Acquisitions and Relocations: Flood and Seismic Adaptation Measure


Acquisition and relocation agreement ©fiskes/Shutterstock

POLICY and EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
SHORELINE LOCATION:
Asset Specific




MEASURES COMPATIBILITY:
LIKELY IMPLEMENTING AUTHORITY:
Flood
Seismic
San Francisco Planning Department, BCDC
All
All


DESCRIPTION:

Acquisitions and relocation programs (commonly referred to as buyouts) employ public funds to remove development from repeat-hazard areas, to reduce future property damage and to promote public safety.


CONSIDERATIONS:
ADVANTAGES:
DISADVANTAGES:
  • Housing on higher ground is generally more expensive than flood-prone land. As a result, buyout participants often have to pay more—take on bigger mortgages—when buying a new home outside the floodplain. Buyouts can also disrupt established neighborhoods.
  • It is essential that the purchased land remain as open space or be repurposed for recreational opportunities.


  • Acquisitions are the most effective measure to permanently reduce flood risks.
  • Saves money over the long run by reducing the costs of repeatedly repairing/rebuilding.
  • Can serve many purposes, such as reducing future flood losses, preserving open space, protecting wildlife habitat, and providing areas for recreation.
  • Increases natural flood storage capacity and can reduce the need for structural flood control measures.
  • Voluntary programs rely on the voluntary sale of flood-prone properties at pre-flood market price. By acquiring, rather than regulating property, buyout programs posed little threat to private property rights and thus are more palatable politically.
  • Programs may potentially reduce the local government’s tax base and the program is likely to be very expensive, especially given the high cost of land in San Francisco. Acquisition expenses include not only the cost of purchasing property, but program administration, property maintenance and liability expenses as well.
  • The patchwork nature of voluntary programs can make it difficult to make significant progress in restoring floodplains and habitat.



CASE STUDIES:
  • Buyouts were used in the New York-New Jersey region after Hurricanes Sandy and Irene to buy out over 1,500 properties; they have also been used in New Orleans, North Dakota, Florida, and many other states following major storms and flooding.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CONSIDERATIONS

  • Housing on higher ground is generally more expensive than flood-prone land. As a result, buyout participants often have to pay more—take on bigger mortgages—when buying a new home outside the floodplain. Buyouts can also disrupt established neighborhoods.
  • Buyouts could promote or reduce existing social inequities, depending on how the program is structured. To mitigate inequities, buyout programs should be highly transparent, emphasize the relocation of communities, include an explicit focus on social inequality, consider other holistic approaches to flood protection, and include local communities in pre-disaster planning. The decision to implement a buyout program should not be overly reliant on cost-benefit logic, which may promote disproportionate retreat in low-income or minority communities.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION CONSIDERATIONS

  • Historic properties within a buyout area should be given special consideration. Wherever possible, alternatives to demolition should be explored, This may include relocating the structure to another site.

UTILITY AND MOBILITY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Utilities and transportation services will have to be maintained to a community until a full buyout is complete. Maintaining these services can be increasingly expensive as flooding frequency increases and the customer base decreases.

INSTALLATION AND CONSTRUCTABILITY CONSIDERATIONS

  • If buyout programs are implemented voluntarily and not everyone participates, they may create a “checkerboard effect” causing blight and making complete retreat difficult. Mandatory buyouts, or eminent domain, may be used to prevent immediate health, safety, and life risks, but are typically not eligible for cost-sharing by the federal government so are much more expensive and difficult. Leasebacks are buyout programs in which properties are leased to their current owners for a specified period so that they can continue to use them without economic loss.

OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE CONSIDERATIONS

  • It is essential that the purchased land remain as open space or be repurposed for recreational opportunities. The ongoing maintenance needs will vary based on the use of the land, but could range from more intensive activities (e.g., habitat management, invasive species control) to more minimal activities (e.g., maintaining fences and signs) In many cases, management of acquired properties tends to be the responsibility of a local government agency, but the property could be transferred to another organization, such as a conservation organization.

Download the Acquisitions and Relocations Factsheet.

Learn about other types of measures from our Measures Explorer page.



Acquisition and relocation agreement ©fiskes/Shutterstock

POLICY and EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
SHORELINE LOCATION:
Asset Specific




MEASURES COMPATIBILITY:
LIKELY IMPLEMENTING AUTHORITY:
Flood
Seismic
San Francisco Planning Department, BCDC
All
All


DESCRIPTION:

Acquisitions and relocation programs (commonly referred to as buyouts) employ public funds to remove development from repeat-hazard areas, to reduce future property damage and to promote public safety.


CONSIDERATIONS:
ADVANTAGES:
DISADVANTAGES:
  • Housing on higher ground is generally more expensive than flood-prone land. As a result, buyout participants often have to pay more—take on bigger mortgages—when buying a new home outside the floodplain. Buyouts can also disrupt established neighborhoods.
  • It is essential that the purchased land remain as open space or be repurposed for recreational opportunities.


  • Acquisitions are the most effective measure to permanently reduce flood risks.
  • Saves money over the long run by reducing the costs of repeatedly repairing/rebuilding.
  • Can serve many purposes, such as reducing future flood losses, preserving open space, protecting wildlife habitat, and providing areas for recreation.
  • Increases natural flood storage capacity and can reduce the need for structural flood control measures.
  • Voluntary programs rely on the voluntary sale of flood-prone properties at pre-flood market price. By acquiring, rather than regulating property, buyout programs posed little threat to private property rights and thus are more palatable politically.
  • Programs may potentially reduce the local government’s tax base and the program is likely to be very expensive, especially given the high cost of land in San Francisco. Acquisition expenses include not only the cost of purchasing property, but program administration, property maintenance and liability expenses as well.
  • The patchwork nature of voluntary programs can make it difficult to make significant progress in restoring floodplains and habitat.



CASE STUDIES:
  • Buyouts were used in the New York-New Jersey region after Hurricanes Sandy and Irene to buy out over 1,500 properties; they have also been used in New Orleans, North Dakota, Florida, and many other states following major storms and flooding.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE CONSIDERATIONS

  • Housing on higher ground is generally more expensive than flood-prone land. As a result, buyout participants often have to pay more—take on bigger mortgages—when buying a new home outside the floodplain. Buyouts can also disrupt established neighborhoods.
  • Buyouts could promote or reduce existing social inequities, depending on how the program is structured. To mitigate inequities, buyout programs should be highly transparent, emphasize the relocation of communities, include an explicit focus on social inequality, consider other holistic approaches to flood protection, and include local communities in pre-disaster planning. The decision to implement a buyout program should not be overly reliant on cost-benefit logic, which may promote disproportionate retreat in low-income or minority communities.

HISTORIC PRESERVATION CONSIDERATIONS

  • Historic properties within a buyout area should be given special consideration. Wherever possible, alternatives to demolition should be explored, This may include relocating the structure to another site.

UTILITY AND MOBILITY CONSIDERATIONS

  • Utilities and transportation services will have to be maintained to a community until a full buyout is complete. Maintaining these services can be increasingly expensive as flooding frequency increases and the customer base decreases.

INSTALLATION AND CONSTRUCTABILITY CONSIDERATIONS

  • If buyout programs are implemented voluntarily and not everyone participates, they may create a “checkerboard effect” causing blight and making complete retreat difficult. Mandatory buyouts, or eminent domain, may be used to prevent immediate health, safety, and life risks, but are typically not eligible for cost-sharing by the federal government so are much more expensive and difficult. Leasebacks are buyout programs in which properties are leased to their current owners for a specified period so that they can continue to use them without economic loss.

OPERATIONS AND MAINTENANCE CONSIDERATIONS

  • It is essential that the purchased land remain as open space or be repurposed for recreational opportunities. The ongoing maintenance needs will vary based on the use of the land, but could range from more intensive activities (e.g., habitat management, invasive species control) to more minimal activities (e.g., maintaining fences and signs) In many cases, management of acquired properties tends to be the responsibility of a local government agency, but the property could be transferred to another organization, such as a conservation organization.

Download the Acquisitions and Relocations Factsheet.

Learn about other types of measures from our Measures Explorer page.