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Local governments increasingly turning to floodplain buyouts to reduce flood risk but not always being leveraged to provide much-needed community benefits.
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WASHINGTON (June 15, 2021) – A new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) explores how floodplain buyouts can be a cost-effective land use tool to mitigate damage from rising water levels and get people out of harm’s way, but require long-term strategies to offer community benefits.
Flooding is the most expensive and common natural disaster in the United States, and managing flood risk is critical to protecting homes, local and regional economies, and community well-being. On Safer Ground: Floodplain Buyouts and Community Resilience highlights that within the next 30 years, $8 to $10 billion of California’s existing coastal property is predicted to be under water and an additional $6 to $10 billion will be at risk to flooding during high tide. Faced with this potential crisis, local governments across the United States are increasingly turning to buyouts as one strategy to cost effectively reduce flood risk, offer relief to residents, and potentially improve access to open space in urban areas. The report explores how changing rainfall patterns, stronger storms, and sea-level rise are increasing the flood risk and costly damage to property and infrastructure.
A floodplain buyout is a property acquisition in which a government agency purchases private property, demolishes any structures on it, and preserves the land as open space, as an area that absorbs excess water, or for both purposes. Although buyouts are currently almost entirely used for residential properties in the United States, the increased use of the approach in urban areas has important implications for all real estate types and for future land use regulation and climate resilience strategy.
“Floodplain buyouts are just one of several tools that governments can use as part of a climate resilience strategy, and their increasing use by governments may be a signal for the private real estate sector to prepare for more involvement in the practice,” said Leah Sheppard, manager of the ULI Urban Resilience program and lead report author. “As more land use decision makers avail themselves of this approach, innovation in policy and partnership models may help break barriers for buyouts.”
The report looks at the best practices and models for implementing floodplain buyouts, including:
On Safer Ground also provides examples of communities that have successfully implemented floodplain buyouts and leveraged purchased sites for open space or other community amenities:
“Floodplain buyouts are a key tool for real estate and land use decision-makers to understand,” said Katharine Burgess, vice president of Urban Resilience at the Urban Land Institute and contributing author of the report. “Notably, buyouts offer one key example of household-level migration away from sites which are experiencing repetitive flooding losses and offer a glimpse into potential future migration trends due to the impacts of climate change.”
On Safer Ground: Floodplain Buyouts and Community Resilience is available on ULI’s Knowledge Finder platform.