Sea level rise and increased flooding are already affecting homes and communities across the United States. The hard truth is that these climate change impacts will make it increasingly difficult for people to stay in the places where they live today. Among the millions who could be displaced in the coming decades, many will need assistance to move to higher ground. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has funded thousands of voluntary buyouts, in which local or state governments purchase flood-damaged properties from willing sellers at pre-flood values and preserve the land as open space. However, FEMA’s current buyout programs already struggle to meet existing need, with years-long wait times that can make this option difficult to pursue and contribute to inequities in disaster recovery.
NRDC reviewed nearly 30 years of FEMA data on buyout funding and found that it takes a median of more than 5 years between a flood and the completion of a FEMA-funded buyout project. While every buyout project is different, one thing is clear: long wait times make buyouts less accessible, less equitable, and less effective for disaster mitigation and climate adaptation. Addressing this issue is essential to making FEMA-funded buyouts a more viable option as climate change increases flooding throughout the United States. This report describes approaches for improving the current system, as well as new buyout models that NRDC believes are worth exploring by FEMA, other federal agencies, and state and local governments.