Case Studies in Floodplain Buyouts: Looking to best practices to drive the conversation in Harris County
This report, meant to frame the buyouts discussion in the Houston region, begins by overviewing the basic elements of federal funding for floodplain acquisitions, more commonly known as buyouts. The central component of the federal government’s approach to buyouts is the Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) program and its multiple subprograms, which are administered by FEMA. This report examines three jurisdictions at different levels of government that have undertaken buyouts and shows the variety of ways the tool can be used as one element in a larger flood mitigation strategy. Harris County has done the greatest number of buyouts in the United States, the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have a consolidated program and the State of New Jersey has revised and shortened the process to cover more ground. In addition, this report includes a brief examination of the implementation challenges around buyout programs, with specific discussion of the issues facing Harris County jurisdictions considering the approach. Finally, the three case studies will be used to describe the acquisition process and to discuss innovative ways the three case study areas are using buyouts as a part of their flood mitigation strategies.
After Hurricane Harvey, conversation quickly turned to buyouts as a cost effective way to deal with homes in flood-prone areas. Public officials and others called for extensive buyouts by local jurisdictions that would purchase flooded homes in the floodplain, demolish them and then leave those spaces as open space in perpetuity. Homeowners, too, expressed interest, calling city and county services in the region asking about eligibility for such a program. And it wasn’t the first time buyouts emerged as a popular solution. In fact between 1985 and 2017, the Harris County Flood Control District purchased more properties than any other jurisdiction in the country. But as it prepares to complete another round of buyouts, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research looked to other jurisdictions to see how it might be done more effectively and with the future in mind this report.