Houston, Texas

Acquisitions and elevations help to reduce Hurricane Harvey’s impact

Because many communities in Houston were built before flood regulations were enacted, thousands of homes are at risk of flood damage. Since 1989, Houston and Harris County officials have worked with FEMA on grants to acquire or elevate more than 1,600 of the hardest-hit homes in the area.

Community facts

Population in the City of Houston
2,240,582
Homes in the City of Houston
937,245
Businesses in the City of Houston
260,347
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

Since 1989, FEMA has invested around $205 million in and around Houston to acquire and elevate 1,618 properties via the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The City of Houston is susceptible to recurrent flooding due to its topography and climate, and significant flood events—most notably Hurricane Harvey in 2017—have impacted the Houston area over the years. Indeed, more than a third of all the properties in Texas elevated or acquired using FEMA grants were located in areas inundated by Hurricane Harvey.

Communities where acquisitions or land elevation had taken place suffered less damage during Hurricane Harvey. According to Jamila Johnson, floodplain manager for the City of Houston, without these mitigation efforts the damage would have been even more devastating.

In riverine areas alone, $325.5 million in estimated losses from Hurricane Harvey were avoided. Of that total, $176.7 million was from prevented building damage, and the remainder was split between contents damage and displacement costs.

Benefits of mitigation

Economic benefits to date
$330 million
Total monetized benefits
Return on investment
61.0%
Estimated return on investment
Benefit-cost ratio
1.61
Benefit-cost ratio of acquisitions and elevations in Houston
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (2017). Losses Avoided from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

Project challenges

Getting thousands of homes out of the floodplain takes time

Even though the city and county may acquire 100–200 homes a year, this is a relatively slow pace given that an estimated 30,000 homes are located in the floodplain. Johnson stresses the importance of having a plan for the acquired land ahead of time: “Don’t make the mistake of doing buyouts if you don’t have a plan for what to do with the land afterwards. You don’t want to combine having devastating flood loss with also creating blight in the neighborhood.” The city is careful to work with the Harris County Flood Control District to identify areas where the land can be reused for stormwater management or recreation and to complete buyouts in clusters.

“Elevated homes became areas of refuge for people running from floodwaters during Harvey. They became the one place in the neighborhood that was safe to go during the flood”
Jamila Johnson, floodplain manager, City of Houston

Future considerations

Trash and debris pile up outside homes in Houston.
Every acquisition or elevation helps more homeowners reduce their risk

Houston and Harris County will continue working with FEMA to support acquisition and elevation projects and are preparing to submit buyout application grant requests in spring 2018. Addressing all the potential acquisition and elevation projects in the community will take years, according to Johnson, but the city is committed to helping as many homeowners as it can, as quickly as possible.

Flood mitigation resources

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