By Lise Alves, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – As U.S. residents deal with the increasing negative effects of climate change across the country, city and federal governments are spending more and more money to buyout properties deemed prone to flooding.
“[Flooding] is going to become more and more of an issue, and there will be more and more properties that are at risk of total loss or near total loss,” U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over FEMA, told the Associated Press earlier this year.
Over the past three decades, according to an AP analysis of data from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, federal and local governments have poured more than $5 billion into buying tens of thousands of vulnerable properties across the country.
Now, increasingly, voluntary buyout programs are being offered to homeowners, using a combination of federal, state and local funds to purchase, at market value, houses which have been repeatedly damaged by flooding.
If the owners accept the offer, they move out and the city demolishes the house and prohibits future development. The acquired property usually becomes a park or green area, to absorb the rainwater, thus ‘saving’ the other housing developments in the area.
Many city councils across the country see buyouts as the only effective solution to flash flooding in some of their neighborhoods. The solution is also the most affordable, they argue. “People got tired of rebuilding all the time,” said Tobias J. Tempelmeyer, administrator for the city of Beatrice, Nebraska told the New York Times.
In June, lawmakers in Fort Worth, Texas, approved a buyout plan of ten houses in the Arlington Heights neighborhood. The city’s buyout plan will cost taxpayers eight million dollars, with only a small part of that coming from FEMA but officials say they will save money in the long-term.
Ken Kirkwood is one of the home owners in Fort Worth adhering to the buyout. He said his property has flooded every year since he moved in seven years ago. “Is it the best solution? My opinion is yes,” Ken Kirwood told NBCFWD TV news channel last month.
According to Kirkwood his property has flooded every year since he moved to the neighborhood, seven years ago. “We moved into an apartment because we’re not going to go through another year of this,” he said.
Recent studies have also shown that buyouts may be less costly than trying to protect homes, according to research released on July 1st, by Western Carolina University, on a beachside community in North Carolina,
The report states it would be cheaper for the government to buy out properties than try to build infrastructures to protect vulnerable homes, or even restore those damaged by flooding or sea level rising. The study, focusing on over 340 homes in North Topsail, North Carolina, concluded that purchasing the properties would save the government and taxpayers $2.8 million over a thirty-year span.
David Stokes, executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, a nonprofit in St. Louis Missouri, which works to preserve flood plains, agrees. “To buy out these properties might be a large short-term expenditure, but that’s far, far better than paying for emergency repairs and emergency rescues,” Stokes told local radio station, KBIA.