Severe Flooding Calls Attention to Houston’s Home Buyout Struggles

Recent extreme flooding along the San Jacinto River has prompted a review of the progress of Harris County’s flood-prone home buyout program.

2 minute read

May 12, 2024, 9:00 AM PDT

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

Flooded residential street with houses, yards, and trees on each side, a yard sign that reads "high water, no outlet," and a flooded car in the distance.

Flooded street of a neighborhood in Houston after Hurricane Harvey. | Irina K. / Adobe Stock

The site of the United States’s “longest-running experiment in the adaptation policy known as ‘managed retreat’” experienced extensive flooding last week when severe rainstorms dropped months’ worth of rain on Houston in just a few days, reports Jake Bittle in an article for Grist. Over the past decade, “Harris County has spent millions of dollars buying out and demolishing at-risk homes along the [San Jacinto River],” where some of the deepest flooding happened. According to Bittle, “the past week’s flooding has demonstrated that even this nation-leading program hasn’t been able to keep pace with escalating disaster.

Over the past thirty years, the county has bought around 600 at-risk homes along the waterway, but still has another 1,600 on its list, along with the challenges of uncertain funding and reluctant property owners. Houston is no stranger to property buy-outs. Bittle reports that Harris County was one of the first local governments in the country to buy out flood-prone homes with federal money, and his article details the county’s various efforts—and struggles—over the years. Perhaps the biggest challenge is, even if recent flooding has convinced all the homeowners in the area it is time to leave, the program doesn’t currently have enough money to make it happen.

Buyout programs to relocate homeowners are certainly a better alternative to rebuilding over and over again — and likely less costly in the long run. But as Houston’s program shows us, without proper funding they cannot keep pace with the increasingly severe weather events and sea level rise caused by climate change.

Friday, May 10, 2024 in Grist

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Rail tracks on the left, rustic log-built train station painted reddish brown with a green metal roof and concrete platform on the right, evergreen forest and bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds in the background.

More Passenger Rail Coming to Montana

Planning is underway to restore a 45-year-defunct regional passenger rail line connecting southern Montana to Billings and Amtrak’s east-west Empire Builder line from Seattle to Chicago.

May 14, 2024 - 8KPAX

Aerial view of a line of freight trucks driving on a country highway.

How Cities Can Lead the Way in Reducing Transportation Emissions

Decisions made at the local level can have a significant impact on emissions in the transportation sector.

25 minutes ago - Governing

Glass dome at front of modern San Jose City Hall building in San Jose, California.

San Jose Tests AI Translation Tool to Improve Access to Public Meetings

More than half of the city’s population speaks a language other than English at home, making translation services a key pillar of accessibility.

May 22 - GovTech

Empty subdivision lots with new roads and sidewalks complete and line of evergreen forest in the immediate background under a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds..

Spokane Imposes Temporary Ban on New Subdivision Housing Due to Wildfire Risk

Citing inadequate fire protection and public safety resources, the Spokane City Council has temporarily halted subdivision development in the wildland-urban interface of Latah Valley.

May 22 - NonStop Local

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.