Americans have voluntarily sold 43,633 properties in high-risk flood areas to the government since 1989, but that’s just a fraction of at-risk homes, according to a new analysis published Oct. 9 in Science Advances.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program has bought properties sprinkled among one-third of all U.S. counties, spread over 49 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. After the properties are bought, the structures are demolished and the land remains open, ready to absorb future flood waters.
But the potential number of homes that may be abandoned is much higher, said A.R. Siders, a co-author and assistant professor at University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center.
“There are 49 million housing units in at-risk areas on the U.S. coast, and over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure within 700 feet of the coast,” Siders said.
Under the FEMA program, most buyouts have occurred in counties with higher incomes, education, populations and population density, according to the new analysis—places where homeowners are more likely to afford adaptive infrastructure measures such as elevating houses above flood levels.
And states with the highest amount of flood damage (Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana) fell in the middle of the pack when it came to buyouts. Historically, the availability of federal flood insurance and infrastructure support made those states—which face an increasing risk of unprecedented storm damage as hurricanes intensify and linger longer—appear less risky to live in than may actually be the case.
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