As Floods Keep Coming, Cities Pay Residents to Move

Some cities offer buyouts on properties that repeatedly flood.
July 9, 2019

Many cities and states are initiating voluntary home buyback programs that use a combination of federal, state, and local funds to offer market value for properties that have repeatedly flooded. If the owners accept the offer, they move out, and the city razes the house and prohibits further development. The acquired land becomes an absorbent buffer, much of it serving as parks with playgrounds and walking paths.

David Maurstad, head of the National Flood Insurance Program, says buyouts are the most permanent way to mitigate against future flood hazards. Flooding costs continue to climb, but only 20 percent of the money that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) distributes in disaster grants is earmarked for pre-disaster work, even though research shows that $1 spent on mitigation before a disaster strikes results in at least $6 in savings. Around the nation, relocations are showing results. In Beatrice, Nebraska, floodwaters filled a park that included 40 acres of cleared lots, and no homes or businesses in town were damaged. FEMA has estimated that the town’s program prevented $13 million in damage in 2015 alone.

“Rebuilding out of harm’s way can help avoid future devastation in a way that flood insurance cannot,” Maurstad says.

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