My intention with this article is to give you a fact-based explanation of the issue with a solution using available resources.
Repeated Natural Disasters Disrupt Lives
How often will people living in the floodplains of America endure having their lives disrupted by repeated natural disasters?
Why stay in an area where people continuously lose their properties due to storms? They rebuild, but then they have additional losses when their homes get destroyed again years later.
I think it's best to move away from disaster-prone areas. If the government relocated these families, that would be a one-time expense rather than continued disaster-relief funding for rebuilding. Consider the long-term savings to taxpayers.
I'll explain why people tend to stay in these areas, and then I'll describe how a relocation plan can be a feasible solution for homeowners and the environment.
Why Do People Rebuild Where Disaster Strikes?
Every time disaster strikes, life is disrupted, and lives are lost. Why do people want to put up with this? I realize there are several reasons:
- They know their neighbors and have a social connection they don't want to lose.
- They grew up in these places and feel it is home.
- Insurance companies pay to rebuild.
- Taxpayer-funded disaster relief provides funds to rebuild.
I do recognize the importance of both of these reasons. However, the fact remains that these people suffer each time a storm destroys their homes and livelihood.
People should not rebuild in areas that are below sea level. Besides that, the government should not allow homes in those areas once they are wiped out by storm flooding.
Some new homeowners are clueless. They purchase properties that were once damaged by storms. They end up dealing with the same catastrophes because they didn't know the situation when they moved in.1
Disaster-Relief Funding Comes at a High Cost
After Hurricane Katrina caused so much flooding damage in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2005, people decided to rebuild anyway.
Homeowners also rebuilt in the low-lying areas of Austin, Texas, after Hurricane Jose struck in 2017.
This situation repeats after every major storm at a high cost to taxpayers for rebuilding in flood zones. On September 6th, 2019, Bernie Sanders said that he would not provide relief funds to victims rebuilding in disaster-prone areas if elected as president.
The Advantages of Relocating People From Flood Plains
It's pointless throwing money into rebuilding in areas where the newly built homes have a good chance of being destroyed again. It’s an ongoing waste of resources.
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The same money spent in new areas can achieve growth, while the fear of storm damage is minimal.
This endeavor can help improve run-down neighborhoods with three positive results:
- Rejuvenate depressed regions of the country.
- Revitalize deteriorating local economies by increasing their tax rolls. Detroit, Michigan, comes to mind.
- Eliminate the need to rebuild after a storm where destruction will most likely not occur again.
It would be advantageous for the economy in the long run if the government were to buy property in new locations, where it's cheap, and give it to the people in return for their property destroyed in a flood zone.
Imagine if they did that for the people in Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes in 2005.
The government could also give businesses tax credits to relocate, so jobs in the new area will be available. Those tax credits come back in the form of real estate tax revenue and income tax from local employment.
Insurance companies would also save in the long run because they would no longer have repeated losses. It would benefit them to apply the payments for insured damages to rebuilding in the new location instead.
Finally, the former location can be converted into a wildlife refuge with federal funds. That is a one-time investment since there would be no concern for damage from future storms.
A Real Estate Solution With the Homestead Act
I propose a solution that not only gives people an alternative option but also helps rebuild safer locations around the country that are presently run-down economically. That's a plan to relocate people away from flood zones rather than allow rebuilding.
It may not be easy to accept this plan, but in the long run, the people involved will have a brighter future and more stable lives.
This Is How It Would Work
Imagine if the government would take these homes off the hands of the people and relocate them to other areas, then turn the flood-prone neighborhoods into a wildlife refuge.
My idea is to use the Homestead Act (examples below) as a beneficial solution for people who continuously lose property in flood plains like New Orleans, which is below sea level.
The government would move these people to new locations where they can have an enjoyable and safe lifestyle.
If one wishes to claim land the government is giving away, they have to agree to construct a home or rehab an existing one. They also have to acquire building permits and live in the house for a minimum required period—usually three years.
That sounds like a lot of rules, but people deal with similar nuisances after their home is destroyed in a flood zone. They still would have to reconstruct a new home or rehab another. And they would have to pass endless required inspections.
So it makes no difference where they apply their effort. It might as well be in a safer location.
History of the Homestead Act
The Homestead Act was enacted in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln. It allowed the government to give land to citizens in return for living on it and maintaining the land.2
Homesteading has continued in remote parts of Alaska until 1986, but the locations involved are so remote that you need a dog sled to get to those places.
Beatrice, a small plains city in Nebraska, also offered free land in 2010, based on the Homestead Act, to increase its tax rolls. However, this was flood-prone land and should never have been developed.
Besides those challenges, it can be implemented to relocate people more productively with the right approach.
How to Relocate People After a Flood
There are communities scattered all around the United States that are depressed, such as Detroit, Michigan.
One can purchase a three-bedroom home for $5,000 in Detroit, but you wouldn't want to live there under the present conditions. These homes need to be either renovated or torn down—and crime is rampant.
However, the government can rejuvenate areas like this in a short time by moving entire neighborhoods all at once. A lot of the crime is due to vacant and abandoned properties, but those would become safe and secure communities once people live there who are actively enjoying social activities.
Also, if entire neighborhoods relocate as a group, then people can end up with the same neighbors if they wish.
FEMA Flood Zone Report
FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) is primarily used to determine if flood insurance is required. But it’s useful for anyone who wants to research the possibility of flood risks in their community.
A form is available on the Flood Advocates website to order a detailed Flood Zone Report compiled by a FEMA Map Analyst.3
This strategy to relocate people from storm-damaged areas can create the opportunity to rebuild run-down communities as well as create new jobs and a better life.
The increased tax revenue in the new location that comes from the additional people who are employed there can go towards the government's purchase of the damaged property in the original floodplains to maintain it as a wildlife sanctuary.
Once the government implements this strategy, the loss of property inflicted by another flood and its financial costs will never occur again.
Update: A Similar Solution Implemented in North Carolina
Long after I originally wrote this essay in 2013, I found an article published in 2019 by the NOAA Office for Coastal Management about a plan to avoid flood losses.4
It was implemented in Kinston, a city of about 20,000 residents in Lenoir County, North Carolina. Kinston purchased flood-prone properties and relocated the residents to higher ground with its neighborhood social structure intact.
I’m glad to see others have thought of this type of solution too. It's now proven to work.
- Laura Kusisto. (December 17, 2017). "A Home Buyer’s Nightmare: Moving to a Flood Zone Without Knowing It." Wall Street Journal
- National Park Service. (October 24, 2018). "About the Homestead Act." nps.gov
- FEMA Flood Zone Report. FloodAdvocate.com
- Adam Short. NOAA Office for Coastal Management. (Sept 20, 2019). “Out of Harm's Way: Relocation Strategies to Reduce Flood Risk” NOAA.GOV
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2013 Glenn Stok