The Harris County Housing Department, a jurisdiction that includes Houston and other below floodplain areas in TX, recently asked 3,600 homeowners whether or not they wanted their homes considered for buyouts due to recurring hurricanes threat and damage. Some 3,300 said yes.
These 3,300 residents whose homes are located at least 2′ below the floodplain join an estimated 136,000 residents whose homes were flooded by Hurricane Harvey’s 51″ of rain. An additional 1,000 residents who had been offered buyouts in the past are now asking the Harris County Housing Department to revive previous offers to them again.
Houston’s Look Control District identified 65 areas across Harris County that would be “conducive” to buyouts. Watersheds along Green Bayou, Hunting Bayou, Cypress Creek, and San Jacinto River are among those areas targeted.
Up until now, Harris County has bought some 3,000 “conducive” homes since the 1980’s. A present-day wishlist of not already target homes would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $2B. Flood control officials estimate that offering 100-year flood protection through either infrastructure upgrades or buyouts wo all homes in Harris County would coast more than $20B.
The Harris County Housing Department has already requested $17M from FEMA to help purchase 104 homes that have the highest risk of flooding. All those requests may not pass muster because of a requirement that the house in question must have flooded in the two previous years, not just in Hurricane Harvey.
Currently, residents themselves voluntarily decide whether or not to buy flood insurance to help cover costs for damages and loss caused by natural disasters. They also voluntarily register their interest in having their home bought out. The flood district then bundles the registered homes into a grant application to the federal government, the properties are appeared and the federal government buys the homes at, supposedly, fair market value.
If and when natural disaster insurance and buyouts become compulsory, eminent domain takes over. At that point, city or county or federal departments would legally have the right to take over homes in high-risk areas with or without the consent of the homeowner.
In the meantime, the 104 homeowners who have are already standing in line to hear whether or not their homes will be bought out will just have to wait. The soonest they’ll hear is March 2018.