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A Year After Harvey, Homes Still Going Up on Houston Flood Plain
Some Houston developers and homebuyers seem to "see opportunity in devastation," according to reporting by Mike Morris and Matt Dempsey. "One in 5 new homes permitted in Houston in the year after Hurricane Harvey is in a flood plain — some on prairie developed for the first time after the storm — even as new rainfall data showed existing flood maps understate the risk posed by strengthening storms."
Many of those permits went to owners razing and elevating flooded homes, but plenty of new construction is also occurring, including "clumps of townhomes, packing more families into the flood plain."
In April, Houston's city council tightened rules on flood plain construction, extending "regulations from the 100-year flood plain to the broader 500-year flood plain and [requiring] new homes built in those areas to sit higher off the ground." But Mayor Sylvester Turner doesn't see a future in abandoning those areas outright. "Houston cannot and should not abandon a third of the city to avoid flooding any more than San Francisco should abandon numerous established neighborhoods that could be affected by earthquakes," he said.
Other civic leaders disagree, and have called for the eventual depopulation of the flood plain, "perhaps by pouring billions of dollars into buying out tens of thousands of at-risk homes." Meanwhile, some developers think the post-Harvey rebuilding spree will have a limited shelf life, arguing that heightened regulation and the cost of elevated homes will eventually deter builders from choosing flood plain sites.