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How the Government Can Relocate People From Flood Zones

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The tremendous force of Hurricane Laura in August 2020 demonstrates the need for government social relocation as described in this article.

Cars flooded on the New Orleans streets

Cars flooded on the New Orleans streets

How often will people living in the flood-plains 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, 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:

  1. They know their neighbors and have a social connection that they don't want to lose.
  2. They grew up in these places and feel it is home.
  3. Insurance companies pay to rebuild.
  4. 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 home and livelihood.

People should not rebuild in areas that are below sea level. The government should not allow homes in those areas once they are wiped out by storm flooding.

Some new homeowners are clueless. They purchase property 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

Past Issues With Major Storm Damage

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.

Disaster-relief funding is a high cost to taxpayers for rebuilding after major storms in flood-zones. On September 6th, 2019, Bernie Sanders said if elected as president, he will not provide relief funds to victims rebuilding in disaster-prone areas.

homestead-act-for-people-in-flood-zones

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.

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:

  1. Rejuvenate depressed regions of the country.
  2. Revitalize deteriorating local economies by increasing their tax rolls. Detroit, Michigan, comes to mind.
  3. Eliminate the need to rebuild after a storm where destruction will most likely not occur again.

I think 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 that was 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. 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 and more stable future.

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.

There was a time when the government gave land-property to citizens in return for living on it and maintaining the land. It's known as the Homestead Act, which was enacted in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln.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.

My idea is to use the Homestead Act as a beneficial solution for people who continuously lose property in flood plains like New Orleans, which is below sea level.

The government can move these people to new locations where they can have an enjoyable and safe lifestyle.

If one wishes to claim land that the government is giving away, they have to agree to construct a home or rehab an existing home. They have to acquire building permits, and they have to live in the home for a minimum required period—usually three years.

That sounds like a lot of rules, but people deal with the same nuisance after a storm destroys their home in a flood zone. They still have to reconstruct a new home or rehab an existing home, and they have to pass endless required inspections.

Homestead Act Document

Homestead Act Document

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 I think 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

Summary Review

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 flood-plains 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 would never occur again.

A Similar Solution Implemented in North Carolina

Long after I 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.

References

  1. Laura Kusisto. (December 17, 2017). "A Home Buyer’s Nightmare: Moving to a Flood Zone Without Knowing It." Wall Street Journal
  2. National Park Service. (October 24, 2018). "About the Homestead Act." nps.gov
  3. FEMA Flood Zone Report. FloodAdvocate.com
  4. 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

Comments

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 07, 2017:

Anne Ryefield - There is definitely more to consider and it’s good to include the other side of the debate that you provided.

Detroit is so run down that there are miles and miles of abandoned houses. But as you brought up for consideration, more families may need to be moved than all of Detroit, or other run-down communities, can accept.

None of these things are easy. If nothing else, it would have to be done on a very controlled basis—allowing for a slow and steady incline as you had mentioned.

As for what’s left behind, you brought up another important point. Conversion to nature refuge lands, if wide spread, may not leave enough tax paying residents to warrant the effort.

I simply began the discussion with this article and I welcome more input such as yours.

Anne Ryefield from USA on November 07, 2017:

I'm afraid I feel this is an impractical solution, a castle in the sky. Unfortunately there are far too many factors involved. Hurricane Katrina affected 90,000 square miles. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes. That's bigger than the size of Louisiana alone. Relocating all of Louisiana (all counties experienced damage), would effectively kill Louisiana as a state. The same goes for Mississippi. If these states were converted into wild life refuges, then there would be no economy, government, income, or anything every state depends on. Sadly, I don't see the government agreeing to such a plan. It would completely restructure our government, much like adding a new state to the union would.

While it would boost local depressed economies, it may also boom these economies beyond livability. Take Colorado, my home state, for example. Because the economy is booming, the majority of people who have lived here for decades are no longer able to afford to live here. I'm one of them, honestly. A two bedroom apartment is almost $2000 a month. Relocating thousands of people into areas like Detroit could be more detrimental than helpful in the long run. I feel a sudden burst of economy is much worse than a slow and steady incline. Moving entire neighborhoods into a new area would be a sudden burst.

There are other things that would be affected but I think these two points are enough for now. It's a good idea on paper, but when put into action, I feel it's just not feasible.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on July 17, 2016:

Tod Zechiel - Thank you for including your knowledge of the Homesetad Act in these comments. The fact that you worked with homesteaded families adds valuable authoritative information to this discussion. Yes, homesteading requires one to work the land to acquire ownership title and that may motivate people to take better care of their property in my opinion.

Tod Zechiel from Florida, United States on July 17, 2016:

Well, you certainly are thinking outside of the box. I used to work for the Bureau of Land Management. I worked with families who homesteaded under the Homestead Act. They had pride of ownership of their property for two or more generations. Thing was, they had to work to get the title and this factored into the generational pride. Somehow that would have to factor into the property transfer.

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on April 18, 2014:

Hawaiian Scribe - Your comments are very true Stephanie. We just don't have the right people in political office to do the right things. They have their own agendas despite the fact that we are the ones voting for them.

Stephanie Launiu from Hawai'i on April 17, 2014:

Thanks for your thoughtful solution to an ongoing problem. Unfortunately, this would entail an act of Congress and as the saying goes, "Congress doesnʻt act." Also, with todayʻs media circus environment, any large-scale solution would be demonized in the press before it ever got a fair hearing. Too bad we donʻt have sensible people like you in office. Aloha, Stephanie

Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 25, 2013:

MsDora - I can appreciate that it's not an acceptable solution for some. Many people tend to feel a strong attachment to communities where they spent their entire life, even if mother nature constantly uproots the foundation of their wellbeing. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your thoughts on this matter.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 25, 2013:

I agree that some residential areas should not have been allowed where they are. Moving them seems like a great idea, and would solve the problems. I suppose it can be done, but I have the feeling that solving problems is not a big part of this culture. Good presentation, though.