Birmingham, Alabama

Relocating homeowners from areas of recurrent flooding in Village Creek

Owing to its proximity to two major waterways, Birmingham has experienced repetitive flooding in some local communities, including the Village Creek floodplain. Many of the homeowners in these areas felt trapped by the floods: they could not sell their homes in the floodplain and did not have the resources to fix them. The city used FEMA grants to acquire 735 homes and turn the land into open space. Much of that land has been converted into parks, and many of the homeowners have relocated to other areas of Birmingham.

Community facts

Population
212,424
Homes
113,024
Businesses
20,738
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

From 1989 to 2000, the US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA acquired properties in the 1-percent annual chance flood hazard areas along Village Creek. City officials worked with the Silver Jackets, a team comprising specialists from several local, state and federal agencies working together to reduce flood risks, to determine mitigation methods for each property in the affected area, and began to secure hazard mitigation grants over time to buy out higher-risk properties. Based on an assessment of the losses avoided from eight subsequent flood events, the total return on the investment was 46%. The buyout program included resources to help homeowners relocate within Birmingham to prevent the city from losing homeowners as a result of the program.

The buyouts have reduced the cost of water rescue and recovery efforts in the community, and the Village Creek community now has a large green space with walking trails that has become an attraction for current and future homeowners.

Benefits of mitigation

Economic benefits
$63.7 million
Total monetized benefits
Return on investment
46.0%
Estimated return on investment
Benefit-cost ratio
1.46
Benefit-cost ratio of the acquisitions in Village Creek
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (2017). Loss Avoidance Study: Birmingham, AL Acquisitions

Project challenges

Planning for relocation and land reuse are key to generating value

When the buyout program began, Birmingham had no plan or funding to help homeowners relocate within the city, so many residents left. The city also lacked funds to transform the acquired land into useful green space once homes were removed, and the land stayed unused for several years after the buyouts. Today, the buyout team includes end-use expectations in every grant request to help ensure that it has resources to transform the land once a structure is removed. “If we don't have an end use, we can't, in good conscience, go after these dollars,” says Denise Bell, Birmingham’s natural hazards administrator.

“We no longer have to perform as many water rescues in flood mitigated areas thus decreasing the resources and financial cost associated with these type emergency efforts. This helps us to better plan and prioritize our resources more efficiently during flooding events”
Denise Bell, natural hazard administrator, Birmingham

Future considerations

Flooded street in the suburbs
Green infrastructure and drainage improvements take floodwater away from homes

Birmingham wants to expand beyond the acquisition program by updating its ordinances and land development policies related to flood mitigation. It is also looking into green infrastructure projects as a way to capture and use stormwater for reuse in irrigation, rather than piping it away. “When you start thinking about stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product, it allows you to come up with creative ways to address multiple concerns,” says Edwin Revell, deputy director of the City of Birmingham.

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.