Case Studies in Floodplain Buyouts: Looking to Best Practices to Drive the Conversation in the Houston Region

Report by Grant Patterson
February 2018

Kinder Institute for Urban Research   (Houston)

Cities depend on federal grant programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to finance food mitigation efforts. As disasters increase in frequency, home buyout programs are growing in popularity as a mitigation investment because they can be a cost-effective alternative to larger food control infrastructure and can help reduce repetitive food losses. Local jurisdictions and FEMA officials most often pursue buyouts in places where the cost of acquisition and demolition is less than the cost of repeatedly repairing and rebuilding in areas that are food-prone.

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 food 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 food mitigation strategies.