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Local Governments Increasing Property Buyout Programs As Flooding Risk Grows

Seven Mile Bridge to Monroe County in the Florida Keys.

Local governments in flood-prone areas are scaling up their programs to buy out homes in low-lying coastal markets, and sellers are lining up to unload the at-risk properties.

Residents in states like Florida and Texas are particularly feeling the strain, with Monroe and Harris counties, respectively, adapting to the impact of climate change at an unprecedented level.

Both of these states are hot spots for development, including apartments and condos, but increased instances of extreme weather — particularly hurricanes — are making it riskier to build.

Harris County in Texas is one of the largest recipients of federal dollars for property buyouts in flood-prone areas in the country, according to the Texas Tribune. Harris County contains Houston, which was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey five years ago.

A report from Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research noted that Harris County spent over $342M to acquire over 3,000 properties between 1985 and 2017, according to the Texas Tribune.

The county has long offered a voluntary buyout program located in Allen Field, Texas, but in 2020, the county made the program mandatory for  neighborhoods in the area, which have been continually ravaged by increasingly intense floods spilling out from the nearby Greens Bayou river.

Likewise, Monroe County in the Florida Keys is swamped with people seeking buyouts of impacted property, as the county has already purchased nine properties using retooled federal funding, with plans to purchase at least 12 more, and a waiting list of 80 sellers, according to the Miami Herald. The county kicked this program into high gear following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.  

An analysis from nonprofit research group Climate Central estimated that sea level rise could reduce the value of private land by $108B by the end of the century.