Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): flooding

Three ways to make home buyouts more efficient

By: Gabrielle Rosario, EDF Intern

Each year, flood risk increases from sea level rise and storms, raising major concerns among millions of homeowners. Flooding can inundate homes, damage property and cause safety and health concerns, as well as isolate residents from essential government services like trash pickup or emergency vehicle access. In fact, by 2030, over 20 million Americans will be at risk of inundation due to sea level rise, and many will be unable to afford to move.  

Managed retreat policies, such as voluntary home buyouts, can facilitate the relocation of residents out of increasingly flood-prone communities. But unfortunately, existing federal programs are slow and require local governments to meet complex and challenging guidelines. 

Innovative approaches are needed to make buyouts more efficient. Here are three strategies that can help: 

1. Establish state-level buyout programs

States can establish state-level flood buyout programs in which a state department funds, organizes and manages home acquisitions in local governments. On average, these programs are faster, less complex and provide more flexibility compared to federal programs. 

A great example is New Jersey’s Blue Acres program, a state buyout program under the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Since its founding in 1995, the NJDEP has spent $190 million to acquire more than 1,000 properties with an average processing time of six to 12 months to complete, compared to an average five years for buyouts funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). And in 2022, the state allocated another $50 million to continue to grow this impactful program.

Blue Acres also builds strong relationships with localities by inviting them into the decision-making process through comprehensive community engagement and outreach. Additionally, NJDEP employs staffers with diverse backgrounds, including human ecologists, planners and social workers that have the capacity and technical expertise to help localities through each step of the process.

2. Develop state or local funding mechanisms to finance buyouts

States can help fund local buyout programs and reduce the cost-share requirements of federal programs, which can be a burden for local governments with limited budgets. 

For instance, state bonds can shorten a buyout process from 18 months to as little as three. States may also use revolving loan funds, which provide low-interest loans to localities and are funded by interest and principal payments from older loans so the program can operate cyclically. Finally, states can use grant programs, which provide debt-free funding to localities for flood buyouts.  

Local governments can also choose to fund buyouts with their own budgets, which are on average quicker and allow for greater control over the process, which can lessen burdens to meet complex federal requirements.  

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina serves as an example of a successful locally-funded buyout program. As the area was unable to meet the complex requirements laid out by FEMA, the county created its own funding mechanism. The program now utilizes funding from local stormwater utility fees, allowing the county to streamline its process and quickly purchase homes after floods. Since 1999, the program has purchased more than 400 properties, and the buyouts take an average of six months to complete. 

3. Build capacity for local buyout programs

Many local communities lack the expertise and capacity to apply for federal funding and are unable to implement buyouts on their own. An effective strategy is for federal and state agencies to provide technical assistance or training to local governments on buyout applications.  

At the federal level, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should develop buyout training modules for communities, including grant application workshops or cost-benefit analysis training. They can also increase funding for staffing at the state level, which would assist communities applying to federal grants. 

Increasing state agency staffing across multiple departments can also provide support for local governments, including training, templates, technical advice and interim reviews to localities, which in turn builds local governments’ capacity to implement buyouts. Greater staffing could also improve transparency of government actions during buyouts, as there are more staff dedicated to communicating with residents to explain the process. This can thereby build residents’ trust in government, leading to smoother implementation. 

With flood risks increasing across the country in coastal and inland areas alike, we need more tools in the toolbox to make our communities more resilient to climate change. Improving access to and the effectiveness of voluntary flood buyouts will help Americans adapt to a climate-driven future. 


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One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back federal wetland protections. Here are the impacts so far.

One year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that significantly reduced federal wetlands protections, leaving America’s wetlands at greater risk of development and degradation. The case of Sackett v. EPA was decided 9-0 in favor of the Sacketts, a couple from Idaho that filled in wetlands to build on their property near Priest Lake. The Court ruled unanimously that the wetlands on the Sackett’s property were not regulated under the Clean Water Act, but a narrow majority of justices went further to issue a controversial 5/4 opinion that scaled back federal protections that have provided for the thoughtful conservation of America’s wetlands for decades.  Of note, Justice Kavanaugh, siding with the minority, expressed concern about the decision’s “significant repercussions for water quality and flood control throughout the United States.”   

The impacts of the decision are still unfolding, and there remains a lot of uncertainty on how the unclear language of the Court will be interpreted in the long term. But what we do know is that this decision will have a significant impact. Here’s where things stand one year later. 

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Five reasons why mandatory flood disclosure in Florida would be a big win for realtors

By: Rachel Rhode, Manager, Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds and Eve Cooke, Fellow, Climate Resilient Coasts and Watersheds

Buying a home is often one of the biggest financial decisions individuals and families will ever make. More than one-third of Florida properties are at risk of severe flooding in the next 30 years, and despite these risks, Florida does not require flood-related disclosures to prospective homebuyers. Across the U.S., 32 states have enacted flood disclosure laws, requiring a seller to share a property’s flood risks or past flood damages during real estate transactions. Florida residents deserve transparency through flood disclosure, and realtors would benefit by keeping up with this growing industry standard.   

Knowing one’s risk is essential in ensuring effective preparedness and response. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates just one inch of flooding in a typical 2,500 sq. ft., one-story home can cause more than $25,000 in damages. It is widely misunderstood by more than one-third of homeowners that flood damage is typically not included in standard homeowners or rental insurance policies. 

Legislators and realtors are stepping up to address this gap in Florida’s flood policies. In the 2024 Florida Legislative Session, there has been bipartisan support for a new policy on flood disclosure. The Florida Realtor Association is amongst the stakeholders supporting this initiative. 

Knowledge is power.  Below are the top five reasons why mandatory flood disclosures are a win for realtors and residents. 

Credit: Chase Guttman

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Our Nation’s wetlands are at risk. So is our ability to manage flooding.

Following the Sackett v. EPA Supreme Court decision in May 2023, millions of acres of wetlands across the U.S. lost critical federal protections they once had under the Clean Water Act. The affected wetlands – which include those that do not have a continuous surface water connection to another federally protected body of water, like streams, lakes or an ocean – are now potentially at risk of loss and degradation. Also at risk could be the multitude of benefits provided by wetlands, which support clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, human health and well-being, contribute to economic activity and reduce damages from flooding. 

Photo credit: Sara Cottle

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Sharing innovative solutions to build climate resilience in Cuban coastal communities

The sun beats hot past colonial facades and newly minted hotels in Old Havana, onto the children playing soccer across Paseo del Prado. High tides splash over the tidal wall and the taxi driver notes, over the noise of the street, that dark storm clouds line the horizon and are threatening heavy rains. Like other coastal and island regions, communities in Cuba are experiencing the disproportionate effects of climate change.   

Since 2016, Environmental Defense Fund, the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Humankind and the Caribbean Agroecology Institute have partnered with local communities and organizations from Cuba as a part of the Research Initiative for the Sustainable Development of Cuba (RISDoC). RISDoC is a coalition of academics, civil society associations and representatives from international agencies who have come together to exchange innovative strategies and share lessons learned to prepare for climate impacts and spur sustainable economic growth. In addition to bringing together a range of Cuban community members, government officials and researchers, RISDoC connects experts from other regions with Cuba. This includes partners in Puerto Rico and Louisiana, regions that are experiencing more frequent and severe storms due to climate change and are working to build resilience.  

Thanks to this important initiative, RISDoC participants are building a more resilient future in Cuba. Check out a few of their key priorities: 

Photo credit: Noel López

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North Carolina’s coastal wetlands and marshlands are a critical lifeforce for hunters and anglers

This op-ed was originally published in The Coastland Times. 

Last week as Hurricane Lee tracked northward through the Atlantic, North Carolina’s coastal areas saw coastal flooding and beach erosion from storm surge and powerful 17-foot waves. At Cape Hatteras, the storm’s erosion uncovered a buried fence from the 1800s. Elsewhere, roads and neighborhoods experienced flooding. Those effects were felt despite Lee being more than 300 miles off our coast. We were fortunate the monster storm didn’t come any closer to our shores. These tropical systems, along with Nor’easters and other more frequent storm events take a toll on residents, business owners, and our state’s natural resources, including important fish and wildlife habitat.

As we mark National Hunting and Fishing Day, it’s worth taking stock of how increasingly intense and more frequent severe weather events are impacting our marshlands, wetlands, and sounds, which in turn directly – and adversely – affects our coastal communities and our hunting, fishing and outdoor recreational history and traditions. Read More »

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Transformational climate adaptation puts communities at the center. This project shows us how.

From record-setting rain in New York City to overflowing rivers in Vermont to another hurricane slamming into Florida’s coast – this year alone, we’ve seen historic neighborhoods, communities, local businesses and homes devastated by severe weather events that are becoming more intense and frequent due to climate change. Now more than ever, we need to invest in climate resilience to prepare our communities. 

Building resilience isn’t easy, but it’s possible – and the Ohio Creek Watershed project in the City of Norfolk, Virginia is a prime example. Earlier this year, city officials and community members celebrated the completion of a $112 million watershed resilience project that shows transformational climate action is possible when community members have a seat at the decision-making table.  Read More »

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Opportunities to support equitable and just housing adaptation in the floodplain

Co-authored by: Anushi Garg and Linda Shi

Anushi is the senior analyst for Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Resilient Coasts & Watersheds program in New York-New Jersey. Linda is the assistant professor for Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University.

Flooding is one of our nation’s most common, devastating and growing disasters–and the risk is deeply unequal. Years of disinvestment due to redlining and other racist land use and housing policies have put primarily Black, Indigenous, Latinx and immigrant communities at disproportionately higher risk of flooding and less able to adapt or financially recover after a flood event. Each disaster can devastate individuals and families with the fewest resources and further exacerbate these inequities

To help communities adapt, we need to expand and modify programs and policies to support the strategic relocation and adaptation of the existing housing stock, in addition to updating building codes and zoning regulations so new construction meets a higher standard of energy efficiency and resiliency. 

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Cornell University partnered this past year to better understand the programs that support proactive retrofitting or relocating to accommodate flood risk for a range of housing types in New York City. In particular, we studied cooperative housing, which is minimally researched and often left out of most assistance programs. This research served as a pilot for EDF’s ongoing research on housing assistance programs nationally. Our research is still underway, but we are sharing our preliminary takeaways about opportunities to close the resilient housing gap Read More »

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On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, protecting the Nation’s wetlands is more important and urgent than ever

By: Ivy Steinberg McElroy, EDF’s Climate Resilient Coasts & Watersheds Intern

The International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction was established by the United Nations General Assembly to accelerate action to strengthen disaster resilience. In the United States, this day comes on the heels of a major blow to our Nation’s wetlands. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to narrow the scope of protections for wetlands, as defined in the Clean Water Act. As result, this landmark decision could cause detrimental impacts to the environment, communities and economy. That means more flooding – especially for more vulnerable communities downstream.  Read More »

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Five years after Hurricane Florence, EDF looks back at efforts to build resilience in North Carolina

In 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina, taking 42 lives and costing more than $16 billion in estimated damage. Now, five years later, many residents and communities are still reeling from the storm’s floodwaters. Blue tarps remain on unpatched roofs, businesses have not returned and communities have experienced disproportionate recoveries. 

The immediate and residual impacts from Hurricanes Florence and Matthew, Tropical Storm Fred and other subsequent unnamed flooding events have had long-lasting impacts on communities. As a result, these events have encouraged state leaders to take action to better prepare for future storms.  

Environmental Defense Fund thanks leaders, as well as businesses, conservation groups and community members, for working to build a more flood-resilient North Carolina. Let’s look at how far we’ve come in the last five years.  

LUMBERTON, NC – SEPTEMBER 14 : 40 members of the National Guard and 100 volunteers fill sand bags and build a wall across train tracks where flood waters flowed into Lumberton in hurricanes past behind West Lumberton Baptist Church on Friday, Sept 14, 2018 in Lumberton, NC. North Carolina State Senator Danny Earl Britt, Jr. organized the action through facebook in defiance of CSX Transportation but with permission of the Governor to try and prevent major flooding in the area. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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