White Victims of Floods Prefer to Stay Rather Than Relocate to More Diverse Neighbohoods

Researchers at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Houston, Texas, have produced a study that finds that homeowners in mostly White communities who have suffered damage from floods prefer to accept higher risk of disaster repeating itself than relocate to areas with more racial diversity and less flood risk.

The researchers tracked where nearly 10,000 Americans sold their flood-prone homes and moved through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program — the largest managed retreat program in the country — between 1990 and 2017. The data included address-to-address residential relocation information, flood risks of different addresses, community-level racial and ethnic composition, and average housing values.

“We found that across the U.S., the best predictor of the risk level at which homeowners voluntarily retreat is not whether they live in a coastal or inland area, or whether they live in a big city or a small town,” notes co-author James Elliott, professor and chair of the sociology department at Rice University. “It is the racial composition of their immediate neighborhood.” They found that homeowners in majority-White neighborhoods are willing to endure a 30 percent higher flood risk before retreating than homeowners in majority-Black neighborhoods.

Nationwide, the average driving distance between people’s bought-out homes and new destinations is just 7.4 miles. Nearly three-quarters stay within 20 miles of their flood-ravaged homes. “In other words, homeowners are not migrating long distances to safer towns, states and regions,” Dr. Elliott said. “They are moving within their neighborhoods and between nearby areas.”

The full study “Managed Retreat: A Nationwide Study of the Local, Racially Segmented Resettlement of Homeowners From Rising Flood Risks,” was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. It may be accessed here.

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