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Following Harvey: Should the Gov't Buyout Homes That Are Repeatedly Flooded?

by Countable | 9.18.17

What’s the story?

Following Hurricane Harvey, officials are asking again: Should the government buyout homeowners whose homes are repeatedly flooded? This would leave open land to allow for drainage, but could also mean abandoned neighborhoods.

In Houston many new neighborhoods are being built on floodplains, and old neighborhoods are becoming floodplains due to a lack of drainage.

Why does it matter?

Following Hurricane Katrina there were discussions about buyouts of homes in flood prone areas. Some areas, like Pearlington, MS, approved plans but then spent years mired in bureaucracy. According to the Washington Post, buyout programs focused on poorer, minority neighborhoods in New Orleans met fierce opposition:

"A proposal to abandon some low-lying neighborhoods of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina spurred racial acrimony and other resentments. Ultimately, the idea was dropped.”

Following Hurricane Sandy, however, buyouts were more widespread. The federal government provided $300 million to buyout approximately 1300 homes. The program was handled through the state’s Blue Acres program, focusing on razing clusters of homes or entire neighborhoods to create open space that can handle floodwaters.

Now eyes are turning on Houston, where neighborhoods that used to have small sections at risk for flooding have now become almost entirely flood prone due to development upstream. Despite the purchase of 3000 homes since 1985, to the tune of $300 million from state and federal sources, the problem is far from resolved. Local officials told the Post that there are 107,000 homes currently in federally designated flood plains.

The cost of a buyout large enough to make a dent in that number could reach well into the billions.

Similar issues will likely arise in the Florida Keys as well, where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Irma, according to officials there.

Homeowners in these areas could potentially buy flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), but the program is currently under review. It was set to expire on September 30, but the president signed a law extending the program until December 8, giving Congress time to consider significant reforms. The program is currently $25 billion dollars in debt.

Despite federally subsidized flood insurance and disaster relief for rebuilding, many homeowners are weary from repeated rebuilding and would jump at the chance for a buyout, they told the Post. Others resist leaving communities where they have longstanding roots.

What do you think?

Do you support buyouts of properties to allow for better drainage and protection against future flooding, or do you think abandoning communities is a bad idea? Do you support reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program to help protect Americans in low-lying areas even if it means paying claims repeatedly on the same properties? If the costs are likely to run into the billions of dollars either way, is it better to spend it on the front end via buyouts or on the back end via flood insurance?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Army.mil / Creative Commons)

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(208)
  • Jubilee59
    09/18/2017
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    Maybe, instead of the government buying back these homes, the developers should. After all, they knew it was a flood plain when they built homes on it.

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  • Jason
    09/18/2017
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    No way! Local municipalities should not approve development in flood zones, plain and simple.

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  • Bill
    09/18/2017
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    The GOP platform of deregulation/anti regulation caused this mess in Houston and now they need to pay for it. Regulations are to protect from one thing, greed. Greed of developers who benefited from lack of zoning regulations for wetlands caused this mess. So the next time the president or your officials want to repeal regulations, look closely at why they were enacted.

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  • Apache
    09/18/2017
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    When you purchase a home part of full disclosure is letting you know if the house is on a flood plain or not. The government is not responsible for you making stupid decisions.

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  • Vanessa
    09/18/2017
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    No, States allow homes to be built on flood plains, over sink holes, tsunami areas, areas susceptible to forest fires, even with lead in water, in smog or crime areas that are people caused. Facts should be out there for the smart home buyer, buy accordingly and have insurance. If you can't get insurance, don't buy it.

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  • Gail
    09/18/2017
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    Why doesn't the government take measures to prevent global warming and have more strict building codes rather than paying billions to remedy a preventable problem?

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  • Rebecca
    09/18/2017
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    The gov't shouldn't buy out houses that repeatedly flood. The owners should have flood insurance; and federal flood insurance should have criteria specifying coverage disqualification based on # of floods in a certain time period in some data based formula. Say it's 3 major floods in 10 years, and you get flooded that 3rd time, as the owner your choice should be build at your own risk, with personal non-federal insurance; or relocate.

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  • Robert
    09/18/2017
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    Yes the government should buyout homes that are repeatedly flooded. If a home has repeatedly flooded, odds are it will flood again. I assume an actuary can calculate the odds. If it is determined to be economically more beneficial to buy a homeowner out than to repeatedly repair a home then do it and don't allow future development on the property. I have been helping with the removal of drywall in homes damaged Harvey. I am in the same neighborhoods I was in during the last flood, 15 months ago. The home owners do not have the wherewithal to move to a new home on their own. This is when I think the government should step in and move them. This would be a good use of my taxes.

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  • Ticktock
    09/18/2017
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    If a house(s) have had flood damage multiple times offer a choice: a buy out or no more federally supported flood insurance. People know when their buying houses in a floor plain and the option of buying the house only becomes viable when the cost of flood insurance is guaranteed by the federal government. If there is no federal support there would be no houses built in the flood plain because they would not sell. As time goes on these storms are going to be more destructive and costly. If an individual wants to take a flood risk they should be allowed to do so as long as they and not the tax payers pay for their choice.

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  • Beth
    09/18/2017
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    Yes, they should. And then enforce no build green zones in these areas, since the city won't.

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  • Eowyn
    09/19/2017
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    Certainly not the Federal Gov. How about the local Governments since they decided the lay in bed with developers and develop land the never should have developed.

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  • MJDalio
    09/19/2017
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    Why is anyone allowed to get insurance when they build in a flood plain? Answer is simple government subsidies for insurance companies so the rich can build their water view mansions and then get the tax payers to keep rebuilding every time it is destroyed. Regarding all the not rich people that were sold land to build houses in flood plains, the original land owners and or developers should be held responsible, after all they made millions selling and developing land that should never have had houses on it!

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  • John
    09/18/2017
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    Clearly something has to be done here. Either the authorities must stop allowing the houses to be built or they have to create a fund to react to this. I vote for the first option. It seems a little unrealistic that this all be held against a home buyer who may not have access to or understanding of what it means to be in floor, tornado, etc. zone. If the areas are not habitable then don’t let people live there. Seems like a no-brainer.

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  • Jeanne
    09/18/2017
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    Yes and the land placed permanently off limits for any use other than as a park or natural area. Not even a portable potty.

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  • Kyler
    09/19/2017
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    Developers should help pay for the damages and to reimburse homeowners and we shouldn't build on flood plains! We have to live with the environment not over it. As the hurricanes have shown nature will win. We have to adapt.

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  • Dave
    09/19/2017
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    How about earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricane and floods? That should cover the earth! How about putting back what Obama put in place requiring, if rebuilding, bring it up to the new building standards!

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  • Alfred
    09/19/2017
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    Why should the American taxpayer underwrite the wealthy who can afford homes on/near the water in areas known to flood? I can understand assistance to those struck by natural disaster who haven't built in flood plains. If you buy next to an airport, expect noise. If you buy in a flood plain, expect water.

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  • Sally
    09/19/2017
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    How about stop deregulation that protects Americans ? Stop zoning these areas for construction.

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  • Rita
    09/19/2017
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    Several years ago, after several floods, homeowners with flood insurance were offered 3 choices: rebuild but lose flood insurance, rebuild on stilts and keep insurance or take the buyout. It's my understanding that one of the problems in Houston is the lack of zoning. They've been building willy-nillly with no regard for flood plains, etc. Maybe Houston should have to make better building decisions before getting more government money going forward.

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  • Poli.Sci
    09/18/2017
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    Why? Those who build them are the ones at fault, including the homeowners. The Federal government should not have to buy houses in flood plains. If people build in repeatedly flooded areas, I'm sorry for saying it but that's just stupid.

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