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

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