In early May, President Joe Biden stood in front of the 70-year-old Calceu River Bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana. With the aging bridge in the background, he spoke about the storms that hit the city last year, emphasizing the need for infrastructure to adapt to the increasing severity of storms impacted by climate change. “The people of Louisiana have always raised themselves, just as America has always raised itself,” he said, adding that America “needs to build back in such a way that everything we build is able to withstand storms.” be able to.”
But sometimes, the best way to build better may be to pick up and build elsewhere. The Greenwich Terrace neighborhood of Lake Charles is just 10 miles from the bridge where Biden gave his speech. expectation For Alternative Purchases by the State of Louisiana – A program where the government will buy property that is frequently affected by floods, allowing residents to move out of harm’s way.
Lake Charles has been hit by four federally declared weather disasters in the past year, including Hurricanes Delta, Laura and Zeta, plus Winter Storm Viola. In late May it was hit once again with a once a century Thunderstorms, causing widespread flooding. Repeated calamities have created havoc. “We are a very resilient people. We are a very strong population,” Lake Charles Mayor Nick Hunter said “But, you know, eventually you get to the point where you ask Mother Nature: What else can you do for us?”
Some have already chosen to leave – Lake Charles had the largest outbound migration of the population in the country last year, with 6.7 percent of residents leaving – probably in part due to displacement from storms.
A $30 million voluntary buyout program announced by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on the heels of May’s floods shows the way forward for Lake Charles residents is to get out of harm’s way. The buyout is part of a $1.2 billion federal mitigation grant to the state of Louisiana from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) program.
In other words, it is a pool of money designed to be spent on making a community more resilient now, so it will not require as much disaster recovery later. In this case, the money would go to purchase 90 to 100 homes in the neighborhood, says Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development. Forbes states that land parcels once purchased cannot be redeveloped with housing or businesses, but will be reserved for uses such as parks, soccer fields or wetlands, which will help to return the land to floodplains and protect the future. Allows storm water to be absorbed. flood events.
What is happening in Lake Charles is a situation that millions of Americans may soon face – the decision to back down from rising waters. 4 to 13 million Americans live in coastal areas that may there was a flood by 2100, and buying is one of the few policy leverages the government has to enact managed return – Coordinated movement of communities away from climate hazards such as rising seas and fires. But historically, procurement has been “a very small proportion of disaster risk reduction,” says Linda Shi, assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. Till now only between 1989 and 2017 40,000 families Take advantage of purchases funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency that oversees most of the nation’s purchases.
So far, managed withdrawal has been a political third rail — even barely addressed in Biden’s climate-oriented infrastructure plan. However, according to Xi, it is not realistic to address the problem by installing a sea wall and other large-scale infrastructural interventions. “There are so many places that would be at risk that you can’t put infrastructure everywhere,” she said. To some extent managed return will have to be part of the solution. But the current scale of buyout programs is nowhere compared to the number of people at risk that are currently needed, Xi says: “40,000 versus 13 million — that’s a huge figure.”
With the need to increase buyouts comes major equity questions that have historically accompanied buyout programs. Income targets for purchase neighborhoods or how much a program will pay for property means that municipalities often “end up targeting low-income households,” Shea says. AR Sideers, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, says the feature is due to the fact that government programs calculate cost-effectiveness when choosing which communities to buy from and which infrastructure to avoid. Siders says it’s not cost-effective to buy a million-dollar property with a million-dollar property compared to a hundred-thousand-dollar ten property, but that calculation drives up equity imbalances in which communities move. is aimed to do. “The fact that we’re using infrastructure, and the value of infrastructure, rather than people, as a decision-making criterion — that’s what drives inequality,” Siders says. Not the people.”
Xi wonders whether focusing on low-income or black and Hispanic communities for procurement is an “equity forward approach” – or if it is an “racial targeting approach” to shift some communities while others are fundamental. protected by the structure. Past research In North Carolina showed that wealthy, white communities were targeted for seawalls, while low-income, black communities were targeted for purchases – more broadly, Neighborhoods with high “social vulnerability” They are more likely to be released than to be protected as sea levels rise. That being said, low-income white residents have Received more frequent purchases than their Black counterparts, While there is a tendency for black families to be bought get less money. Similarly, historical patterns of disinvestment in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color lead to infrastructure inequalities that also increase risk factors such as poor drainage systems, making a community slated to purchase , says Xi.
But shopping in Lake Charles has advantages for residents who accept them; According to Forbes, a major equity boon of the program is that it can offer more than the fair market value of the homes being purchased, which offsets the depression in value that occurs in flood-prone areas. For this reason, the last two purchases have resulted in 100 percent participation by Forbes, as families are then able to move to higher-value housing. According to Forbes, participants know they “would wind up with an overpriced home based on the fact that the fair market value of their home was probably depressed due to the flood.” “It’s quite an incentive.”
Still, according to Xi, a more equitable approach to managed return requires looking beyond risk and asking instead why people are vulnerable in the first place, and why there isn’t affordable housing for them to go to. could. Xi says, “Trying to justify the shopping program on its own is like trying to make the chairs on the Titanic floatable – it is in a certain sense limited in its usefulness as the drivers of the problem of people moving far beyond that.” Huh.”
Forbes says that in the meantime, the buyout will allow residents who accept it to start rebuilding wealth in their homes. “We’re focused on helping people get to a safe, high, dry place to live.”
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