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Is buyout a viable tool for climate adaptation?

Is buyout a viable tool for climate adaptation?

Elise Gout
|June 29, 2021

By the end of this century, 13 million Americans may be displaced by rising sea levels. At a recent management retreat meeting hosted by the Columbia Climate School, photographer Michael Snyder shared this image showing how the sea level in the Chesapeake Bay area rises by 6 feet.

In June 2014, a catastrophic flash flood flooded Allegheny County, Maryland, and the owner of the Garden City Mobile Home Park made a request: add his land to the state buyout list. Now, about seven years later, the county has purchased 7 acres of the 11 acres and moved 28 tenants out of the floodplain.

As climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, similar acquisition plans are being carried out nationwide. By the end of this century, 13 million Americans May be displaced simply by rising sea levels. However, despite the clear need for adaptive solutions, there are still questions about what a buyout can and should fit.

From June 22nd to 25th, stakeholders from all over the world worked hard to deal with the role of the acquisition plan during the Columbia Climate Institute meeting, “When is the retreat managed?Resilience, relocation and climate justice. “In the panel discussion, participants agreed that if acquisitions are to be a fair and effective tool, Management retreat, Then they still have a long way to go—especially to meet the expected climate-driven migration scale in the coming decades.

How the buyout works

On the surface, the buyout plan seems to be a simple proposition. Residents whose houses are increasingly vulnerable to climate change have agreed to sell their property to the local government and relocate. However, in this proposition, there is a complex decision-making network for owners and project practitioners to use.

“It’s not just buying a specific property on a specific land,” said Matthew Fox, who works at the Pew Charitable Trust’s Flood Prevention Community Initiative. “You are talking about everything that makes up a community-social networks, economic networks, transportation, supply chains.”

Managing the acquisition plan requires complex coordination between all levels of government. Local officials work with community members to develop and submit grant applications to their state disaster mitigation officials. The states review these applications and then forward them to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approval.

Map of where the FEMA acquisition took place

A map of where the FEMA acquisition took place, from a presentation by Caroline Kraan of the University of Miami.

FEMA is the main tool used by the federal government to support acquisitions. The agency did not specifically reserve funds for local property acquisitions, but provided grant funds to states from two aspects: pre-disaster funds and post-disaster funds. Once FEMA approves the application, these federal funds can be used to fund up to 75% of projects. The remaining 25% must come from the state, county or locality-this is one of the many obstacles preventing communities from considering acquisitions in the first place.

“A lot of the problems we encountered were related to community purchases,” said JaLeesa Tate, the Maryland Disaster Mitigation Officer who oversees the purchase of mobile homes in Garden City. “Especially in our resource-poor communities, there are many concerns about how they can provide non-federal shares. [of funding] Used for FEMA grants. “

The application process is also time-consuming, requiring the local government to have enough staff with the appropriate combination of expertise. According to Eric Letvin, FEMA’s head of disaster mitigation and risk reduction policy, on average, it takes about 15 months for a property acquisition application to travel from the local to the state to the federal government. In some cases, the local government will spend several years building partnerships in the community and participating in the community-led planning process before submitting an application to the state government, just like the Garden City mobile home park acquisition. Approval of funds by FEMA may take up to another four months. “Of course we would like to see this number drop,” Levine said. “Especially in the post-disaster environment [when] People’s homes are destroyed and they want to go out. “

Letvin estimates that in the past 40 years, FEMA has spent US$3.4 billion on approximately 48,000 successful acquisitions in the United States. 14.6 million properties It is currently located in a flooded area that is once in 100 years. According to data from the research organization First Street Foundation, by 2050, this number is expected to climb to 16 million units.

Who has access

FEMA-funded buyout plans include Mainly occurs In the wealthier city counties—or, as AR Siders of the University of Delaware put it, are the most suitable counties for “playing with the system”. Acquisitions in these wealthier counties are concentrated in communities with lower average incomes and higher social vulnerability.

Slinda, her the study Researchers at Cornell University are partly concerned with the acquired equity, he said, there are many complicated reasons why these projects usually serve such a narrow population. She explained that when deciding which properties to include in the buyout plan, local governments often rely on cost-benefit analysis based on the value of the property. Houses that are of lower value and are in disrepair are candidates for natural buyout, because demolishing them reduces community risks and costs associated with reconstruction.

This reliance on cost-benefit analysis to determine buyout recipients raises important issues of fairness and environmental justice. Low-income communities and communities of color are more often affected by extreme weather events because they have historically lacked infrastructure investment. In many cases, these communities—especially indigenous tribes—are on the front lines of climate change because of the forced displacement of centuries of racial injustice. Now, in the face of increasing climate risks and limited means of adaptation, homeowners may have no choice but to buy out.

The extent to which acquisition practitioners interpret equity varies from project to project.In her whole the study, Siders found that some practitioners choose to buy low-income areas first in order to break the disaster recovery cycle. Others have clearly chosen not to prioritize buyouts in low-income areas because they fear that residents will feel forced to leave their homes or that it will be difficult to find alternative housing in the same community.

“Personal values ​​are shaping the structure and implementation of the acquisition plan, which is very important for those involved,” she said.

What’s left

This is also true for those who do not participate in the buyout plan. Since most buyouts are voluntary, and relocation services are rarely provided for entire communities, streets that were once full of houses may start to look like rows of jagged teeth.

“When we talk about buyouts-after making all the sacrifices-what we want is to leave these restored, beautiful and pristine environments,” Shi said. “But we often see that if we are completely acquired, it will be a fragmented landscape.”

The breeze point of the clearing

Before Hurricane Sandy hit this neighborhood in Breeze Point, Queens, a clearing could be a house. Some residents choose to buy out by the government, while others choose to rebuild.Photo: Sarah Fichte

The responsibility for maintaining the land after the buyout falls on the local government. For communities with sufficient resources, this provides an opportunity to create intentional green spaces such as nature reserves or parks. But for communities without these resources, maintenance alone may be an economic burden, especially when combined with the loss of property tax revenue.In a LearnResearchers found that of the approximately 10,000 plots of land acquired by FEMA between 1990 and 2000, about 35% were reserved as open spaces, 20% were converted into parks or recreational trails, and less than 8% were reserved.

Where to go from here

From beginning to end, the implementation of the buyout plan as a tool for managing withdrawal is as controversial as managing withdrawal itself. Participants agreed that the continued feasibility of the policy will depend to a large extent on the improvement of the acquisition plan design and the improvement results of the related participation plan.

Miyuki Hino, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said: “In the long run, in some cases, certain people may gain intergenerational benefits from moving.” “I think the challenge is to understand who these people are and who they should be. What kind of support structure is provided for them.”

One of the recommendations of Pew’s Flood Prevention Community Initiative is to establish an inter-agency working group within the federal government that will guide state and local applicants through the acquisition process and consult them on all available options. At the community level, Tate emphasized the need for more active contact with residents on the concept of resettlement and the value of residents-driven decision-making through activities such as community vision meetings.

There is also a general need for better housing alternatives. Micahel Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University, said: “Only when we create places where people really want to live can we decide not to let more housing be harmed.” And these The place needs to be affordable. “

Although the complexity of expanding the fairness system that manages the withdrawal is imminent, Hino is optimistic that more and more people are beginning to realize the possibility of a positive resettlement experience. “Even if we are not moving, we may lose things,” she said, “and we can move things without losing them.”

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