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More Cities Expected to Condemn Homes for Flood Control

The U.S. has a new tactic if cities want federal money to mitigate threats from climate change: They must first agree to take homes using their eminent domain powers.

NEW YORK – The Army Corps of Engineers offered the Florida Keys a deal: Money for flood mitigation if local governments agreed to use their powers of eminent domain to buy homes in the highest risk flood zones.

Going forward, however, that deal isn’t limited to the Keys. Local officials across the United States are facing a dilemma as the federal government urges officials to agree to use eminent domain to force people out of flood-prone homes. If local governments don’t agree, they risk forfeiting any federal money they need to combat climate change. In the Keys, that money amounts to $5.5 billion.

Eminent domain is the government’s authority to take private property for public use, though property owners are compensated for their loss. Officials generally don’t like using the tool, but as more of them face climate change issues and hope to mitigate losses, they may have little choice but to push people out of flood zones if they refuse to voluntarily move.

Over the years, the Army Corps of Engineers has shifted tactics and focused more on paying local governments to buy and demolish homes at risk of flooding; but until recently, those buyouts have largely been voluntary.

The Corps uses a formula to determine which properties should be destroyed. It estimates the amount of damage a house is likely to suffer in the next 50 years and compares that to the cost of buying the house and paying the owners to move. If the buyout costs less, the homeowner is asked to sell for the assessed value of the home.

Many city officials, however, balk at the idea of kicking homeowners out, even in flood prone areas like Miami-Dade County in Florida and the Florida Keys – but other officials are giving the idea serious consideration.

Source: The New York Times (03/11/20) Flavelle, Christopher; Daniel, Annie

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