Flood Buyouts Exacerbate Inequality in Harris County, Texas

New research shows that less affluent households disperse farther to find affordable homes, leading to a loss of community and social capital.

2 minute read

July 19, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Texas Flood

AMFPhotography / Shutterstock

When it comes to home buyouts in flood-prone areas, "Harris County has emerged as a national leader." But, as Matt Dulin writes, "a true 'managed retreat' is harder to come by here, at least for less affluent urban communities, according to a new study by Rice University sociologist Jim Elliott and fellow researchers Kevin Loughran of Temple University and Phylicia Lee Brown, a graduate fellow at Rice." The study found that "property owners from whiter and more affluent flood-prone neighborhoods were more likely to relocate closer to their original home and near others moving through the same program." Meanwhile, "homeowners from less affluent and more Black and Hispanic neighborhoods were more likely to disperse in search of affordable living situations."

According to the Kinder Institute’s 2021 State of Housing report, "[t]he places where poorer and working-class residents can buy and rent are increasingly in the outer reaches of the county, farther from services, jobs and other opportunities critical to upward mobility." This means that these households "have to start over in terms of building neighborhood ties and social capital."

"Measures that could remedy inequities and speed up the process include local bonds to make buyout funds immediately available in advance of a disaster; making offers on homes that allow families to relocate to homes priced at, say, the median equivalent home in the county; offer incentives for sections of neighborhoods to participate together; and create options that allow residents to relocate nearby but into safer, more resilient housing."

In order to truly manage "managed retreat," says Jim Elliott, one of the study's authors, it's time to reconsider the approach to flood buyouts "in a way that acknowledges the social as well as the economic value of housing."

Monday, July 12, 2021 in Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research

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