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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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