Moving People Out of Flood Zones Is a Win-Win Strategy

As the threat of flooding increases, buyout programs to relocate homeowners are a better alternative to rebuilding—for cities and residents.

1 minute read

July 16, 2019, 12:00 PM PDT

By Camille Fink


nevieklejigh94 / Flickr

John Schwartz reports on buyout programs that pay homeowners to move out of flood-prone areas. Cities can then level homes and turn the land into open space and green infrastructure to help mitigate future flooding impacts.

It is a more cost-effective strategy than rebuilding. "The costs of flooding continue to climb, but only 20 percent of the money that the Federal Emergency Management Agency distributes in disaster grants is earmarked for pre-disaster work, even though research shows that a dollar spent on mitigation before a disaster strikes results in at least six dollars in savings," writes Schwartz.

Over 20 years ago, Nashville started buying homes in hazardous areas, and the city's successful program is a model for planning ahead of flooding disasters. Many residents welcome the option to relocate, but cities executing buyout programs still face an uphill battle with long-term residents or when the financial benefits might not be substantial enough.

"Nicholas Pinter, the associate director of the center for watershed sciences at the University of California, Davis, said the challenges to 'overcoming social inertia' are so high because of 'the intense sense of place that people have,'" notes Schwartz.

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