florida's (re)insurance sector, and other data, I demonstrate how this arrangement is functional, yet extractive, in ways which are likely to generate new and deepened patterns of urban crisis in the context of Florida’s already-unequal property markets. I examine the constituent elements this real estate risk fix across three main ‘sites’ of empirical analysis:
- Florida state insurance market regulations and public policies, which have played a critical role in connecting ILS risk capital with Florida residential insured risk
- Florida primary insurer underwriting and risk transfer practices, through which real estate risks are sourced and circulated in value form across global risk capital markets
- Florida cities, within which the flow of risk capital is vital to both private real estate lending and public finance.
Insofar as each site of analysis speaks to key aspects of ILS as a ‘fix’ in the Florida context, they also collectively demonstrate how a wide range of dynamics -- including a long legacy of public policy choices, firm-level strategies, and structural dynamics within Florida’s urban political economy -- informs the origins and operations of ILS as a real estate risk fix. My analysis lluminates multiple spatial, temporal, political, and economic tensions that are generated or deepened by this fix, which portend potential crisis -- as well as opportunity -- for ILS in the Florida urban context and beyond.
Beyond the PhD, I write regularly about climate change adaptation in Florida cities. I also contribute to a project on housing tenure security in the US, in collaboration with several researchers and housing organizations. Here, my work focuses on the relationships between housing security, and climate risk and post-crisis institutional investment in property markets, respectively. Read more here.
In the future, I intend to continue researching the real estate-climate risk nexus through a comparative analysis between Miami, Rotterdam, and Singapore.
Prior to joining the University of Leeds, I worked as a strategist and researcher in partnership with several community and local economic development organisations in the US, including Architecture for Humanity, the US Green Building Council, and the Bezos Family Foundation.
- MSc, Regional & Urban Planning Studies (Distinction), London School of Economics
- BA, Urban Studies (Highest Honors), University of California, Berkeley