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Why FEMA has spent $4 billion to help destroy flood-prone homes


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Just an inch of floodwater can generate tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. Homeowners trying to move and start over after such a disaster might find a surprising buyer for their home: the government.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has spent around $4 billion assisting in the purchase of about 45,000 to 50,000 damaged homes since 1989, according to A.R. Siders, director of the University of Delaware’s Climate Change Science and Policy Hub, who analyzed FEMA’s data in 2019.

These homes have been marred by floods to the point where the homeowners decide to move away. To encourage homeowners not to sell to new buyers and stop what Siders calls “that terrible game of hot potato,” FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program supports local and state governments in purchasing the homes, demolishing them and turning the property into public land, in what are called floodplain buyouts.

‘I have no regrets’

Andrea Jones accepted a floodplain buyout for her home in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

CNBC

Andrea Jones, 59, sold her home in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area in a floodplain buyout. Jones, who works in the wealth and investments department of a bank, purchased her home in 2006 for $135,000. Her home was appraised in 2022 at a value of $325,000.

Jones said her home never flooded but her street did.

“Within three years of me being in the house was the first time I experienced the heavy flooding. It came up to my mailbox,” Jones said. “You could not see the street. You could not see the beginning of my driveway.”

Commuting to her home, which was not in a flood zone when she bought it but was later rezoned into one, made her worry.

“At times when I would be at work and it’d be raining really hard and I’d be like, am I going to be able to get home? Am I going to be able to get to my house? Am I going to have to park my car up the street?” she said. “It just didn’t happen a lot. But when it did happen, it was scary.”

The image on the left shows the former home of Andrea Jones before it was demolished following a floodplain buyout. The image on the right is how the land looks now.

Courtesy: Andrea Jones

Jones put the proceeds from the sale toward the purchase of a new home, which she said is nicer, for $437,000. Since the home is more expensive and interest rates are higher, Jones said, her monthly mortgage is double what it once was.

Her new home is outside the floodplain and about a 10-minute drive from her former neighborhood.

“I miss the neighborhood; I miss my friends,” she said. “I miss seeing people walking their dogs, standing out, talking with them, having conversations … things like that.”

However, she said she feels more comfortable and has peace of mind living in her new home because she doesn’t need to worry about her street flooding.

“I wouldn’t go back. I have no regrets [about] having made the decision that I made,” she said.

How floodplain buyouts work

Floodplain buyouts help a homeowner move out of harm’s way and…



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Why FEMA has spent $4 billion to help destroy flood-prone homes

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