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Cough! Cough! RealtyTrac Names Markets With Worst Environmental Hazards

Phil Hall
Sep 23, 2014

As the United Nations Climate Change Summit gets underway in New York City, RealtyTrac has taken the state of the nation’s environment into consideration with the release its first-ever report ranking all U.S. counties based on the prevalence of man-made environmental hazards–with major metro areas in the New Jersey-Pennsylvania-Maryland corridor, Missouri and Colorado topping the list of the unhealthiest housing markets. The report, compiled by the RealtyTrac subsidiary Homefacts, rated all 3,143 U.S. counties on five man-made environmental hazards: The percentage of bad air quality days, the number of superfund sites, the number of brownfield sites, the quantity of identified polluters, and the amount defunct drug labs per square mile. An aggregate score based on these five factors was created for each county; other real estate trends—including median home values, one-year, five-year and 10-year home price appreciation—plus macroeconomic considerations including unemployment rates and median household incomes were factored into the study. Among the 578 U.S. counties with a population of at least 100,000, the markets with the highest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards were Saint Louis City, Philadelphia County, Baltimore City, Hudson County, N.J., and Denver County, Colo. The connection between environmental and economic problems in these markets was conspicuous: the average unemployment rate in these markets in June 2014 was 7.5 percent, above the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, while the average estimated median household income in 2014 for these counties was $48,811, below the estimated median household income nationwide of $52,912. Among the 578 U.S. counties with a population of at least 100,000, those with the lowest prevalence of man-made environmental hazards were Deschutes County, Ore. (Bend metro area), Saint Louis County, Minn. (Duluth metro area), Saint Lawrence County, N.Y. (Ogdensburg-Massena, area just south of Montreal, Canada), Skagit County, Wash. (Mount Vernon-Anacortes metro area north of Seattle), and Snohomish County, Wash., (Seattle metro). Again, the environmental-economic connection was on display: the average unemployment rate in these markets in June 2014 was 5.6 percent, below the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, while the average estimated median household income in 2014 for these counties was $55,850, above the estimated median household income nationwide of $52,912. "Somewhat surprisingly, short-term home price appreciation over the past year and five years is stronger in the 50 housing markets with the highest prevalence of man-made hazards," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “However, the 50 housing markets with the lowest prevalence of man-made hazards have higher median home values and much stronger long-term home price appreciation over the last 10 years along with lower unemployment rates and slightly higher median incomes. Not so surprising is that the most hazard-prevalent housing markets are much more populated than the least hazard-prevalent housing markets.”
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