Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

 

The Regional Vision offers an innovative legal, planning, and policy resource to promote community resilience through housing and nature-based solutions in places where flooding, extreme weather events, and other factors are driving population changes and transitions. It was developed by Capital Region Planning Commission and Georgetown Climate Center, in collaboration with policymakers, community members, and other stakeholders in Region Seven of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative located in southeast Louisiana.

The Regional Vision is intended to serve as an informational and peer-learning resource for regional and local governments in Region Seven. It also offers insights for other jurisdictions across Louisiana, throughout the Gulf Coast region, and nationally.

 

Foreword: Living Between Floods


 Jamie Setze, Executive Director, Capital Region Planning Commission

and Kathryn Zyla, Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center


Following the Louisiana floods of 2016, stories began to surface of survivors of Hurricane Katrina whose homes were underwater for the second time in just under 11 years. People who experienced what should have been a once-in-a-lifetime event suddenly found themselves wondering — again — when they would be able to go back home, where their children would go to school, and how they would afford all of life’s expenses, all while grappling with the mental struggles that come with surviving multiple disasters.

These stories of “living between floods” tie generations of Louisianans to one another. For centuries, artists and musicians have passed these stories on through songs like Backwater Blues by Bessie Smith. However, history is not destiny. Those same stories and songs have the power to inspire people to seek out ways to break the cycle, and to work together to help communities become more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

In 2018, against the backdrop of increasing flooding and extreme weather events, Governor John Bel Edwards signed an executive order to create the Council on Watershed Management. The council subsequently launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). LWI is aimed at reducing flood risk by aligning programs and policies across local, regional, and state governments through the development of eight distinct regional watershed management entities. The Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) was designated the coordinator for the Region Seven watershed. In partnership with Georgetown Climate Center (GCC), our organizations have led a two-year collaborative, cross-jurisdictional effort that has resulted in this Regional Vision we call Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision.  

Louisianans have always pulled together to meet the challenges that confront them. Big challenges call for big teams to bring about big and meaningful changes to increase local and regional resilience. In addition to CRPC and GCC, this Regional Vision is the work of a diverse group of directors of departments in local parishes, leaders of regional nongovernmental organizations, academic researchers, and others who came together as members of the Protecting Our Resilient Waters of Louisiana or “PROWL” Work Group. Their efforts are supplemented by approximately 100 stakeholder interviews and over 50 case study examples. 

Early in this process, the PROWL Work Group identified two cornerstones for the Regional Vision: (1) the urgent need for more safe, housing that is affordable to people across all income levels; and (2) the importance of nature-based approaches for building resilience, such as creating greenways to provide more communities with greater access to trees and open spaces and restoring, conserving, and protecting wetlands to reduce flood risks and improve water quality. The expertise that Work Group members brought to the consideration of these and other opportunities to “greaux” or grow resilience served this Regional Vision well. We are grateful for their service.  

The Regional Vision is intended to serve as an informational and peer-learning resource for regional and local governments in Region Seven. We believe it also offers insights for other jurisdictions across Louisiana, throughout the Gulf Coast region, and nationally. The legal, planning, policy, and project ideas in this Regional Vision, as well as the accompanying collection of 50 detailed case studies, are relevant to policymakers anywhere who are seeking to increase the affordability, availability, and safe condition of housing while also increasing community resilience.

We also want to acknowledge the historical context that flows throughout the whole of this work, and flag an important consideration for policymakers. Similar to many places across the United States, southeast Louisiana’s land-use patterns and environmental landscape have been shaped by explicit and implicit racial segregation that can still be felt today. At the outset of this Regional Visioning process, both CRPC and GCC, guided by the PROWL Work Group, prioritized the need to ground this work in a local context. Throughout the entirety of this process all participants did just that by partnering directly with regional and local governments and stakeholders to actively listen to a diversity of voices and perspectives from the people on the ground. 

The Regional Vision alone cannot adequately honor and do justice to respect how segregation and other issues have impacted land-use and development across such a large watershed region filled with a myriad of cultures, histories, and lived experiences. Accordingly, we note that regional and local policymakers need to have authentic and meaningful dialogues with their communities if they consider making progress on the goals included in the Regional Vision. This work requires obtaining a firm understanding not just about the present and working towards a more resilient future, but understanding how the past shaped the state of human development in Louisiana today.

We also offer a couple of caveats. First, we know how critical funding and financing are to the design and implementation of resilient strategies. This Regional Vision does not delve deep into funding and financing sources and strategies. However, we have included a companion section on funding and financing that presents high-level summaries of some crosscutting, national-level approaches for consideration. Second, while the Regional Vision discusses legal concepts and cites to laws in Louisiana and other state, regional, and local jurisdictions, it should not be read as offering legal advice from CRPC, GCC, or any other person or entity affiliated with the Regional Vision.

In addition to the many community leaders and PROWL Work Group members who have contributed to this Regional Vision, we offer a special thanks to Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Regional Watershed Coordinator at CRPC, and Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate at GCC, for their tireless work on this project over the course of the last two years. Their leadership and contributions have given life to this resource that will support so many to realize a more resilient future in the months and years to come.   

It is our hope that this Regional Vision sparks a greater understanding that when cross-jurisdictional coordination and collaboration start with a recognition of our shared humanity, it can bring about real, lasting improvements in the safety and well-being of our neighbors. That shared humanity is what will help Louisianans get through future flooding and extreme weather events. We hope it will inspire policymakers in Region Seven and beyond to work toward solutions that benefit everyone.

Introduction


Louisiana is one of the hardest-hit areas in the United States as extreme weather events and regular flooding become more frequent and intense.See footnote 1 These challenges often fall “first and worst” on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities. This is especially true in the U.S. Gulf Coast region and the state of Louisiana.See footnote 2 

Over time, these challenges are being exacerbated by population increases and transitions as climate and non-climate drivers (e.g., people moving out of urban centers into more rural areas) influence where people choose — or are able — to live. 

In southeast Louisiana, affordable, resilient housing initiatives are critical to ensuring equitable adaptation that takes into consideration the myriad overlapping challenges facing all Louisianans, but especially those living in communities that have long borne a disproportionate burden of risk.

After two devastating back-to-back storms in 2016, Governor John Bel Edwards announced his intention to create a governance structure across all levels of government to look at long-term flood risk reduction. In 2018, the governor signed Executive Order JBE-2018-16 to create the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). LWI divided the state into eight regional watershed planning districts and tasked each one with identifying “a long-range vision for the state’s multi-pronged approach to mitigating future flood risk focusing on natural boundaries, not political ones.” 

Between fall 2020 and spring 2022, Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) and Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) engaged with dozens of directors of departments in local parishes, leaders of regional non-governmental organizations, academic researchers, community members and more in Region Seven. The result of that partnership is Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision, a resource to inform Region Seven’s ongoing work to increase community resilience by promoting affordable housing and nature-based solutions. 

Terminology and Scale

Throughout the Regional Vision, the word “regional” is intended to refer to cross-jurisdictional concepts (e.g., more than one parish or municipality), compared to the use of “local,” which is meant to encompass individual units of local government for parishes and chartered and incorporated municipalities. 

A “community” more specifically references Louisianan residents and people and entities outside government as the primary actors (e.g., community-driven planning processes). A community can broadly be conceived of as a group of people who share similar beliefs and values and support one another in various ways that are self-determined. The idea or concept of a community is not defined by any legal rules or ordinances and may not perfectly align with the maps or jurisdictional boundaries that guide government decisions. Moreover, regional and local governments may have to engage multiple community factions in the context of a single action. 

As reflected by these differences in terminology, it is important to recognize how the work and ideas included in the Regional Vision impact work at three different levels. Please see below for a summary table about how these terms broadly align with different government and nongovernmental entities, geographic and environmental scales, and types of legal, planning, and policy actions. Regional and local governments consulting the Regional Vision can pursue potential actions identified in the five goals at any or all of these scales. However, since greauxing resilience starts at home, steps to build resilience within Region Seven and beyond will ideally operate at all three scales from the hyperlocal community to the regional. 

While the focus of the Regional Vision is on regional and local levels of government, coordination with state and federal governments could also be necessary when designing and implementing many tools and solutions.

Regional Vision Term

Definition 

Geographic Scale

Environmental Scale

Example Tools and Solutions 

Regional

Regional governments or more than one local government

Regional entity or more than one parish or municipality

Watershed

Regional plans, cross-jurisdictional peer-learning fora 

Local

Parish and municipal governments

One parish or municipality

Watershed

Local comprehensive plans, land-use and zoning ordinances

Community

Affected residents and private, nonprofit, and academic stakeholders and entities outside government 

A subunit of a local government like neighborhoods, blocks, subdivisions, or buildings

Watershed

Neighborhood-level plans, subdivision ordinances, overlay zones

The Regional Vision was developed with a focus on Region Seven’s particular local circumstances. However, the Regional Vision identifies tools, approaches, and examples that will be useful to people throughout Louisiana, the Gulf Coast region, and nationally taking actions to address housing, flooding, equity, resilience, and population changes. 

The Regional Vision is organized around five strategic housing and nature-based goals: 

Within each goal, the Regional Vision lays out five objectives that can be adapted to fit a range of regional and local needs and contexts. These goals and objectives are supplemented with 50 detailed case studies that describe best and emerging practices, tools and examples from Louisiana and other U.S. jurisdictions to make progress on these complex challenges.

The Regional Vision is intended as a reference and a resource to support governments in their decisionmaking efforts. Because there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to community resilience, it provides ideas for consideration, not prescriptions. Regional and local governments can use the Regional Vision to identify potential legal, planning, and policy tools and projects they may consider to increase the affordability and availability of housing in their jurisdictions and the use of nature-based solutions.

Resilience, Affordable Housing, and Equity for the Regional Vision

In designing laws, plans, and policies that will work for all, language matters. This part lays out definitions for the terms resilience, affordable housing, and equity in order to provide a shared meaning and understanding for each word that can be used and applied throughout the Regional Vision. These definitions were developed by the project team at CRPC and GCC, the PROWL Work Group, and other collaborators.

Background


The Louisiana Watershed Initiative 

Louisiana’s geographic position makes it home to one of the most dynamic coastal and riverine systems in the United States. It is where the combination of tributaries that comprise the Mississippi, Red, Sabine, Ouachita and other smaller rivers meet and eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. These natural systems have offered Louisianans — and the rest of the world — access to fresh seafood, navigable waterways, and the foundation for a vibrant culture built on people’s relationship with those waters and all of the benefits they bring. 

That same location has made Louisiana particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Current land-use and development patterns have led to the construction of residential and commercial buildings in areas prone to flooding, leading to the highest concentrations of repeated-loss properties in the nation. Rising seas, coastal subsidence, increasingly intense and frequent rainfall events, and more intense hurricane seasons exacerbated by climate change mean Louisiana communities will be even more vulnerable in the future. 

During 2016 alone, 56 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes had major disaster declarations as a result of two heavy rainfall events.See footnote 4 In March, Louisiana experienced significant flood impacts as torrential downpours led to several record crests on rivers across the state.See footnote 5 In August of that same year, another heavy rainfall event dropped 20 to 30 inches of rain the south central to southeastern part of the state over three days, leading to significant riverine flooding.See footnote 6 Some homes that flooded in March flooded again in August. 

Those events — also referred to as the “Great Floods of 2016” — presented what the future could look like in the state while also focusing attention on the connection between Louisiana’s current development patterns and flood risk. With over $10 billion in damages, many individuals and families were left out of their homes for months. With multiple short- and long-term disruptions to people’s lives, the 2016 floods were a wakeup call. It became clear that Louisiana needed to systematically reconsider decisionmaking around land use, development, and infrastructure through the lens of current and future flood risk. 

In addition, the 2016 flooding laid bare enormous economic and racial inequalities and community vulnerabilities in the built environment. It also crystalized that the undeniable long-term threats to future economic growth and fiscal health of the state could not be addressed without new sustainable land and water management practices.

In response, in 2018, Governor John Bel Edwards signed Executive Order JBE-2018-16 creating the Council on Watershed Management,  and launched the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI). The purpose of this effort was to begin creating programmatic and policy alignment at the state and regional levels by establishing eight regional watershed management entities. In 2020, a year in which Louisiana experienced the landfall of five tropical storms, the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD), received $1.2 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Mitigation or “CDBG-MIT” funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support the LWI program. 

For each of the eight watershed districts, OCD designated an organization to serve as coordinator for planning efforts. The Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) is a regional government in the Baton Rouge area and was selected to serve as the fiscal agent and coordinator for Region Seven. CRPC’s work has historically been driven towards achieving its goals as the local Council of Governments, Metropolitan Planning Organization, and Planning and Development District. CRPC’s expansion into issues of resilience and adaptation signals a vision for integrating work and taking a leadership role in these conversations as a regional government agency.


Louisiana Region Seven Watershed 

The Louisiana Region Seven Watershed encompasses the upper part of the toe of Louisiana’s boot. It spans eastward from the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge across the Northshore (i.e., north of Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas) to Mississippi and along the Mississippi River to the Bonnet Carré Spillway. The region includes 13 parishes and 45 incorporated municipalities.

Credit: Louisiana Watershed Initiative, Outreach and Engagement Toolkit 44 (2021), available at https://d10zxfp0rexahe.cloudfront.net/docs/LWI_OE-Toolkit-2021_9_15_web.pdf.

Region Seven overlaps with the ancestral lands of the Acolapissa, Bayougoula Choctaw, Chitimacha, and Houma tribes. The influence of Indigenous traditional knowledge and culture in this region is deeply rooted. Many of the names of rivers and places are from Indigenous languages. For example, Tangipahoa Parish (and River), is derived from the Choctaw name for the area, “Tanzipao,” which comes from two Choctaw words, “tonche” (corn) and “pahoha” (cob or inside) that translate to corncob. Similarly, a local river, Tchefuncte, is from another Choctaw word, “Hachofakti,” which is the Choctaw word for the chinquapin leaf.

Region Seven suffered extensive damages as a result of the 2016 floods and is a hotspot for residential and commercial development. The full extent of flood risk is still being understood within the region; however, it is clear that it exists on a spectrum from high-risk coastal and riverine environments facing the prospect of managed retreat or relocation to areas where flood risk is much lower to which people might be expected to move. Along this spectrum, the region must consider how to adapt to a future with greater flood risks and with population shifts and transitions due to both climate and non-climate drivers (e.g., people moving out of urban centers into more rural areas). As articulated in the state’s first Climate Action Plan

All across Louisiana, people and ecosystems must adjust to the extremes of too much or too little water. Flooding — be it from storm surge, persistent high tides, increasingly heavy downpours, or rivers swollen from up-basin precipitation patterns — affects populations throughout the state. Even floods that do not force people from their homes disrupt lives, add financial and emotional stress to individuals and families, and strain resources that could be invested elsewhere.

The Regional Visioning Process


Precursor to the Regional Vision

Under the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI), discussions around resilience predate the Regional Visioning process. Through a series of public discussions and workshops held during the summer of 2020, Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC) facilitated a Regional Steering Committee that developed the Region Seven Guiding Principles Framework with stakeholders across the region through a public visioning workshop. This Framework outlined shared values and a vision for the LWI work in Region Seven — all of which is aligned with the guiding principles in the Regional Vision.

The stated long-term goal of the Framework is to realize “a future with less flood risk, healthier natural environments, and resilience practices that are responsive to the needs of our communities and to our evolving environment.” To support that goal, the Framework further described a series of principles and aspirations for their communities and for the watershed. Examples include: 

  • Communities and sectors converge to collaborate around managing water, like the tributaries to rivers do.
  • Solutions are developed for access to safe, low-risk housing that is also affordable.
  • The environment and economy go together and one does not exist at the expense of the other.
  • Projects, programs, policies, and planning efforts support a future with less flood risk, cleaner water, and opportunities to create more equitable outcomes.
  • Floodplain management, land-use, and development decisions across the region incentivize sustainable growth, minimize competition, and are consistent.
  • Water quality in surface water bodies is improved, creating healthier environments for all.
  • Flood risk (hydrology) and water quality go together. One does not gain at the expense of the other.

The efforts of the public visioning workshop and the Regional Steering Committee that culminated in Region Seven Guiding Principles Framework are distinct from the process that produced the Regional Vision. However, the guiding principles served as a foundation on which the Regional Vision was built. As such, the two products reinforce one another. Each of the Region Seven Guiding Principles is either directly or indirectly supported by the Regional Vision. In turn, the Regional Vision provides a focused look at resilience through the discrete lens of housing and flooding in the context of population changes and transitions and represents an additional opportunity to expand engagement around resilience in Region Seven. 


The Collaborative Efforts and Partnerships Informing the Regional Vision 

Capital Regional Planning Commission and Georgetown Climate Center

During the 2020 hurricane season, Louisiana experienced the landfall of five named tropical storms; three of those storms were hurricanes, and two of those hurricanes were major hurricanes (with sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour). For Louisiana communities already in the midst of a pandemic and a long-standing housing crisis, these storms added insult to injury. All of these factors made discussions around affordable housing as they relate to climate change impacts and resilience especially relevant for Louisiana in general, and for Region Seven in particular.

CRPC was familiar with the work of Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) on topics related to flood risk and community resilience. The two connected to explore opportunities for collaboration related to the LWI. Through these discussions, CRPC and GCC agreed to work together on two shared goals that align with the LWI:

  • Mitigate flood risks across areas in Louisiana (through strategies like expanding green space and nature-based solutions); and 
  • Encourage housing that is affordable and available to people across all income levels in locations becoming or expected to become receiving areas increasing or changing in population as flood risk increases.

Since beginning this work, the landfall of Hurricane Ida and recent research analyzing plans across Region Seven have further emphasized the need for more strategic programmatic- and project-level conversations that thread the needle between housing, the environment, and equity.See footnote 7 In spring of 2021, the two organizations launched a partnership to support Louisiana’s Region Seven communities in protecting people from flooding risks and promoting resilient, affordable housing. GCC’s nationally recognized expertise in climate adaptation law, policy, and planning, and CRPC’s expertise in watershed resilience work positioned them well to facilitate the process that supported the development of this Regional Vision for local decisionmakers by local community leaders  

The PROWL Work Group

While the ever growing urgency of addressing land-use and environmental changes loom over Louisianans in the forms of increasing flooding, extreme weather, housing shortages, population changes, and other impacts, it is important to recognize that big challenges call for big teams to transform our challenges into opportunities to increase regional and local resilience. 

Throughout this work, a team of individuals outside of CRPC and GCC with expertise on Louisiana’s local challenges and the increasing impacts of flood risk to housing and the environment have been guiding this work.  This group of directors of departments in local parishes, leaders of regional non-governmental organizations, academic researchers, and others identify as members of the Protecting Our Resilient Waters of Louisiana or “PROWL” Work Group.See footnote 8 Members include: 

  • Bridget Bailey
    Director of the Office of Community Development with Tangipahoa Parish
  • Dr. Angela Chalk
    Founder and Executive Director of Healthy Community Services
  • Dr. Thomas Douthat
    Associate Professor with Louisiana State University, College of the Coast and Environment
  • Dr. Monica Farris
    Director of UNO-CHART (University of New Orleans-Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology)
  • Jerome Fournier
    Director of Planning and Development with Ascension Parish
  • Devin Foil
    Planner with HNTB
  • Dr. Robert Habans
    Economist with the Data Center
  • Lyneisha Jackson
    Community Planner with the Center for Planning Excellence
  • Dr. Tara Lambeth
    Director of Planning and Zoning with St. John the Baptist Parish 
  • Ross Liner
    Director of Planning and Development with St. Tammany Parish
  • Andreanecia Morris
    Executive Director of Housing New Orleans/Housing Louisiana
  • René C. Pastorek
    Formerly Director of Planning and Development with Saint. John the Baptist Parish
  • David Summers
    Chief Operating Officer of Partners Southeast
  • Nichelle Taylor
    Program Director for Policy Development and Implementation with Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance
  • Karen Zito
    Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Homebuilders Association of Greater Baton Rouge

It is important to note that PROWL Work Group members served in their personal and unofficial capacities. As such, their participation on the work group should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the Regional Vision in whole or part by their organizational affiliations or employers.

Visioning Sessions

In addition to leveraging the expertise of the PROWL Work Group, in November 2021, CRPC and GCC co-hosted two virtual visioning sessions to further inform the Regional Vision. The project team hosted Region Seven parish and municipal staff for the first session, and nongovernmental innovators for the second. The goal of the visioning sessions was to ensure the Regional Vision incorporated the experience and perspectives of a wide variety of policymakers, experts, and community leaders. 

The sessions were led by local facilitators who ensured that each session was a brave space for participants to share their thoughts and feedback with CRPC and GCC. The two facilitators were Dr. Angela Chalk, Executive Director of Healthy Community Services in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dr. Lucas Diaz, a Doctoral Fellow of the City, Culture, and Community Program at Tulane University. During both sessions, CRPC and GCC enabled connections, introduced participants to the partnership effort and ongoing work, engaged in discussion, and received feedback on early drafts of parts of the Regional Vision

The visioning sessions provided CRPC and GCC with valuable insights into how different people perceive the importance of supporting holistic ideas around resilience, and how they interpret the terminology used throughout the Regional Vision. The discussions also highlighted the unique issues each community faces when it comes to resilience and how solutions to challenges like housing, resilience, and equity must be interdisciplinary and collaborative.

How to Approach the Regional Vision


Component Parts that Make Up the Whole

The Regional Vision is composed of three main components. In addition to this Introduction, the Regional Vision consists of two additional main components:

  • Five strategic goals and objectives for housing and flood resilience; and 
  • Case studies and other resources.

Each of these three components of the Regional Vision can be considered independently, but each also supports and enhances the others.

First, this Introduction provides readers with the background and context necessary to understand how and why the Regional Vision was developed and how to use and navigate it with the overall goal of supporting resilience efforts in Region Seven and beyond. 

Second, the heart of the Regional Vision is the strategic goals and objectives for housing and flood resilience. The Regional Vision is organized around increasing regional and local resilience in Region Seven in the face of population growth and transitions at the intersection of affordable housing and nature-based flood mitigation solutions:

Within each goal, the Regional Vision lays out five objectives that can be adapted to fit a range of regional and local needs and contexts. These goals and objectives are supplemented with more than 50 detailed case studies that describe best and emerging practices, tools, and examples from Louisiana and other U.S. jurisdictions. 

The goals and the objectives were informed by the PROWL Work Group and through engaging other stakeholders in Louisiana. Of course, the goals and objectives included in the Regional Vision do not constitute an exhaustive list of every action that regional and local policymakers in Region Seven or elsewhere could take to increase resilience. Instead, these five goals and 25 objectives represent a starting point for consideration representing some priority actions and ideas that emerged throughout this work. 

The specifics of each goal are discussed in more detail in those parts of the Regional Vision; however, it is important to call out the crosscutting nature of Goal Five. Goal Five includes objectives related to community engagement, data, and regional governance and collaboration that are integral to implementing the preceding four goals. Therefore, it is intended that each of the first four goals be read and evaluated in tandem with Goal Five. The Regional Vision includes explicit connections and cross-linkages to Goal Five throughout Goals One through Four. 

Third, the goals and objectives are informed by relevant case studies and related resources. At the bottom of the page for each objective, blue boxes appear with information summarizing how other jurisdictions or nongovernmental entities are either considering or implementing a law, plan, policy, and/or project that aligns with a given objective.

In conjunction with this project, Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) has published more than 50 new case studies and resource summaries to supplement this Regional Vision. This includes 24 longer-form case studies featured in a report that provide a fuller picture of how a particular regional or local jurisdiction is tackling housing, flooding, equity, resilience, and/or population changes. The case studies and other resources were informed by informational interviews with over 80 practitioners and community leaders in charge of designing and overseeing this work. (For more information, see the Authors and Acknowledgements.) 

A few notes about the case studies and resource entries:

  • The Regional Vision prioritizes relatable and scalable models from places similar to Louisiana. Wherever possible, the project team sought to acknowledge and lift up the work of jurisdictions and nongovernmental actors in Region Seven and neighboring watershed regions to inspire peer-to-peer sharing and actions from as near to home as possible. These resources are drawn from 12 states, with an emphasis on regions and local areas in the Gulf and Mid-Atlantic: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Examples and lessons drawn from these regions are easiest to apply to a Louisianan context because they feature similar geography or analogous impacts from flooding and other climate effects.
  • There are no perfect, “one-size-fits-all” solutions. While the case studies and resource entries informing the Regional Vision are instructive for Region Seven, none of them are “perfect” examples of how to solve these challenging and complex issues. The project team found no single case study or resource that provides a point-for-point or model for what Region Seven is trying to accomplish. No other jurisdiction appears to be trying to integrate housing, flooding, equity, resilience, and population change concurrently in a single plan, ordinance, or policy. However, some jurisdictions are moving in this direction, or are making progress on discrete elements of what could eventually become a more holistic strategy. Therefore, the Regional Vision and accompanying case studies and resource entries draw analogous connections and recommendations that can be combined to facilitate more comprehensive planning and land-use efforts.  
  • Region Seven is pioneering new approaches that will provide models for others. It is important to acknowledge the pioneering nature of the work that Region Seven and its partners are undertaking to address housing and flooding challenges. From a national perspective, they stand among some of the leaders on these ongoing issues. By starting to engage in more integrated discussions about housing, flooding, equity, resilience, and population changes, the intent is that Region Seven and others can be better positioned to work with and support communities and provide models for others to follow in the future. 

A Vision That is Inspirational and Achievable

As stated at the outset, Louisianans have always pulled together to meet the big challenges that confront them. This Regional Vision may be seen as audacious; however, what the project team, the PROWL Work Group, and other partners have conceived is a menu of many legal, planning, and policy options regional and local governments can consider and potentially implement to achieve big things for the region and the state.

Resilience, Affordable Housing, and Equity for the Regional Vision


In designing laws, plans, and policies that will work for all, language matters. At the outset of this process, the PROWL Work Group and other collaborators spent a significant amount of time on describing what is meant by the terms resilience, affordable housing, and equity in order to have a shared meaning and understanding throughout the Regional Vision

By providing a shared meaning and understanding for these foundational terms, the goal is to encourage governments and communities in Region Seven to look at their own laws, plans, policies, and definitions as they evaluate proposals and select possible courses of action. For concepts as important and multifaceted as resilience, affordable housing, and equity, it is especially key to have a shared idea about what regional and local governments and communities are aiming for. Ultimately, these three terms can help to determine the outcome or “vision” parishes and municipalities are working towards. Because the circumstances, priorities, and context in every community are different, each jurisdiction should work directly with residents to tailor these and other definitions to fit their own needs. The elaborations below are intended to provide a common starting point to inform ongoing work and discussions in Region Seven. 

The descriptions for resilience, affordable housing, and equity are included below in that order.


Resilience  

Resilience in southeast Louisiana means many things to many people. One particular definition is, “the capacity of individuals, communities, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.”See footnote 9  

These concepts and ideas apply to everyone. However, it is important to recognize that people are not equally positioned to “survive, adapt, and grow” in response to the “chronic stresses and acute shocks" they experience.See footnote 10 As such, a holistic understanding of resilience also incorporates the understanding that historically underresourced and overburdened communities are forced to be more resilient compared to communities that may be able to easily access, and afford, interventions that may serve to mitigate, and adapt, to chronic and acute stressors. Filmmaker Zandashé Brown, a self-proclaimed daughter of southern Louisiana, explains this dynamic perfectly by saying:

I dream of never being called resilient again in my life. I’m exhausted by strength. I want support. I want softness. I want ease. I want to be amongst kin. Not patted on the back for how well I take a hit. Or for how many. Instead of hearing, “You are one of the most resilient people I know,” I want to hear, “You are so loved. You are so cared for. You are genuinely covered.”

Acknowledging the lead of a local culture bearer, any discussion about resilience must be grounded in a locally contextualized approach that recognizes the current and historical barriers, especially for Black, Brown, and low-income working class individuals and families, and myriad factors that are related to understanding resilience. For example, resilience must be viewed on a spectrum. Everyone is starting from a different baseline and has different needs. Moreover, resilience needs to be addressed on various levels from the individual or a family to a neighborhood or community to an entire region or state, however these spatial areas may be defined. In Louisiana especially, resilience can evoke powerful thoughts and memories about everything from post-disaster experiences to day-to-day challenges that can result in both short- and long-term impacts on a person’s psychological, social, and financial well being, as well as environmental protection and conservation. 

Accordingly, this definition of resilience will not be bound to a single sentence. Instead, it will incorporate the current and historical disparate expectations of resilience among communities and the environment, while drawing from the love that is deserved by all to develop laws, plans, and policies that are responsive — instead of barriers — to meeting everyone’s needs, while creating structures for accountability that are enacted by those same communities. 

Going forward, the hope is that everyone in southeast Louisiana and beyond can have a common baseline understanding of resilience and view it as a positive goal that people want to achieve individually and collectively in lieu of viewing resilience as a past or ongoing legacy they want to shed or leave behind. Meaningful resilience goes beyond one disaster event to capture both who people are, who they want to be, and where they want to go.


Affordable Housing

The concept of affordable housing implies housing that everyone can afford and that is located in a safe area and in a sanitary condition and meets an individual’s or family’s immediate and long-term needs including for social connection, jobs, schools, transportation, and community amenities and services. Historically, affordable housing has been defined more narrowly as “a measure of how much of one’s income one spends on housing (be it rental or mortgage payments), [where h]ousing is considered unaffordable if it costs more than 30 [percent of a] resident’s income.”See footnote 11 The concept of being able to afford a home, however, is much broader than the percentage of income a person spends on rental or mortgage payments. Instead, rental and mortgage payments are only one expense renters and homeowners face when renting or purchasing a home. These payments alone do not represent a person’s or family’s total housing costs. For example, renters and homeowners alike have to deal with utility payments, insurance, and state and local taxes that can increase and distort the percentage of their income that is spent on housing-related needs. 

A more comprehensive approach to housing offers advantages especially in the face of environmental changes and population growth and transitions. The above factors — and more — related to total housing costs can be taken into consideration to enable meaningful progress to achieve affordability across places facing different levels of flood risk. 

Whether people choose to stay-in-place or are able to and want to move to areas with lower flood risk, a resilient housing strategy can facilitate greater housing mobility. Housing mobility is the idea that people will have the choice and option to relocate to different neighborhoods that provide better or safer opportunities or safely stay in their existing homes, even as their communities change.See footnote 12 

Everyone is situated differently and faces different barriers to housing and access to resources. Furthermore, beyond the question of housing affordability, there are many other factors that, taken together, affect housing mobility outside the scope of this Regional Vision including: clear title and land succession issues on multi-generational and heirs properties; and barriers that prevent people from having equal access to different housing opportunities.See footnote 13  While there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to increasing housing affordability, the goal of the Regional Vision is to focus on and support ongoing discussions around affordability specifically by taking into account factors beyond the traditional definition of affordable housing. As such, the terms “affordable housing” and “affordability” will be used interchangeably throughout the Regional Vision to evoke these broader goals of housing and resiliency for all


Equity 

There are many ways equity can be defined based on local context, history, culture, and needs. This Regional Vision does not attempt to lay out a comprehensive or place-specific definition of equity. In general, equity can be thought of as an approach based in fairness designed to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources. To be truly resilient, communities must have the resources to prepare for the changes that are already being experienced on the ground and increase community capacity to withstand impacts and recover quickly after extreme weather events that are happening with a greater frequency and intensity. In practice, this means building equity into resilience planning and implementation, addressing the disproportionate impacts on overburdened communities, and working to dismantle barriers that have prevented these communities from thriving. 

This work involves both inclusive processes that give overburdened communities opportunities to shape decisionmaking and a deep investment in designing and implementing the laws, plans, policies, and programs that these communities ask for and need. Importantly, these programs and policies should address not only climate and environmental risks, but also pervasive stressors, such as lack of educational and economic opportunities and threats from gentrification and displacement. Therefore, equity should be broken down into and thought about in terms of two primary areas:

  1. Procedural equity describes a commitment to ensuring that communities have a voice in decisionmaking processes through a variety of different and inclusive engagement processes.
  2. Substantive equitable outcomes are legal and policy solutions and programs that seek to distribute access to the benefits of programs and investments according to specific local needs and remedy historic and ongoing underinvestment in communities.See footnote 14 

Authors and Acknowledgements



Authors and Project Management and Oversight

Project Co-Directors: Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate, Georgetown Climate Center (GCC) and Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission (CRPC)

Lead Project Supporter: Suhasini Ghosh, Justice Fellow, GCC 

Lead Editor: Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate, GCC

Authors and co-editors:

  • Introduction: Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate, GCC; Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, CRPC; Peter Rafle, Communications Director, GCC; and Mark Rupp, Adaptation Program Director, GCC
  • Goal One: Katerine McCormick, Institute Associate, GCC
  • Goal Two: Annie Bennett, Associate Adaptation Program Director, GCC
  • Goal Three: Jennifer Li, Staff Attorney, Harrison Institute for Public Law, Georgetown University Law Center (GULC)
  • Goal Four: Katie Spidalieri, Senior Associate, GCC
  • Goal Five: Suhasini Ghosh, Justice Fellow, GCC 

In addition to the above authors and editors, the following staff provided strategic editorial support and oversight: Kathryn Zyla, Executive Director, GCC; Jamie Setze, Executive Director, CRPC; and Kim Marousek, Director of Planning, CRPC. 

Also, the following students contributed significant research and/or writing for the Regional Vision and accompanying case studies and Adaptation Clearinghouse entries:

  • Caitlyn Cook, Research Assistant and Summer Research Fellow, GCC; 
  • Jesse Elliott, Spring Research Assistant and Summer Research Fellow, GCC;
  • Lillian Zhou, Research Assistant, GCC;
  • Noelle Gignoux, Research Assistant, GCC;
  • Alexandra Baird, Research Assistant, GCC;
  • Maren Kaiser, Environmental and Energy Law LL.M. Program Student, GULC; 
  • Morgan McCue, Masters in Environmental Meteorology and Policy Student, Georgetown University;
  • Rolland Giberson, Clinic Student, Harrison Institute for Public Law, GULC;
  • Linn Groft, Clinic Student, Harrison Institute for Public Law, GULC; and
  • David Leeds, Clinic Student, Harrison Institute for Public Law, GULC. 

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for its generous support, and without whom the partnership effort in Louisiana and this work would not have been possible. 

On behalf of GCC and CRPC, words cannot adequately express the gratitude we have for the members of the Protecting Our Resilient Waters of Louisiana or “PROWL” Work Group who have contributed to this effort with their time and expertise over the course of two years:

  • Bridget Bailey
    Director of the Office of Community Development with Tangipahoa Parish
  • Dr. Angela Chalk
    Founder and Executive Director of Healthy Community Services
  • Dr. Thomas Douthat
    Associate Professor with Louisiana State University, College of the Coast and Environment
  • Dr. Monica Farris
    Director of UNO-CHART (University of New Orleans-Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology)
  • Jerome Fournier
    Director of Planning and Development with Ascension Parish
  • Devin Foil
    Planner with HNTB
  • Dr. Robert Habans
    Economist with the Data Center
  • Lyneisha Jackson
    Community Planner with the Center for Planning Excellence
  • Dr. Tara Lambeth
    Director of Planning and Zoning with St. John the Baptist Parish 
  • Ross Liner
    Director of Planning and Development with St. Tammany Parish
  • Andreanecia Morris
    Executive Director of Housing New Orleans/Housing Louisiana
  • René C. Pastorek
    Formerly Director of Planning and Development with Saint. John the Baptist Parish
  • David Summers
    Chief Operating Officer of Partners Southeast
  • Nichelle Taylor
    Program Director for Policy Development and Implementation with Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance
  • Karen Zito
    Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Homebuilders Association of Greater Baton Rouge

In addition to the PROWL Work Group, CRPC and GCC are grateful to two local facilitators, Dr. Angela Chalk, Executive Director of Healthy Community Services in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dr. Lucas Diaz, a Doctoral Fellow of the City, Culture, and Community Program at Tulane University, who helped us lead the virtual visioning sessions in November 2021. 

We also appreciate the diligent work of the following individuals who helped us finalize and launch the Regional Vision and case studies: Caren Fitzgerald, Communications Associate, GCC; Kelly Cruce, Adaptation Consultant, GCC; and Brent Futrell, Director of Design, Office of Communication, GULC.

Finally, we would also like to specially thank and acknowledge the following individuals for taking the time to speak with us, participate in our events, review drafts, and provide insights that were invaluable in helping to inform the development of the Regional Vision and case studies: 

  • Manny Patole, Independent Consultant;
  • Jonathan Knopf, Housing Forward Virginia;
  • Robin Davey Wolff, Senior Program Director, Rural Housing, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.;
  • Laurie Shoeman, National Director, Resilience and Disaster Recovery, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.;
  • John Sullivan, Senior Program Director, State and Local Policy, Gulf Coast, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.;
  • Jackie Dadakis, Chief Executive Officer, Green Coast Enterprises;
  • Kentrell Jones, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity;
  • Sheila Foster, Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Urban Law and Policy, Georgetown University Law Center and Professor of Public Policy, Georgetown University; 
  • Christopher Tyson, formerly Chief Executive Officer, Build Baton Rouge;
  • Gretchen Siemers, Director, Planning and Special Projects, Build Baton Rouge;
  • Lee E. Melancon, III, Director of Community and Economic Development, Mayor’s Office of Community and Economic Development, City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana;
  • Michael Marrella, Director, Waterfront and Open Space, New York City Department of City Planning, New York;
  • Bithia Ratnasamy, Director of Housing, Executive Office, Atlanta Housing, City of Atlanta, Georgia;
  • Carolina Rodriguez, Project Manager, Housing and Community Development, Department of City Planning, City of Atlanta, Georgia;
  • Jaren Abedania, formerly Vice President of Real Estate, Westside Future Fund;
  • Bridget Wiles, Chief Operations Officer, APD Urban Planning and Management, LLC;
  • O. Jesse Wiles, Principal and Chief Executive Officer, APD Urban Planning and Management, LLC;
  • Amber Weaver, Sustainability Officer, Office of Sustainability, City of Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Paul D’Angelo, formerly Community Development Program Director, City of Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Stacy Merten, formerly Long-Range Planning Manager, Planning and Urban Design Department, City of Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Vaidila Satvika, Urban Planner, Planning and Urban Design Department, City of Asheville, North Carolina;
  • Dana Nunez Brown, President, Dana Brown and Associates, Inc.;
  • Uwe Brandes, Professor of the Practice and Faculty Director, Urban and Regional Planning Program, Georgetown University;
  • Scott Davis, Principal, Scott Davis Solutions;
  • Marc Coudert, Office of Sustainability, City of Austin, Texas;
  • Erica Leak, Development Officer, Housing and Planning Department, City of Austin, Texas;
  • Erin Wood, Planner, Watershed Protection Department, City of Austin, Texas;
  • Isaac W. Stein, Design Principal, Dept.;
  • Maggie Tsang, Managing Principal, Dept.; 
  • Debbie Love, City Planner, City of North Miami, Florida;
  • Christopher G. Miller, President, The Piedmont Environmental Council;
  • John McCarthy, Senior Advisor and Director of Strategic Partnerships, The Piedmont Environmental Council;
  • Cameron Herrington, Living Cully Program Manager, Oregon;
  • Crystal Launder, Housing Planner, Department of Housing and Human Services, City of Boulder, Colorado;
  • Jackie Baumann, Chief Engineer, City of Gonzales, Louisiana;
  • Jack Harris, President and Chief Executive Officer, VIP International, Inc.;
  • Dave Canaan, formerly Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Director, Land Use and Environmental Services Agency, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina;
  • Gerard Landry, Mayor, City of Denham Springs, Louisiana;
  • Darryl Neher, Chief Executive Officer, Fauquier Habitat for Humanity;
  • Elizabeth (Betsy) L. Dietel, Senior Partner, Dietel and Partners;
  • Joel Holton, Owner, J.B. Holton and Associates, LLC;
  • Brian Daly, Senior Planner, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois;
  • Kate Evasic, Local Planning, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois;
  • Jared Patton, Associate Planner, Plan Implementation, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois;
  • Cindy Cambray, Senior Planner, Local Planning, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois;
  • Lindsay Bayley, Senior Planner, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Illinois;
  • Drew Williams-Clark, Managing Director, Urban Resilience, Center for Neighborhood Technology, Illinois;
  • Jeremy Sharp, Zoning Administrator, City of Norfolk, Virginia;
  • Victor J. Franckiewicz, Jr., Attorney, Butler Snow LLP; 
  • Michelle Gonzales, Director, Ecosystem and Coastal Management, Jefferson Parish, Louisiana;
  • Christian Kamrath, Adaptation Program Coordinator, Office of Resilience, Miami-Dade County, Florida;
  • Bishop E. René Soulé, Chief Executive Officer, E. René Soulé and Associates; 
  • Tameika Devine, Possibilities Institute (former City Councilmember and Chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force, City of Columbia, South Carolina);
  • Krystle Okafor, Plank Road Community Land Bank Trust, City–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  • Joni Hammons, Project Manager, Center for Planning Excellence;
  • Janet Tharp, Center for Planning Excellence; 
  • Simone Higginbotham, Scotlandville Community Development Corporation, North Baton Rouge, Louisiana; 
  • Rinaldi Jacobs, Full Circle Development;
  • Erica Sims, HDAdvisors, Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (Richmond, Virginia); 
  • Ashley Allen, Executive Director, Houston Community Land Trust, Texas;
  • Marny Stein, Senior Planner, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana;
  • Jessica Netto, Planner II, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana;
  • Becky Bond, Director Economic Development and Communications, City of Baker, Louisiana;
  • Rick Foster, Building Official, City of Denham Springs, Louisiana;
  • Alfredo Cruz, Director of Institutional Capacity, HousingLOUISIANA;
  • Kristin Marcell, Director, Climigration Network at the Consensus Building Institute;
  • Rex Cabaniss, Principal Planning and Design Director, WHLC Architecture;
  • Jackson Voss, Policy Analyst, Louisiana Budget Project;
  • Nathan Rupp, Senior Economic Justice Fellow, Foundation for Louisiana;
  • Pamela J. Jenkins, Research Professor of Sociology (Emerita), University of New Orleans;
  • Jack Gautreaux, Chairman, Tangipahoa Planning Commission Member;
  • Marlee Pittman, Director of Community Revitalization, City–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  • Kellyn LaCour-Conant, Restoration Programs Director, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana;
  • Teal Harrison, Climate Resilience Specialist, Adaptation International; and
  • Tareq Wafaie, Principle-in-Charge, Kendig Keast Collaborative.

No statements or opinions contained within the Regional Vision or affiliated case studies and entries in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse should be attributed to any individual or organization included in the above Acknowledgements.  


For comments or questions about the Regional Vision please, contact Katie Spidalieri at Katie.Spidalieri@georgetown.edu or climate@georgetown.edu.

Goal One: Greaux nature-based solutions for community resilience.


Introduction

Communities within Region Seven will continually and increasingly deal with more flooding and extreme weather events (See the Introduction). As these communities develop laws, plans, policies, and projects that will aim to increase resilience, it is vital that any efforts incorporate the consideration of nature-based solutions. These efforts should also be supported and informed by extensive community engagement and outreach processes. Each individual community within Region Seven is unique, and any actions that address flooding must be driven and informed by residents. This is particularly important in overburdened and underresourced underrepresented communities, where one flood could be the difference between renting, or owning, a home and experiencing houselessness. Further still, these efforts can also have the added benefit of offering access to higher-paying jobs and improved quality of life in the communities where they are implemented, all while reducing flood risk.See footnote 15 

The aim of this goal is to outline the steps that regional and local policymakers may take to ensure that community voices and input are centered in the development of any plan or project that works toward building comprehensive community resilience. In addition to emphasizing community outreach, these objectives also highlight the importance that green, nature-based projects and programs have in creating lasting community resilience. While the five objectives outlined below offer ways in which policymakers can take community engagement and nature-based solutions into account, they are not meant to be exhaustive, nor does this analysis contain all of the considerations and challenges that may arise during the development and implementation of related strategies. 

A community can become more resilient by building new and adapting existing infrastructure like roads, as well as stormwater and wastewater systems, to withstand climate impacts, and by prioritizing investments in projects that help to reduce flooding impacts. Many of these infrastructure updates will similarly involve nature-based solutions and projects, which will be discussed in the following part (See Goal Two) of the Regional Vision. This goal emphasizes the importance of creating more resilient laws, plans, policies, and projects with significant input from communities and an emphasis on prioritizing nature-based projects. 


Background: The Importance of Community-Driven, Nature-Based Resilience

Local laws, policies, plans, and projects that build community resilience should center residents’ voices and input, especially in overburdened and underresourced communities. This is vital to facilitating resilience and ensuring that these efforts capture and respond to the needs specific to each community. Studies have shown that communities that have meaningful engagement with their residents throughout the development of a plan or project are better able to address long-term challenges, such as those posed by climate change.See footnote 16  In the case of flooding impacts and disaster resilience, when community outreach is effective, it can lead to several beneficial outcomes. For more information on the benefits of community outreach and engagement and best practices on how to ensure that community voices are heard and honored, see Objective 5.1. In short, community engagement on resilience-based topics provides opportunities to grow resilience, and also address and improve other existing socioeconomic challenges facing people.

In addition to engaging with residents, green, nature-based solutions are vital aspects of building resilience at different scales. Nature-based solutions are actions that incorporate sustainable, environmental systems, and/or processes into the built environment to improve a community’s adaptive capacity by mitigating flood risk, reducing temperatures, improving air quality, and more.See footnote 17  Nature-based solutions can include projects like restoring and protecting wetlands, installing greenways and blueways, and planting trees. These types of projects also have social (e.g., cooler temperatures, more passive recreational opportunities), environmental (e.g., improved water and air quality, healthier wildlife habitats), and economic (e.g., increased property value, stable or growing tax base) co-benefits. Many of these co-benefits will be discussed in subsequent objectives that detail specific nature-based solutions that parishes and municipalities can consider. 

There is no “one size fits all” nature-based solution for any area that will completely eliminate the risks of hazards like flooding and sea-level rise.See footnote 18  “Choosing a solution depends on a number of factors, including the level of natural hazard risk reduction, land use planning, economics and more.”See footnote 19  As a result, it is vital to engage with communities early and often throughout the development of a related legal, planning, policy, and/or project initiative, to better learn the unique characteristics that affect a community’s vulnerabilities. 

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives that were identified as priorities through the process to develop the Regional Vision. Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every action a jurisdiction could implement to “greaux” or grow nature-based community resilience. Moreover, these objectives are only intended to serve as a starting point for many but likely not all parishes, municipalities, and communities in Region Seven and Louisiana that are already taking resilience actions with an emphasis on community engagement. As such, policymakers may consider and see all or parts of their community in one, all, or some of the objectives. The objectives are also informed by informational interviews, case studies, and other resources to suggest how policymakers may evaluate and use them in practice. 

Objective 1.1:

Design community-led resilience planning frameworks — Design and facilitate community-led and -centered resilience planning processes and project co-development frameworks for open space and other nature-based solutions like green streets.

The Need

Developing a community plan or nature-based project that helps build community resilience with significant stakeholder input can help to ensure that any resulting plan or project is tailored specifically to a community’s individual strengths, vulnerabilities, and assets. While these plans should be community-led and centered, policymakers can still assist in helping to create general frameworks upon which more neighborhood-specific plans can be based.

Across the United States, there is an overarching lack of trust in a government’s ability to implement resilience projects. In the past, many approaches to facilitate community resilience have not necessarily taken a more holistic approach to plan development in viewing the social, economic, and historical challenges that make each community unique.See footnote 20 Even in instances where a community has been consulted, residents may not be involved in the implementation of those laws, plans, policies, and projects. To build and maintain trust with residents, policymakers should encourage continued transparency and make concerted efforts at engaging with the community, including when developing and updating laws, plans, programs, and projects that “greaux” or grow local resilience through open space and nature-based solutions. In an effort to encourage this practice and institutionalize community engagement in planning and policymaking efforts, public participation laws can be amended or construed more widely to promote opportunities for community engagement (e.g., creating advisory boards staffed by community leaders, developing and tracking community engagement metrics).


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

This part outlines four types of actions regional and local policymakers can take to ensure that laws, plans, policies, and projects around open space and nature-based solutions are designed with significant and meaningful community engagement. These four steps are:

  • Creating and implementing plans;
  • Updating land-use and zoning laws and policies;
  • Proposing and implementing projects; and
  • Strengthening regional and local public participation laws and policies.

While there are some overlapping considerations for each of these entry points into nature-based processes, it is important to call out each one separately because planning, land use and zoning, and projects can occur together or in distinct tracks. Ideally, cumulative, sequential processes — from planning to land use and zoning to project implementation — can help build on and reinforce one another to maximize alignment. In contrast, the fourth type of action related to public participation laws and policies is an overarching action that cuts across all of the other three. Regardless of the approach, however, each category requires equitable engagement with the community that is iterative and long-term.

These four actions are not meant to be inclusive of any and all actions a policymaker can make to ensure that resilience processes for nature-based solutions are community-centered. Instead, they should be viewed as some initial and priority ways that policymakers can evaluate to start to build more robust decisionmaking frameworks. This is in contrast to providing “how-to” steps to construct such a framework. For a more robust discussion on the importance of community engagement in the creation of plans, the development of land-use and zoning laws and land-use policies, the implementation of projects, and the strengthening of regional and local public participation laws and policies more generally, see Objective 5.1. In contrast to that objective, this part of the Regional Vision will discuss these four approaches more narrowly, in the context of facilitating stronger community resilience to flooding and extreme weather events.

Planning

Plans can set a comprehensive framework that guides how laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Plans go by many names and take a variety of forms. They are developed at different and multiple levels of government and are prepared on multiple geographic scales. Some are legally required and others are out-of-cycle or discretionary.

Credit: Build Baton Rouge, Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development 12 (Nov. 2019), available at https://buildbatonrouge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Imagine-Plank-Road_Final-Report_2019.11.06_web.pdf.

Specific to this objective, parishes and municipalities can work with communities to prioritize open space and nature-based considerations in different ways. This can include collaborating with the community in the design of jurisdiction-wide local comprehensive plans or in the development of more discrete plans focused on preserving and increasing the amount of green space in a given neighborhood. Regardless of the type of plan, all planning documents should be created in collaboration with impacted residents. Within Region Seven alone, neighborhoods and communities differ in terms of population, the socioeconomic status of residents, access to resources, cultural history, community assets, climate vulnerabilities, and more. By centering community engagement in these processes, policymakers and planners can learn about the strengths, vulnerabilities, and existing assets and initiatives that the community has, and tailor specific initiatives to address these unique characteristics. In doing so, any resulting plan will better address the unique challenges each community faces. 

One action policymakers can take to help ensure that community voices are heard in the creation of a plan is to host expansive community workshops with diverse stakeholders to better understand what types of planning and projects will best benefit specific neighborhoods.  For example, in Miami-Dade County, the creation of the Sea Level Rise Strategy involved hosting community events, workshops, presentations, online surveys, and conferences.See footnote 21  By the end of the design process, the County’s Office of Resilience had heard from almost 400 stakeholders, whose input helped to prioritize the adaptive and resilience strategies that were ultimately recommended in the final strategy. 

Facilitating community-led planning processes means involving community members early and often in the development and implementation of any related plan. Along with hosting events (both online and in-person), policymakers and planners can also create specific outreach strategies and ensure they are accompanied by engagement metrics, which can measure outreach and resilience plan success. This can help parishes and municipalities better streamline and institutionalize community engagement in agency or policymaking actions. Kresge Foundation’s Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework offers examples of outreach actions policymakers can take when developing an adaptation or resilience plan and “interventions” or metrics that can keep the goals included in the plans “on track.” 

Land Use and Zoning 

​Creating and updating local land-use and/or zoning ordinances can be used to increase nature-based solutions in a community. Local governments have the primary authority to regulate land uses in their communities through zoning and floodplain ordinances. Land use is connected to, but also distinct from zoning. Land use contemplates the economic and cultural “human use of land” and the different uses of public and private land. It also directly affects land cover pertaining to impervious and green surfaces, which can, in turn, affect flooding and stormwater — ultimately affecting a community’s resilience. Essentially, land use planning not only determines where a community allows or does not allow development, but also what communities can choose to cover the land with. Conversely, land-use and zoning ordinances provide the legal framework that governs the use and development of land in a municipality according to different districts based on the uses that are permitted (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial). The use of land use and zoning as specific tools to expand the promulgation of nature-based solutions and projects will be discussed in Objective 1.2. This part of the Regional Strategy pertains to how community engagement should be integrated into land use and zoning discussions.

Because of historical land-use and planning practices, some communities are more heavily impacted by the effects of industrial activities, like decreased air quality and more smog than others. These places typically also have less access to green, open spaces and nature-based projects and solutions. Community members are often the best sources to hear from regarding a first-hand basis about the effects that these historical practices have had on their neighborhoods. Land-use and zoning designations can be used to promote nature-based solutions, which can help to mitigate the impacts of poor air quality and increase access to open spaces. Thus, when amending land-use and zoning practices to take these inequities into account and create more resilient, green neighborhoods, community stakeholders' voices should be heard. 

For example, Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework spotlights the work done by the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy (CEED) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the process of rezoning certain areas of the City, CEED promoted the use of a community-based tool — the Twin Cities Environmental Justice Mapping Tool — which works to incorporate “hard data to the experiences of impacted communities” pertaining to air quality, land use, and more.See footnote 22  As a result of CEED’s recommendation that Minneapolis planners use community-driven data and voices in this process, the city ultimately committed to rezoning several environmental justice communities as “green zones.” “Green zoning” created a new designation for these neighborhoods that now specifically targets them for new green infrastructure projects and programs. This case study emphasizes the impact that community engagement and community-driven data can have on amending land use and zoning laws and plans, especially in those neighborhoods that typically have less access to green spaces and have to deal with reduced air quality. 

Projects 

There are several different types of nature-based projects or programs that can be implemented or installed within a community that can help drive community resilience. Examples and scales can vary from planting a few trees in a small area within a community to help with stormwater filtration to restoring acres of land back to their natural state to offer ecosystem services and mitigate flood impacts. 

Because a community experiences impacts from flooding and extreme weather events first-hand, the people that live in these areas are often the most familiar with what their neighborhood needs to become more resilient. Therefore, in order to determine what type of nature-based project or program can best benefit a community and improve resilience, it is vital that neighborhood stakeholders are consulted early and often in a project’s design and implementation process. Educating communities on what types of stormwater and green infrastructure projects can help with creating community resilience is extremely important, and is discussed in Objective 5.1. Nature-based projects that involve heavy community engagement throughout the process are oftentimes the most successful in helping a community become more resilient. 

For example, in the City of North Miami, a previously vacant lot (to be discussed further in Objective 1.3) was redeveloped to create the Good Neighbor Stormwater Park: an open space available for recreation that doubles as stormwater detention to help with local flood prevention. From the inception of the project, community engagement was a priority for project planners. Community outreach actions included hosting convenings (including public or individual, one-on-one meetings) in a variety of languages to help ensure that a wider variety of stakeholders would have the opportunity to be heard. After an extensive engagement process, the resulting design was extremely community-friendly, and incorporated a variety of recreational opportunities the community members had prioritized throughout the planning process — while also providing flood mitigation benefits. 

On a larger, neighborhood-wide scale, the City of New Orleans worked extensively with the community in the design and implementation of the Gentilly Resilience District and the individual green infrastructure and nature-based programs that make up the project as a whole. Community engagement activities included presentations and workshops held by the city to determine what problems the Gentilly community faced due to flooding, options on how these problems could be addressed, and the benefits that nature-based solutions like water gardens and blue/green corridors projects could have for the community. Throughout these meetings, stakeholders were encouraged to offer insights on the unique characteristics of their community and what green infrastructure projects and amenities they would like to see prioritized by the city. In implementing many of the Gentilly Resilience District programs, community outreach directly impacted what types of green infrastructure were introduced into the community. 

In both instances, these types and levels of extensive engagement made specific projects of the Gentilly Resilience District (like the Mirabeau Water Garden and the improvements to the Pontilly Neighborhood stormwater network) and the Good Neighbor Stormwater Park more successful in helping to make these communities more resilient.

Public Participation Laws and Policies  

From a more generalized standpoint, one way to help ensure that a resilience framework is centered and directed by affected communities is to legally strengthen public participation laws so that policymakers are required to meaningfully collaborate with residents in the development of climate resilience plans or projects. Relating to community resilience and nature-based projects and programs specifically, potential options include:

  • Creating or funding positions for staff or environmental commissions/councils dedicated to public outreach and engagement (see, e.g., the City of Charleston, South Carolina, and the creation of a Chief Resilience Officer and the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability);
  • Adopting a set of principles and minimum standards that can guide how local governments should conduct outreach with community stakeholders, with an emphasis on determining a community’s vulnerabilities and priorities pertaining to flooding and extreme weather events (see, e.g., Five Guiding Principles, in Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework); 
  • Incorporating public participation metrics as a part of post-engagement reviews of government resilience actions or nature-based project implementation to actively manage and adapt these policies and projects over time and/or in response to individual decisionmaking processes (e.g., to monitor and manage the implementation of relevant plans);  and 
  • Creating a public system or database that allows for sharing of best public engagement practices relating to resilience plans, projects, or programs between municipalities and parishes (see, e.g., Justice Mapping Tool, Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework; New York City (NYC) Rezoning Commitments Tracker).

By strengthening public participation laws and policies at a local level, decisionmakers can help increase opportunities for meaningful and equitable collaboration with a community in developing a plan, law, policy, or project that addresses a community’s adaptive capacity and resilience. To meaningfully reflect community ideals and needs, this type of public participation will need to be particularly robust, and may even need to involve compensating residents for their time, ensuring that stakeholder groups are representative of the community, etc. For more information generally on how to strengthen public participation and engagement laws (without a specific focus on resilience), see Objective 5.1.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When developing or amending a resilience plan, policy, or project with an emphasis on community engagement, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above recommendations:

  • Plan with an eye toward implementation 
  • Build local partnerships
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation
  • Create cross-jurisdictional mediums or centralized systems for sharing data and best practices
  • Raise the voices of overburdened, underresourced communities
  • Develop community-specific engagement methods

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

  • Lead with data: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different plans to further a government’s resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents by asking them to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to immediate action, which can be especially true relating to plans, policies, or projects that relate to flooding. Instead, plans, policies, and projects should be developed with the intention that they will be implemented in ways that support community-driven resilience laws, policies, and projects. The Little River AAA provides an example of how a community-led and implementation-focused strategic plan is already helping the city make progress on economic development, resilience, and other initiatives. In this instance, community stakeholders collaborated directly with the government to provide insights into the resilience projects that were ultimately recommended and prioritized within the plan.
  • Build local partnerships: Building partnerships between public and private organizations and community stakeholder groups is vital to creating community-centered planning processes. Local organizations and stakeholders on the ground will often have lived experiences and better first-hand knowledge of local perspectives and the challenges that residents face relative to flooding and extreme weather events. Partners can include local officials or decisionmakers that are already involved in the community, community interest groups, and academic institutions that already have a presence in the community and are working to facilitate community resilience. Parishes should work to incorporate this knowledge and these lived experiences into planning processes relating to nature-based projects and open space solutions. 

    For example, with the Mirabeau Rain Gardens (Gentilly Resilience District) project, the City of New Orleans partnered with private developers and Greater New Orleans, Inc., which is a regional organization operating within a ten-parish region that works to create more economically resilient communities. In collaboration with the Sisters of St. Joseph, the convent that owned the land, 25-acres of previously vacant space was redeveloped to provide a community amenity that offers recreational and flood mitigation benefits. Because the city collaborated and built partnerships with organizations and individuals already working within the community, they were able to lease the land for $1 and implement a nature-based project that is community-centered and greatly benefits its residents.

  • Create cross-jurisdictional mediums or centralized systems for sharing data and best practices: Weaved throughout this objective is the consistent theme of collaboration between various levels of government among each other and with community stakeholders. Resources on a local government level are often limited, and endeavors to reduce the duplication of research and other efforts are welcome. As localities and parishes begin to better integrate community engagement and outreach into the creation of resilience laws, plans, policies, and projects, to avoid duplicative efforts and their associated costs, best practices and successes should be recorded for the benefit of other jurisdictions. Data collected from community members (i.e., first-hand accounts of flooding, Census information, flood maps) during the design and implementation of resilience plans, policies, and projects can be stored in a database or centralized for future use; as can metrics analysis of the success of the resulting projects and plans. Creating an index or database where data on flooding and extreme weather events, as well as best practices of resulting resilience plans and projects, can help to avoid duplicating research efforts and allow parishes and municipalities to learn from each other on what types of resilience plans, policies, and projects work for different types of communities. For more information on centralized data resources, see Objective 5.3 and Objective 5.4.
  • Raise the voices of overburdened and underresourced communitiesIt is vital to center equity and raise the voices of overburdened and underresourced community residents in the creation of a resilience or adaptation framework, since these are the individuals being “hit first and worst” by the impacts of climate drivers, flooding, and extreme weather events. Because of this, hearing from these communities is vital to the development of any law, plan, policy, or program that works to address these impacts. To ensure that these voices are heard, policymakers developing a resilience plan or framework can: (1) center equity when beginning planning processes and implementing resilience initiatives; (2) support empowered communities by including the insights of community members and residents relating to flooding and extreme weather events; (3) engage effectively through holding convenings and reaching as many stakeholders as possible; (4) hold themselves accountable and ensuring transparency in the implementation of resilience projects, plans, or policies; and (5) build on the social cohesion of a society that works towards the well being of all of its members in creating a more resilience, overall community.See footnote 23 
  • Develop community-specific engagement mehtods: There is no standardized approach to engaging with communities. Regardless, in any approach, it is important to create spaces of accountability and co-design with community members through formalized groups, such as community advisory committees, to craft effective and equitable strategies and implement some of the practice tips listed above. To develop equitable solutions for a community, policymakers need to comprehensively understand the needs of the community they are serving relating to flooding and hazard events. Equitable engagement will vary based on a number of factors including but not limited to, how much time decisionmakers spend working with and learning from residents impacted by a given government initiative, a community’s demographics, culture, and history, and a community’s ability to access resources. It is important to understand the unique characteristics of a community in order to determine the ways to most meaningfully interact with and learn from residents to better facilitate community resilience and the implementation of adaptation projects.

    The Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework document lays out some of the ways in which policymakers can take their communities’ unique characteristics into account when deciding how best to reach out to the community they are seeking to assist. The framework highlights Gulf South Rising, which is a coordinated organization across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida that takes an intersectional approach to movement building for adapting to sea-level rise. Gulf South Rising works to emphasize that outreach and engagement to these communities — and the organizations that serve their needs — must be approached from a stakeholder-driven perspective. In other words, developing methods to encourage community outreach that will later inform a resilience plan, project, policy, or program must be tailor-made to fit that specific community.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework (2015)

In October 2021, the National Association of Climate Resilience Planners and the Movement Strategy Center, in collaboration with various other nongovernmental organizations, released the Community-Driven Climate Resilience Planning: A Framework. The Framework’s authors advocate that communities on the frontlines and most exposed to the impacts of climate change be involved in developing any plan that helps build their resilience to these impacts. The more these communities participate in the planning process, any resulting plans will be more effective. Guided by this idea, the report lays out seven essential components of creating a community-driven resilience plan: (1) co-developing the planning model; (2) facilitating community power building; (3) creating a bold visioning strategy; (4) defining the problem with the help of the community; (5) assessing community exposure to climate impacts; (6) developing solutions through leveraging partnerships; and (7) ensuring that the planning process is kept “on track.” Made primarily as a guide for community-based organizations assisting in the development of climate solutions, the Framework is also designed to be useful for philanthropic organizations working to address the climate crisis, as well as public officials promoting resilience. 

Sea Level Rise Strategy for Charleston, South Carolina

The City of Charleston, South Carolina released a Sea Level Rise Strategy in 2015 with recommendations on actions the city can take to improve its long-term resilience to sea-level rise (SLR) and recurrent flooding. The purpose of this document is to inform and provide an overall strategy and guiding framework to protect lives and property, maintain a thriving economy, and improve the quality of life by making the City more resilient to sea-level rise and recurrent flooding. The strategy includes current and proposed initiatives developed by a sea-level rise task force. The initiatives aim to achieve several primary goals: to put in place systems that prevent or reduce the impacts of SLR and significant rainfall, to ensure public safety given potential flooding, and to ensure community and economic recovery in the event of a flood. Many of the initiatives include direct outreach and engagement with communities, local businesses, and neighborhood stakeholders in an effort to implement strategy recommendations. Additionally, in 2018, the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability was created to provide leadership and foster collaboration to champion sustainability efforts across Charleston.

City of New York, New York: New York City (NYC) Rezoning Commitments Tracker

The New York City (NYC) Rezoning Commitments Tracker (Tracker) is an online tool that enables city residents to monitor the city’s progress in implementing several neighborhood-level comprehensive plans. The neighborhood plans, referred to generally as “rezonings,” include zoning code changes as well as city commitments to specific capital and programmatic investments. The Tracker serves as a resource to catalog the city’s specific commitments in each of the rezoning neighborhoods, view the progress on each commitment, and identify the agency leading each project or action item. The tool can be used to both inform the city’s internal coordination and project management as well as provide external transparency for community members. The Tracker also serves to help users understand how zoning changes will manifest in tangible projects, translating the technical information from neighborhood rezoning plans into specific initiatives. Other local governments could consider developing and maintaining similar online tools to support and implement community-led decisionmaking processes including for adaptation and resilience.

FEMA Community Rating System

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary program that incentivizes participants to take community floodplain management practices that reduce flood risk and exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). As a result, CRS jurisdictions can earn discounts on NFIP flood insurance premiums for their residents and gain additional benefits to build overall community resilience. The NFIP offers reduced flood insurance to all properties in communities that comply with federally designated minimum standards for floodplain management. The CRS accredits a jurisdiction’s flood adaptation efforts that go beyond those minimum standards by decreasing flood insurance premiums for property owners. Included among the actions to accrue CRS credits are activities that provide greater public access to information. This can include developing Programs for Public Information, which is a public outreach program designed to educate residents about flood hazards and adaptation. Over 1,500 communities participate in CRS nationwide.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of North Miami, Florida: Good Neighbor Stormwater Park and Repetitive Loss Master Plan

The City of North Miami, Florida Good Neighbor Stormwater Park is a public open space with the capacity for local flood prevention, doubling as a stormwater reservoir. A repurposed vacant lot within North Miami’s residential neighborhood of Sunny Acres, this adaptive stormwater green infrastructure is vegetated with an array of native trees and plants, while also acting as a communal space with walking paths and artistic structures that educate the public on flooding hazards. Before deciding on the Stormwater Park project and its amenities, project leaders conducted surveys to ask residents about flood risks and what community members would like to see reflected in a project addressing those risks. Because o the responses, ultimately, the Stormwater Park incorporates a central basin with a walking trail.

Miami-Dade County, Florida: Sea Level Rise Strategy

In February 2021, Miami-Dade County, in collaboration with private consulting partners, released the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. The strategy outlines the five different ways that the County, its agencies, and its partners can facilitate county-wide adaptation to climate impacts, especially sea-level rise: 1.) building on fill; 2.) building like the keys; 3.) building on high ground around transit; 4.) expanding greenways and blueways; and 5.) creating blue and green neighborhoods. To help advance these five approaches, the strategy outlines ten strategic actions built on previous work done throughout the county to help communities prepare for increased flooding and higher sea levels. The Strategy is a result of an expansive effort relating to community engagement. Over the course of development, the county heard from almost 400 participants about what resilience actions would be most beneficial in their communities through a variety of different types of outreach, including workshops, tabling events, presentations, and focus groups.

Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund

The Southeast Sustainable Communities Fund (SSCF) supports local communities in the southeastern United States to advance climate adaptation and social equity in local government policy, plans, or programs. Grants have been awarded to city and county governments and local partnerships to create socially equitable sustainable energy and/or water initiatives. The grants support those initiatives that address climate change “by centering people and their experiences.” The fund invested $1.5 million in 2017 for six projects, and has allocated nearly $1.8 million in 2018 in support of six more sustainability projects in the Southeast that are addressing climate change impacts, to be implemented across 2019-2020. The SSCF 2019 funding opportunity offered five to seven grants of approximately $75,000 to $150,000 per year for two years.

Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit 2.1

Developed by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), the Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit contains development standards that are designed to support hazard mitigation and natural resource protection in the coastal areas of Louisiana. The Toolkit offers a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, in particular for those communities facing coastal and stormwater flooding. The Toolkit includes model zoning and subdivision codes that can be used to build more resilient coastal communities that are adaptive to these climate impacts and others, by adopting sustainable development and Smart Growth principles. The model ordinances can be used individually and tailored for the needs of each parish or municipality, or may be combined to create a complete development code. CPEX also provides an implementation handbook, which emphasizes the importance of developing a community-informed vision relating to development.  

Greauxing Resilience at Home — Miami-Dade County, Florida: Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan

The Little River Adaptation Action Area (AAA) plan was released in January 2022 as part of the process to implement the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Adaptation Action Areas are locations that are especially prone to climate impacts like coastal flooding so that they can be prioritized for funding and planning purposes. The Little River AAA is made up of parts of the City of Miami, as well as the Village of El Portal and two unincorporated areas. Identified as one of the communities in that area most susceptible to climate impacts, Miami-Dade County’s Office of Resilience, in collaboration with Florida’s Department of the Department of Environmental Protection and private partners like Savino-Miller Design, developed the adaptation plan to address existing conditions across five sectors by offering distinct adaptation tools that can help mitigate the impacts of climate within each sector. From this plan, local policymakers and planners can take the generalized idea behind AAA — and the practice of making adaptation plans more specific to localities — as well as the specific projects and programs recommended within the document and implement them in their own communities. The development of the Little River AAA plan involved significant community engagement — over the course of its design and development, partners hosted five online forums dedicated to listening to residents’ lived experiences. The five sectors on which the adaptation tools are based — stormwater and drainage, septic systems and sewer, parks and green spaces, housing, and streets and transportation — evolved directly from these conversations, wherein these individuals and entities helped to determine long-standing and emerging issues within the AAA.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Gentilly Resilience District Projects

In 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city’s vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans. The strategy outlines various recommendations, which all go towards one of three main goals: adapting to thrive, connecting to opportunity, and transforming city systems. One project featured in Resilient New Orleans is the Mirabeau Water Gardens project. Informed by the design and stormwater management features outlined in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the Mirabeau Water Gardens project, once completed, will serve as a recreational, environmentally friendly amenity for the community that also reduces flood risk. Additional projects a part of the Gentilly Resilience District include the Pontilly Neighborhood Stormwater and the Blue and Green Corridors projects. Throughout the development of the plans and programs relating to the Gentilly Resilience District, local policymakers offered numerous opportunities for community input. Most of the projects not only increase community resilience, but also offer new spaces for the community to gather, educate residents on the benefits associated with green infrastructure, and incorporate safe walking and biking paths throughout the neighborhood. Many of the projects incorporated into the overall resilience district involved community engagement action, including presentations on current flood risks, conversations around what projects residents would like to see prioritized, and more.

Objective 1.2:

Encourage and facilitate the development of green projects and resilience districts or neighborhoods to ensure that everyone has access to green, open spaces.

The Need

Increasing the number of open, green spaces or resilience districts within a community and access to them is vital to developing community-wide resilience. This part will first define green spaces, resilience districts, and related nature-based projects that are focused on broader, neighborhood resilience, and how they function within a community. It will then detail some of the benefits associated with increased access to green spaces and resilience districts pertaining to public health and social capital. Finally, this part will conclude that, despite these benefits, there is a current lack of access to green, nature-based parks, and open spaces, especially in underrepresented communities.

Definitions and descriptors used throughout the rest of this part include: 

  • Nature-based projects in open spaces or neighborhoods, which can go by many names including green spaces, green and blueways, blue and green corridors, and resilience districts. 
  • Green, open spaces can be characterized as“any open piece of land that is undeveloped . . . and is accessible to the public.”See footnote 24 They are typically areas in urban neighborhoods like parks, schoolyards, community gardens, or wetlands that are covered by vegetation like trees, shrubs, or grass.See footnote 25  
  • Blue corridors (or blueways) refer to the system of canals or waterways running through a community, while green corridors (or greenways) are the areas of land between roads, canals, and other thoroughfares.See footnote 26 Blue corridor projects typically deal with water management, and are focused on creating and maintaining a system of waterways that may include nearby water features and play spaces that can also serve as neighborhood parks. Green corridor projects typically focus on creating green spaces in smaller portions of areas where vegetation — including trees, plants, and permeable sidewalks — will help with drainage issues.See footnote 27 
  • A resilience district is a newer concept that combines green space projects with blue and green corridor programs on a neighborhood scale. A resilience district is “a geographic strategy . . . focused on adapting to flood risk and other climate change impacts as a key first step towards adapting to a changing climate, while taking a comprehensive approach that fosters community resilience.”See footnote 28 Districts, as thought of in a “resilience district” sense, are not just outlines of neighborhoods or “spatial units defined by aesthetic qualities or physical characteristics,”See footnote 29 but rather distinct communities that have unique cultural, economic, and social dynamics, each facing their own vulnerabilities to climate impacts like flooding and extreme heat.

    Viewing districts in this sense and working with them holistically to create “resilience” can allow for more coordinated investments across a district relating to affordable housing projects, and park expansion; greater prioritization, and emphasis on the participation of local residents and businesses in any decisionmaking process, “with a focus on building power and wealth for people of color and individuals with low incomes;” and a more targeted emphasis on the connectedness between health and equity within a specific community, which can lead to increased funding and “investment mechanisms, including value capture.”See footnote 30 For these reasons, resilience districts can promote these different types of benefits on a larger scale. However, individual projects may be necessary and more appropriate, depending on the local context. 

The implementation of green space and/or resilience district projects can provide a community with multiple benefits. From a health perspective, access to green and blue spaces like parks and canals can improve both mental and physical health. Studies have shown that interaction with natural spaces correlates with reduced stress and violence and overall enhanced community health.See footnote 31 From an environmental perspective, green spaces can also enhance water and air quality, and reduce temperatures due to the urban heat island effect.See footnote 32 Access to green spaces can also lead to more social cohesion and economic opportunities in a community as well.See footnote 33 From an economic perspective, “not only do street trees foster a community’s sense of place, but well-maintained streetscapes raise opinions about the quality of goods and services offered. In landscaped shopping districts, surveyed consumers were willing to spend 9–12 percent more than they would spend in an unlandscaped district.”See footnote 34 From a social perspective, communities get more involved in maintaining neighborhood gardens, intergenerational ties are strengthened, communities are more likely to invest in neighborhood improvement projects through community empowerment, and the opportunity to walk through a nearby park encourages neighborhood interaction.See footnote 35 This was especially important during the Coronavirus-19 (COVID) pandemic, where “green spaces became a lifeline for people to get out of the house, relax, and gather safely.”See footnote 36 

Despite these benefits, many communities have significantly less access to walkable green spaces within their neighborhoods. This is particularly acute for underrepresented and overburdened communities. Due to historic inequities and redlining policies, in the most populated cities, neighborhoods that are primarily Black and Brown “have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage than predominantly white neighborhoods,” with similar statistics in low-income communities. Policymakers and community leaders should work to reduce this gap so that overall community resilience — and the resulting benefits that implementing resilience districts and green projects can bring — are available for everyone.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

The actions detailed below offer several ways in which regional and local policymakers can initiate actions that facilitate “greauxing” or growing green space assets and access to parks and nature. Local governments can seek to protect and expand green, open spaces through a combination of:

  • Mapping and data
  • Planning documents
  • Land use and zoning mechanisms; and
  • Projects

While not exhaustive, these legal and policy options can help to begin the process of decreasing the aforementioned access gap. It is important to remember, however, that the most effective laws, plans, policies, and projects for resilience districts and green spaces are community-specific, and should be designed to fit the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the neighborhood or district in question.

Mapping and Data

To allocate limited funding and resources, local governments can start enhancing green space and resilience opportunities by identifying the parts of parishes and municipalities that are most susceptible to flooding and growth pressures. Other data pertaining to the unique social aspects of a community (e.g., race, income, education, occupation), and where existing conversation opportunities exist should also be taken into account. In applying this data to parish and municipality maps, policymakers and project implementers can prioritize action in the areas/communities where green spaces and nature-based projects are needed most. It is also vital to emphasize that the best use of mapping and data tools involves not only identifying new areas that will be in need of protection or redevelopment to their natural state, but also the identification of existing green spaces that will need to be maintained. 

To determine and prioritize investments in these areas, local governments should start by engaging communities and evaluating data sources including flood maps, census tracts, socio-economic status, ethnicity, existing green spaces, nature-based amenities, etc. Other examples that can help to prioritize investments for certain areas involve designating and mapping certain spaces within a community for distinct uses. Examples include regional growth maps and mapping context areas (see, e.g., the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit and next section for a more in-depth analysis). 

One example where community engagement, mapping, and data collection have been combined can be found in Florida, with Miami-Dade County’s designation of Adaptation Action Areas (AAA).See footnote 37 In 2011, the State of Florida passed a law to enable local governments to adopt optional comprehensive plan designations for areas that experience coastal flooding and are vulnerable to sea-level rise for the purpose of prioritizing funding for infrastructure projects and adaptation planning.See footnote 38 Under the state Community Planning Act, local governments can adopt AAA and consider updating policies in their local comprehensive plans to increase a community’s resilience.See footnote 39 Throughout Florida, AAA mapping and designation have allowed local governments and stakeholders to align plans and capital projects to better leverage available resources; better educate and collaborate with community stakeholders to identify values, challenges, and potential solutions to adapt to sea-level rise; and create more forward-thinking plans that include, among other recommendations, next steps and potential policy changes that can be implemented. 

Additionally, “AAA planning enhances opportunities to learn from and collaborate with residents, community leaders, and neighborhood organizations to determine which adaptation approaches are preferred for a given area.”See footnote 40 The collaborative aspect of AAA brings together stakeholders, organizations, and agencies when they otherwise may have been siloed to create a more holistic approach to address the short- and long-term needs of communities that are especially susceptible to the impacts of climate change. By engaging with the community early and often regarding climate vulnerabilities, unique community characteristics, and first-hand experiences — and combining this data with some of the mapping tools listed above — policymakers and project managers can create more access to green spaces in communities that need it while also maintaining those spaces that already exist, as was seen in the designation and implementation of the Little River AAA

Description: Map of the Little River Adaptation Action Area. Credit: Savino Miller Design Studio, Adaptation Plan: Little River Adaptation Action Area 8 (2022).

For a more generalized analysis of the importance of mapping and data collection in a context beyond specifically resilience planning and green space expansion and maintenance, see Objectives 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3

Plans 

Mapping and data collection as discussed in the previous part directly impact how planning documents are designed and created. As previously stated in Objective 1.1, plans can set a comprehensive framework that guides how laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Plans go by many names and take a variety of forms. They are developed at different and multiple levels of government and are prepared on multiple geographic scales. Some are legally required and others are out-of-cycle (and have yet to be updated) or discretionary. Plans can also include implementation and tracking tools. Metrics and tracking mechanisms can help local governments and other partners evaluate progress after a plan is released and increase public transparency. 

There are various types of plans that local governments can use in Louisiana to identify and prioritize green spaces, resilience districts, and nature-based projects. Throughout Louisiana, planning is typically treated “as a local matter,” as there are not many statutory standards or guidelines on a state level. To guide or regulate development and land use to better “greaux” new and protect existing green spaces and projects, local policymakers can consider developing or updating comprehensive plans or other types of relevant plans (e.g., adaptation and other individualized resilience plans). For more information on how planning documents can be used to encourage nature-based stormwater management solutions specifically, see Objective 2.2.

Local Comprehensive Plans 

According to Louisiana state law, every parish and municipality has the authority to create a planning commission and appropriate funding for it.See footnote 41 Once created, the planning commission must make and adopt a master plan “for the physical development of the community.”See footnote 42 In Louisiana, a local comprehensive plan — referred to as a “master plan” in state statute — is “a statement of public policy for the physical development of a parish or municipality” that is adopted by that parish or municipality. Parishes and municipalities that adopt these plans are required to consider them when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 43 As such, local governments are legally mandated to consider decisions before they make them if they are inconsistent with their comprehensive plans, if the jurisdiction has one. 

This “look before you leap” procedural requirement encourages local governments to take actions that are consistent with their local comprehensive plans. In turn, this statutory provision provides some legal weight and adds importance to local decisions that come from comprehensive plans compared to other types of plans — including for nature-based plans and projects, such as resilience districts or programs that expand access to green spaces. Accordingly, if parishes and municipalities explicitly include green priorities and projects into their local comprehensive plans, these plans can serve as a guiding and coordinating force among “local laws, ordinances, and regulations” and ideally other supplemental and related plans and policies to build more resilient communities. 

Jurisdictions that have or are interested in developing a comprehensive plan could start by updating or including a resilience/natural infrastructure element. This resiliency element can provide insights into the types and conditions of local communities’ capacity to withstand flooding and extreme weather events, and which types of projects or programs would best mitigate the impacts of these events. Further, local governments should aim to integrate other related comprehensive plan elements into any parts relating to expanding or maintaining access to green spaces, including projected demographics, changes and flood risk over different time horizons, social vulnerabilities, economic development, the environment, and other “green” community amenities. This can help to bring a more holistic picture of the climate impacts and resiliency challenges a parish or municipality is experiencing — which could be exacerbated or altered by population growth and transitions. This is in comparison to approaching resilience as an isolated element. 

One example of a jurisdiction that amended its local comprehensive plan to incorporate increased access to more open spaces and green projects is the City of Gonzales, Louisiana. In collaboration with its residents, city staff, and elected officials, the city has created a strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales that emphasizes the maintenance of existing wetlands and open spaces, and encourages property owners to work with businesses to implement innovative, green infrastructure projects to help with stormwater management, provide residents with environmental amenities, and more. In highlighting the importance that open spaces and green infrastructure has for a community in their comprehensive, strategic plan for the future, Gonzales acts as an example of a community that has designed a plan that addresses growth, but also balances community needs and environmental conservation. 

Land-Use Maps 

Land-use maps developed as part of local comprehensive plans can guide where a community will grow as it develops. As outlined by CPEX, types of land-use maps include regional growth maps and context area maps. These can both be used in complementary ways that can encourage the expansion and incorporation of green, open spaces into a parish or municipality. These mapping tools can also be used to help support the creation or amendment of different types of zoning districts (see the subsequent part for more details on zoning ordinances). 

  • Mapping Regional Growth: Regional growth maps “dictate where future growth will occur within a community by considering issues such as environmentally sensitive lands, size of parcels, existing and planned levels of utility service, established and proposed street systems, location and capacity of schools and location of employment centers.”See footnote 44 The different growth categories include preservation, restricted growth, anticipated growth, and infill growth. 

    Relating to green space projects, local policymakers can designate certain areas as preservation and restricted growth areas. Preservation areas are identified as those that are not suited for development, most often due to environmental sensitivities like the presence of wetlands, waters, forests, etc.See footnote 45 Preservation areas can even be designated in urban and suburban areas to make space for urban parks, waterways, and other nature-based projects. Similarly, restricted growth areas in rural communities are those that are protected from future development and can be used as a developable land bank.See footnote 46 
  • Mapping Context Areas: Mapping context areas ensures that parishes and municipalities apply the right rules and develop for the right uses in specific areas. Context area categories are natural, rural, suburban, urban, center, and special, and are applied within identified regional growth areas (see above bullet).  

    For the sake of implementing green projects and resilience districts, designating areas as natural context areas is important. Lands identified as natural are those that are unsuitable for development, with a focus on the conservation and preservation of natural resources.See footnote 47 Special designation in restricted growth sectors can also incorporate “natural” designations in restricted growth areas, which can include federal, state, and parish parklands.See footnote 48 

Other Types of Plans 

Parishes and municipalities also have the authority to create more generalized planning documents that recommend the inclusion, expansion, and maintenance of open spaces and green projects in a community’s future. These plans can vary widely in scope, from a generalized parish- or city-wide adaptation and resilience plans, to plans that address or impact only one aspect of a community, like one certain neighborhood or sector (e.g., parks, stormwater management, etc.). One example of a more generalized city-wide strategy is Miami, Florida’s Resilient 305 Strategy, which is an adaptation and resilience plan that lays out dozens of action items that municipalities in Miami-Dade County can take to help these communities better prepare for and respond to the impacts of sea-level rise and flooding. The plan was developed by Greater Miami & The Beaches — a unique collaborative effort between the governments of Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami, and the City of Miami Beach. Included among the recommended resilience strategies are the expansion and support of nature-based infrastructure projects throughout the Greater Miami area and the restoration and maintenance of open spaces along the coast — especially shorelines.

One example of a more sector-specific plan is the Gainesville Parks & Recreation Strategic Plan 2018–2022 (Gainesville, GA) which outlines the agency’s five-year plan to develop and improve its parks and recreation programs to provide access and better serve the needs of all Gainesville residents. Included among many of the initiatives contained within the plan are projects like providing more access to quality, diversified amenities, and open spaces and introducing green infrastructure into already existing parks. 

 Description: Concept plan for Midtown Greenway in Gainesville, Georgia. Credit: Gainesville Parks and Recreation, Georgia, Midtown Greenway Concept Plan (2020), available at https://www.gainesville.org/DocumentCenter/View/835/Midtown-Greenway-Concept-Plan-PDF

These two examples show that parishes and local agencies have the ability to design and implement plans that incorporate green infrastructure and open spaces into the projects and places in the community over which they have authority. Plans do not always need to be as broad as strategic comprehensive planning documents for entire areas, though developing and implementing local comprehensive plans is still recommended. They can be designed to specifically address resilience measures, or tailor-made to fit under the auspices of the authority a certain agency has — all while encouraging open spaces and green infrastructure for the benefit of the community.  

Land Use and Zoning

In addition to planning, local governments can evaluate updating land-use and zoning ordinances to support local nature-based priorities — as well as encourage the expansion and maintenance of open spaces — to build community resilience. Ideally, any regulatory amendments will be guided by and aligned with relevant plans, especially local comprehensive plans. Tools and regulatory policies discussed in this part include: land use maps; zoning ordinances; subdivision ordinances; and additional ordinances like parking standards, rural corridor overlay districts, and landscaping standards.See footnote 49 The Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX) has developed a toolkit that can help communities either develop or amend land-use and zoning ordinances to better facilitate the development of green spaces and resilience districts (see, e.g., Louisiana Land Use Toolkit).

Land-Use and Zoning Ordinances 

As was articulated in Objective 1.1, zoning ordinances provide the legal framework that governs the use and development of land in a municipality according to different districts based on the uses that are permitted (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial).See footnote 50  

As part of any land-use and zoning ordinance, parishes and municipalities should include an intent section. This section outlines how the ordinances will be used to implement goals like protecting natural infrastructure and visual character, creating a range of housing opportunities and choices, creating mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods, encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration, and preserving rural character, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas, among others.See footnote 51 As outlined in local comprehensive plans, ordinance components can include defining regional growth sectors, context areas, zoning districts, building types, and official maps.See footnote 52 Mapping can be an instrumental tool in determining and designating which areas of a community should be slated for different types of growth, or in some cases, conservation. Information on how communities can better access mapping resources can be found in Goal 5. Ordinances can also include use provisions like requiring that certain spaces be kept open for gathering or outdoor recreation. They can also contain site development and landscaping standards like mandating that parking lots contain vegetation, permeable pavement, and buffers.See footnote 53  

Overlay zones or districts can be an additional tool local policymakers can use to further protect open spaces. Usually, they are added or layered on top of base zoning districts. Overlay zones can further restrict or regulate certain areas based on “special characteristics in that zone, such as for natural, historical, or cultural resources protection.”See footnote 54  

In both St. Tammany and Ascension Parish, local governments have used zoning to conserve open spaces, and are also contemplating how to better preserve green spaces like wetlands through planning and zoning processes. Both communities have developed language in their ordinances to conserve open space through actions like decreasing developable density outside commercial centers. Designating an area under a zoning ordinance — and an additional overlay zone, in some cases — can create special protections for areas that can then be redeveloped or preserved for open space purposes. For further discussion of how overlay zones and zoning ordinances can be used to encourage the implementation of nature-based projects more broadly, see Objective 2.2.

Subdivision and Additional Ordinances 

Subdivision ordinances are another tool that can be used separately from or in addition to larger land-use and zoning ordinances. Subdivision ordinances are basic ordinances that require different rules and use context areas to regulate development on a smaller scale. Similar to prohibitions in zoning ordinances, subdivision ordinances can prohibit development in areas that parishes would like to preserve for open spaces.

Other ordinances, like rural corridor overlay districts, parking standards, and landscaping standards can also be used to encourage or require property owners and developers to install specified types of green spaces, or plant trees and other types of native vegetation. Additionally, green and resilience incentives and regulations can include creating stormwater ponds and using setbacks and buffers with extensive tree canopies and permeable pavements.See footnote 55 

Projects

The design and implementation of individualized projects can also help to expand or create new open spaces and introduce green infrastructure into a community. As established in Objective 1.1, examples and scales can vary from demolishing an existing structure on a parcel of land to creating a pocket park within a community, to restoring acres of land back to their natural state to offer ecosystem services and open space for recreation, as well as mitigate flood impacts. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When developing new or updating existing plans to increase the number and types of nature-based projects, such as green spaces and resilience districts, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:

  • Avoid environmental gentrification
  • Prioritize both the preservation and expansion of green spaces and projects
  • Prioritize the creation and maintenance of new green spaces and projects
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenance
  • Develop public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships to leverage funding and knowledge

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

  • Avoid environmental gentrification: While greening policies and projects can offer significant community benefits, adding green spaces in underresourced communities may lead to increased cost burden and the rapid transition of a community, especially in areas experiencing population growth. Green spaces are in high demand and can be a significant neighborhood amenity.See footnote 56 Adding these types of spaces can increase rents and purchase prices for homes, displacing lower-income residents who are typically people of color.See footnote 57 Balance must be struck between creating a community that is just “green enough” to make neighborhoods healthier and more attractive while ensuring that those who currently live there can still afford to do so.See footnote 58 Officials should ensure that their actions help to increase community resilience by continually taking proactive action to involve community stakeholders.
  • Prioritize both the preservation and expansion of green spaces and projects: Greening communities and offering more open spaces involves both the conservation, expansion, and maintenance of existing spaces and projects as well as the implementation of new ones. As policymakers deliberate ways to make their communities more resilient to flooding and extreme weather events, it is important that they emphasize both of these initiatives, and address them in conjunction with each other in the development and implementation of plans, policies, and projects. Essentially, parishes and municipalities must both preserve and create new green spaces and projects to protect existing and increase new access. The preservation of existing spaces and projects will be discussed in this bullet point, and the creation in the next.

    Many plans and ordinances specifically detail the expansion and maintenance of existing open spaces, green projects, parks, and protected areas. Examples include developing green space expansion plans and projects in conjunction with existing agency plans that are already funded (e.g., Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Strategy [developing in conjunction with the Parks and Open Space System Master Plan’s Greenways, Trails, and Water Trails Vision]); leveraging the work of different land acquisition programs including for conservation and hazard mitigation programs like buyouts to expand existing open space; increasing waterfront setbacks to prohibit structures, which can expand existing buffers/open spaces between water/blueways and development (e.g., Overview of Selected Parishes’ Freeboard, Fill, and Open Space Rules); planting vegetation within public assets already owned by the government, including boulevards, parkways, and medians (e.g., Gentilly Resilience District: Blue and Green Corridors Project); and incorporating and maintaining more tree canopy and natural stormwater infrastructure projects into existing parks or open spaces that are slated for “basic upgrades.”

  • Prioritize the creation and maintenance of new green spaces and projects: In conjunction with the expansion and maintenance of existing projects and spaces, parishes can also develop new projects or protect new areas to expand access to nature throughout communities. The creation of entire neighborhoods with an emphasis on resilience will help to create a network of small spaces where water and stormwater runoff can go, helping to decrease flooding throughout the whole community.


    Policy and program options relating to new projects can include actions like removing and replacing impervious pavement in roads, parking lots, and driveways with permeable options, swales, and rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff (e.g., Gentilly Resilience District: Mirabeau Water Gardens); framing new resilience districts and rainwater parks as pilot projects that can be scaled up and used in neighborhoods across entire regions (see, e.g., Little River AAA); and leveraging the work of different land acquisition programs including for conservation and hazard mitigation programs like buyouts to add new open spaces or parks to a community.
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in: The life cycle of planning processes should begin with the community and continue beyond the point when a physical planning document is finalized.  Education is particularly important in relation to the benefits of green projects and open spaces. Communities are more likely to push for the design and implementation of these types of plans, policies, or programs in their own communities if they are aware of the numerous benefits that green infrastructure and access to open, green spaces can bring to their neighborhoods. A bottom-up push for project or plan implementation can be extremely persuasive when it comes to prioritizing a parishes’ limited resources.

  • Plan with an eye towards implementation and maintenance: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different plans further a government’s resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents by asking them to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to immediate action, which can be especially true relating to plans, policies, or projects that relate to flooding. Instead, plans, policies, and projects should be developed with the intention that they will be implemented in ways that support community-driven resilience laws, policies, and projects. The Little River AAA provides an example of how a community-led and implementation-focused strategic plan is already helping the city make progress on economic development and resilience, and other initiatives.

    In instances where a green project or open space has been created for the community, lack of maintenance can also lead to an erosion of faith or trust in the government. Projects that involve actions like the creation of community gardens, planting trees, and conserving wetlands will require continued maintenance from project implementers in order to maintain their benefits to the community. As such, when these plans, policies, and programs are developed, it is important not only to design them with implementation in mind, but to also take into account the cost (both time and monetary) of their maintenance.
  • Develop public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Large-scale projects like resilience districts will require significant collaboration between a variety of partners, both government and otherwise. Resilience districts are typically designed by parish and municipal governments, but are relatively expensive to implement. As such, they often require financing and funding through private and other partners. Additionally, community-based organizations and residents should be consistently engaged so any project directly addresses the needs and challenges a community faces (see Objective 1.1 and Objective 5.1 for more information on community engagement practices).


The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — Miami-Dade County, Florida: Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan

The Little River Adaptation Action Area (AAA) plan was released in January 2022 as part of the process to implement the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Adaptation Action Areas are locations that are especially prone to climate impacts like coastal flooding so that they can be prioritized for funding and planning purposes. The Little River AAA is made up of parts of the City of Miami, as well as the Village of El Portal and two unincorporated areas. Identified as one of the communities in that area most susceptible to climate impacts, Miami-Dade County’s Office of Resilience, in collaboration with Florida’s Department of the Department of Environmental Protection and private partners like Savino-Miller Design, developed the adaptation plan to address existing conditions across five sectors by offering distinct adaptation tools that can help mitigate the impacts of climate within each sector. From this plan, local policymakers and planners can take the generalized idea behind AAA — and the practice of making adaptation plans more specific to localities — as well as the specific projects and programs recommended within the document and implement them in their own communities. Many of the initiatives outlined within the plan involve the incorporation of green infrastructure, nature-based solutions, and increased access to open spaces.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Gentilly Resilience District Projects

In 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city’s vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans. The strategy outlines various recommendations, which all go towards one of three main goals: adapting to thrive, connecting to opportunity, and transforming city systems. One project featured in Resilient New Orleans is the Mirabeau Water Gardens project. Informed by the design and stormwater management features outlined in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the Mirabeau Water Gardens project, once completed, will serve as a recreational, environmentally friendly amenity for the community that also reduces flood risk. Additional projects a part of the Gentilly Resilience District include the Pontilly Neighborhood Stormwater and the Blue and Green Corridors projects. Throughout the development of the plans and programs relating to the Gentilly Resilience District, local policymakers offered numerous opportunities for community input. Most of the projects not only increase community resilience, but also offer new spaces for the community to gather, educate residents on the benefits associated with green infrastructure, and incorporate safe walking and biking paths throughout the neighborhood.  

Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit 2.1

Developed by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), the Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit contains development standards that are designed to support hazard mitigation and natural resource protection in the coastal areas of Louisiana. The Toolkit offers a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, in particular for those communities facing coastal and stormwater flooding. The Toolkit includes model zoning and subdivision codes that can be used to build more resilient coastal communities that are adaptive to these climate impacts and others, by adopting sustainable development and Smart Growth principles. The model ordinances can be used individually and tailored for the needs of each parish or municipality, or may be combined to create a complete development code. Many of these model ordinances directly protect “open spaces” and provide for increased access to green spaces “through the most efficient design and layout of the land.” 

Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0

The Louisiana Land Use Toolkit was created by the Center of Planning Excellence (CPEX), as a model development code to support economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable development for communities of Louisiana. The Toolkit applies “Smart Growth” principles to future development planning, aiming to create resilient communities, revitalized neighborhoods, increased land value, affordable housing, and protected rural, natural, and open space areas. The Toolkit is a free, online resource designed for Louisiana parishes and municipalities to tailor to local needs by adopting a zoning code, a subdivision code, or an individual ordinance — or to be customized into a complete development code.

Miami-Dade County, Florida: Sea Level Rise Strategy

In February 2021, Miami-Dade County, in collaboration with private consulting partners, released the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. The strategy outlines the five different ways that the County, its agencies, and its partners can facilitate county-wide adaptation to climate impacts, especially sea-level rise: 1.) building on fill; 2.) building like the keys; 3.) building on high ground around transit; 4.) expanding greenways and blueways; and 5.) creating blue and green neighborhoods. To help advance these five approaches, the strategy outlines ten strategic actions built on previous work done throughout the county to help communities prepare for increased flooding and higher sea levels. Many of the actions that facilitate the five ways the county can adapt to sea-level rise include expanding existing green, open spaces and incorporating more nature-based solutions into infrastructure planning.

Ascension Parish, Louisiana and St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana: Conservation Planning and Zoning

Ascension and St. Tammany Parishes are two parishes or counties in Louisiana that are using zoning to promote floodplain management and conserve green spaces. Each parish is contemplating how to preserve suburban and rural character through planning processes. In addition, each parish has crafted code language that allows it to conserve rural spaces by discouraging sprawl and floodplain development and by downzoning or decreasing developable density outside commercial centers. 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of North Miami, Florida: Good Neighbor Stormwater Park and Repetitive Loss Master Plan

The City of North Miami, Florida Good Neighbor Stormwater Park is a public open space with the capacity for local flood prevention, doubling as a stormwater reservoir. A repurposed vacant lot within North Miami’s residential neighborhood of Sunny Acres, this adaptive stormwater green infrastructure is vegetated with an array of native trees and plants, while also acting as a communal space with walking paths and artistic structures that educate the public on flooding hazards. 

Gainesville Parks & Recreation Strategic Plan 2018-2022

In the Gainesville, Georgia Parks & Recreation Strategic Plan 2018-2022 (the Plan), the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Agency outlines a five-year strategy to develop and improve its parks, recreation programs, and community facilities to serve the needs of all of its residents. In creating the Plan, Gainesville consulted national and local parks’ strategic plans, completed surveys, and gathered input from community comments. This outreach significantly informed the Plan’s strategic vision for the future of Gainesville. The Plan’s mission is to improve the quality of life of Gainesville residents by equitably providing accessible facilities and a diversity of activities. Gainesville outlines the following as its guiding values: demonstrate fiscal responsibility, develop partnerships, foster diversity, provide quality and value of service, value the workforce, enhance stewardship, and communicate effectively. Part of the plan included expanding the city’s existing greenways. Located south of the Downtown Square, the Midland Greenway in Gainesville, Georgia is a rails-to-trails project that will create biking and pedestrian trails along the route of an abandoned railroad. The trails will also include a State Park and public art. With two miles of tree-canopied trails, Rock Creek Greenway includes four parks — Rock Creek Veterans Park, Ivey Terrace Park, Wilshire Trails Park, and Longwood Park — and connects Gainesville Downtown Square to Lake Lanier. The greenway includes war memorials, lakeside swings, tennis courts, and a popular playground.

Overview of Selected Parishes’ Freeboard, Fill, and Open Space Rules and Projects within Louisiana’s Region Seven Watershed

As coastal erosion and the threat of major hurricanes and other flooding events continue to threaten Louisiana, parishes have begun to adopt jurisdiction-specific approaches to mitigating those risks. The establishment of freeboard requirements, no-net fill practices, and the incorporation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), such as open spaces and native vegetation, are three major ways to prepare for and mitigate flooding. This brief entry provides a non-exhaustive overview of some of the ways five Louisiana parishes are using these approaches: Ascension, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Tangipahoa. Elevation and fill requirements in the parishes only apply to constructions in the 100-year Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or the floodway within it. Fill and other encroachments into the floodplain are generally prohibited absent a showing that flood levels in the community would not be raised by that encroachment.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Gonzales, Louisiana: Gonzales Comprehensive Plan

The City of Gonzales, Louisiana updated its local comprehensive plan to accommodate rapid growth. The Gonzales Comprehensive Plan was created in collaboration with Gonzales’s residents, city staff, various stakeholders, and Gonzales’s elected officials. In the plan, the city presents a clear strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales. The city addresses Gonzales’s land use and urban design, mobility and transportation, housing, economy, quality of life and city services, and redevelopment of its downtown area. The plan’s environmental considerations include emphasizing the city’s green spaces and community amenities and benefits, and reducing future flood risk/building overall community resilience. The plan is an example of a local comprehensive plan that addresses growth, while also balancing community needs and environmental conservation in an increasingly suburban area that is experiencing high demands for new development. It outlines ways the city can develop in floodplains while minimizing flood risk and environmental consequences, capturing stormwater, and maintaining and increasing access to open and natural areas.

Objective 1.3:

Identify and promote opportunities to restore vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties that can provide temporary or permanent housing options, serve as community amenities, and provide community and ecosystem services.

The Need

The prevalence of vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties across the country is a problem affecting many communities. While these terms are often interchangeable, there are slight differences in how they are defined.

Generally, “vacant” properties refer to those parcels and/or structures that are not occupied, but are still publicly or privately owned, whereas “abandoned” properties are uninhabited and have no current owner.See footnote 59

In Louisiana, there is no universal legal definition for vacant, abandoned, or deteriorated parcels in state statute or regulation. Under Title 33 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes, Louisiana state law includes definitions for the terms “abandoned property” and “vacant or not lawfully occupied” for redevelopment and other local authorities in some parishes and incorporated municipalities.See footnote 60 For example, in Title 33, these lands are defined as follows for the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority:

  • Abandoned property: “[P]roperty that is vacant or not lawfully occupied.”See footnote 61 
  • Vacant or Not Lawfully Occupied: “[I]nclude but shall not be limited to any premises which are not actually occupied by its owner, lessee, or other invitee or if occupied, without utilities, and which has been left unsecured or inadequately secured from unauthorized entry to the extent that the premises could be entered and utilized by vagrants or other uninvited persons as a place of harborage or any premises which by reason of dilapidation, deterioration, state of disrepair, or other such status is otherwise detrimental to or endangers the public safety, health, or welfare.”See footnote 62  

However, these state-based legal definitions are not the same — nor do they even exist — for all Louisiana parishes and incorporated municipalities. Further, local governments in Louisiana may have different regulatory definitions for these types of parcels and/or policy guidance about how they should be identified and handled. 

There are other terms that can also be used in addition to or instead of these land classifications. For example, while there is no singular description or definition for “blight” in relation to properties, the word blighted commonly refers to “vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and houses in derelict or dangerous shape, as well as environmental contamination. . . . The most useful description is ‘land so damaged or neglected that it is incapable of being beneficial to a community without outside intervention.’’’See footnote 63 For example, in Title 33 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes, blighted properties for the the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority are defined as a “commercial or residential premises, including lots which have been declared vacant, uninhabitable, and hazardous by an administrative hearing officer acting pursuant to applicable [state] law.”See footnote 64 However, the term “blighted properties” is often “fraught with complex racial history,” reflective of a long history of racial redlining and discriminatory practices, that traditionally refers to “slum[s]. . . [and] substandard housing.”See footnote 65 While codified in state and some local laws in Region Seven and beyond, the terms vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated or “VAD” will be used throughout the Regional Vision instead of blighted, unless otherwise noted in the case studies or elsewhere to be responsive to the local context.

The existence of VAD parcels is often the result of multiple variables, including the condition of neighborhoods within the community, the health of the local housing market, and the strength of the local economy.See footnote 66 Regardless of their cause, statistically, VAD properties tend to be found in concentrated areas — almost 40 percent of the nation’s vacant homes are located in just ten percent of Census tracts.See footnote 67

Description: Photograph of a VAD property in Louisiana. Credit: Build Baton Rouge, Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development 4 (Nov. 2019), available at https://buildbatonrouge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Imagine-Plank-Road_Final-Report_2019.11.06_web.pdf.

Louisiana is not immune to this problem, as the existence of VAD properties is a growing issue across the state.See footnote 68 Regardless of where they are located, the presence of these properties often correlates to increased crime rates, declining property values throughout an entire community, increased risks to health and welfare, and higher costs for municipalities to maintain them.See footnote 69 In instances where a property has been identified as a VAD property, per Louisiana state law, some redevelopment authorities or parishes “have the power to acquire by purchase, gift, bequest, expropriation, negotiation” blighted properties.See footnote 70 

Tackling the problem of these types of parcels and their associated impacts can bring a variety of positive benefits to a community, depending on how a parcel is reused or repurposed. For local governments, redeveloping properties and structures to make them livable once more can help return these properties to tax rolls and increase tax bases.See footnote 71 Converting these properties to green spaces or as a parcel on which resilience projects can be designed and implemented can bring the added health, social, and mental benefits discussed in Objective 1.2 and Objective 2.2. By restoring VAD properties, local governments can turn what was previously a liability into a community asset.See footnote 72 

For a more thorough discussion of how VAD properties can be redeveloped to provide housing options, see Goal Three and Goal Four.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

As previously stated, the reasons for the existence of VAD properties depend on local factors.See footnote 73 Thus, determining how to reuse or repurpose these types of parcels or structures and for what purpose will need to be a decision made on a community- or neighborhood-specific level. There are, however, general legal and policy options/steps parishes and municipalities in Region Seven and beyond can take to make progress on restoring VAD properties. These include:

  • Planning;
  • Mapping, data, and ordinances
  • Acquisitions; and
  • Projects.

While not exhaustive, these legal and policy options can help to begin the process of converting VAD properties into green spaces that could benefit the community. It is important to remember, however, that the most effective laws, plans, policies, and projects for resilience districts and green spaces are community-specific, and should be designed to fit the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the neighborhood or district in question.

Planning 

As established in Objective 1.1, plans can set a comprehensive framework that guides how laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Relating to this goal specifically, plans can establish a community’s priorities and objectives pertaining to open spaces and green projects, and how VAD properties can be identified, acquired, and redeveloped to achieve these goals. These properties serve as a unique opportunity to further develop and implement specific projects that go towards advancing the goals set forth in local plans. Planning and strategy documents should be the guiding force behind any other government action to redevelop these types of properties for beneficial community purposes — including identifying and mapping the properties, determining which properties to acquire, and deciding what projects to implement — to facilitate more comprehensive planning and decisionmaking that aligns with a community’s needs.

For example, Miami-Dade County’s Sea Level Rise Strategy explicitly outlines expanding greenways and blueways and creating green neighborhoods, two of the major goals recommended by the strategy. To achieve these goals, county officials will work with public and private partners to identify VAD lots and properties and work through voluntary buyout programs to acquire these parcels — all for the purposes of expanding green- and blueways and creating more open spaces and environmental amenities for nearby communities. Examples like this show that the most successful projects are those that incorporate comprehensive planning at the outset to better guide decisionmaking and project implementation relating to green infrastructure and open spaces.

Mapping, Data, and Ordinances  

Identifying and mapping VAD properties should be one of the first steps in any process that works to repurpose these properties. “A significant challenge for most jurisdictions is to identify the number, location, and ownership of vacant properties.”See footnote 74 This is largely due to the fact that information about properties with tax delinquencies, vacancies, environmental contamination issues, and more is often spread across several agencies.See footnote 75  

Determining ownership or responsibility for a property can also be cumbersome. This is especially true for heirs’ property, which may be owned by multiple individuals simultaneously and/or has been passed down through generations. Clear title to a home may also make identifying ownership difficult, especially in instances where property owners have more than one mortgage or lien on their property due to a variety of reasons relating to disaster events and flooding, including bank-funded home repairs post-disaster.

To help determine where these properties are located and who retains ownership, localities can use local tax records or implement/expand VAD property laws or ordinances. While using these two tools is not inclusive of all the ways local governments can determine where VAD properties exist within community boundaries, it is, however, a good place to start.  For information on the acquisition process of VAD properties (rather than this discussion on how to identify them), see Objective 1.5

  • Federal Tools: several federal agencies retain data and mapping that identifies properties that are VAD. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designates parcels that potentially contain hazardous substances or contaminants as brownfields, and maintains a database that tracks their ownership and redevelopment.See footnote 76  
  • County or Parish Tax Records: County — or in Louisiana’s case, parish — tax records typically contain a variety of information that can be used to determine who owns and is responsible for a property, if taxes are being paid on the property, when it was sold, and additional data.See footnote 77  
  • VAD Property Laws and Ordinances: VAD property laws and ordinances can help governments keep track of where these parcels are located. These types of laws can take various forms. For example, in some places, vacant property ordinances require that owners register their property with the local government and pay a fee.See footnote 78 Officials can also learn about “potential vacant and abandoned properties through registration, neighbor complaints, visual surveys, property tax delinquency, or other means.”See footnote 79  In other jurisdictions, these types of ordinances define key terms (occupied, vacant, abandoned, and unoccupied), and then streamline and define when inspections should be completed relating to the property.See footnote 80 Streamlining a process like this can help enforcement be applied systematically, which ultimately controls how VAD properties can be secured by local governments when taxes or liens on the property remain unpaid.See footnote 81  

For example, the City of North Miami, Florida’s Good Neighbor Stormwater Park project began with identifying properties that could be redeveloped for green project purposes with data supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA). In cases where a homeowner had filed for flood insurance twice in a ten-year period, FEMA designated the property as a repetitive loss property. Because of this designation, the City of North Miami was able to prioritize which repetitive loss properties would best facilitate stormwater management within at-risk communities. Ultimately, North Miami purchased some of the repetitive loss properties and redeveloped them into a stormwater park that offers stormwater retention benefits, community amenities, and open, green spaces. 

Parishes and municipalities should also consider overlaying additional data and maps relating to flood risk, parks and open spaces, land use and housing development patterns, etc. This can help policymakers and project implementers determine which areas within a community should be prioritized for green projects and open space development. Data-driven decisions can set the stage for comprehensive, successful planning and regulatory updates.

Acquisitions 

While acquisitions are discussed in more detail in Objective 1.5, it is important to establish some of the ways in which a parish or municipality can work with communities and private landowners to reuse or repurpose VAD properties in ways that enhance regional and local resilience. While not inclusive, these tools and programs may include: 

  • Voluntary buyouts: Voluntary buyouts are programs in which the government “generally purchases a property from a willing seller, demolishes existing structures on the property, . . .prohibits future development, and allows the property to naturally revert to open space.”See footnote 82;
  • Open space acquisitions: These acquisitions include procedures where governments can acquire title from willing sellers to private lands for conservation purposes; and
  • Implementing or expanding VAD property laws within a community or parish: These actions involve more broadly construing or promulgating streamlined VAD property laws, as described in the previous section. 

Governments can establish new acquisition programs to support these resilience purposes or expand existing ones by working through entities like land banks, redevelopment authorities, as well as parks and open space departments. Governments can also partner with other land management or community development organizations like land trusts and community-based and environmental nonprofits. 

It is important to note that any government acquisition projects must be guided by equity and resilience considerations. Oftentimes, there may be a historical or cultural legacy around land ownership in a particular place. For example, many properties and homes in Louisiana have complex histories relating to home ownership, heirs properties, and other ownership challenges like questions about clear title. While the Regional Vision does not go into depth on these complicated and challenging issues, local governments should, at a minimum, approach questions around acquisitions and VAD properties by understanding the history, use, and land ownership of a property. First and foremost, officials should complete a thorough title search and meaningfully engage with residents to learn about who lives on the property and who has owned it in the past. In addition, governments should work with affected community members to pursue comprehensive actions that may help to realize the many benefits of an acquisition, but also seek to minimize the potential consequences of redevelopment or conservation projects, like displacement and green gentrification (discussed more below). 

Projects 

As previously stated, the reason behind VAD properties within a community depends on the individual characteristics and challenges facing a location.See footnote 83 As a result, deciding how a parcel should be reused and for what purpose should be determined on a case-by-case, community-by-community basis.See footnote 84  

As a whole, effective VAD remediation strategies need “to be flexible and include various approaches depending on the individual property and the neighborhood’s needs and opportunities.”See footnote 85  Property reuse can include projects focused on (1) green spaces and nature-based solutions and (2) affordable housing and community development. These projects discussed in the following parts are not exhaustive of all potential options. While these two types of project aims would ideally be and are often integrated, for the purposes of the Regional Vision, they will be discussed separately here.

Nature-Based, Green Projects 

Acquiring VAD properties and developing them with an eye toward resilience will likely require at least some demolition and restoration actions. While health and community benefits that green projects can provide have been outlined in Objective 1.2, at the very least, converting these types of properties to provide nature-based amenities for communities can have positive impacts like improved community health (both mental and physical), better social cohesion between neighbors, higher property values throughout the community, and enhanced economic stability. 

Potential types of green projects include: 

 Description: A green infrastructure installation.

Credit: The Water Collaborative.

From a general perspective, when cities or local governments work to tear down vacant or deteriorated structures, “demolition activities should be paired with interim urban greening strategies that can stabilize neighborhoods and markets along with midrange reuse opportunities for turning some of these lots into parks, gardens, urban farms, and green infrastructure that can increase property values for surrounding homes, improve public health, and improve water quality through reductions in impervious surfaces.”See footnote 86  

Where government acquisitions from willing sellers are not possible, supported, or cost-prohibitive, parishes and municipalities can also pursue partnership opportunities to develop open spaces and green projects. In one innovative, collaborative project, New Orleans’s Office of Resilience partnered directly with the Sisters of St. Joseph to lease a property that had previously housed the sisters’ convent. As a result of several extreme storms and flooding events, the property became derelict and abandoned.See footnote 87 The sisters offered to lease the 25-acre property to the city on the condition that it be used to create a nature-based amenity for the community, which ultimately resulted in the Mirabeau Water Garden Project.  

Housing and Community Development 

Developing VAD properties with green amenities in mind can go hand in hand with creating resilient, affordable housing opportunities on properties that previously did not serve a community or provide any sort of tax base to the local government. Relating to affordable housing, the Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Strategy directly recommends that vacant parcels or parking lots be elevated on infill and used to create affordable and mixed-use housing around transit.See footnote 88 Redeveloping VAD properties with economic growth in mind (and not specifically using nature-based methods or projects) can help revitalize a community, bring jobs to the area, improve streets and transportation, and increase local municipal income. These types of projects and programs, however, must work to ensure that homeowners in these neighborhoods are able to remain within the community after the projects have been completed.See footnote 89 For more information on developing affordable housing within a community, look to Goal Three and Goal Four 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When identifying and promoting ways to restore VAD properties to facilitate greater neighborhood resilience and provide community amenities, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of plans:

  • Avoid environmental gentrification
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenance
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships
  • Leverage existing data and resources
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

  • Avoid environmental gentrification: While greening policies and projects can offer significant community benefits, adding green spaces in underresourced communities may lead to increased cost burden and the rapid transition of a community, especially in areas experiencing population growth. Green spaces are in high demand and can be a significant neighborhood amenity.See footnote 90 Adding these types of spaces can increase rents and purchase prices for homes, displacing lower-income residents who are typically people of color.See footnote 91 Balance must be struck between creating a community that is just “green enough” to make neighborhoods healthier and more attractive while ensuring that those who currently live there can still afford to do so.See footnote 92 
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenanceGovernments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different plans further a government’s resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents by asking them to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to immediate action, which can be especially true relating to plans, policies, or projects that relate to flooding. Instead, plans, policies and projects should be developed with the intention that they will be implemented in ways that support community-driven resilience laws, policies, and projects. 

    In instances where a green project or open space has been created for the community and replace what was previously a deteriorated or derelict property, lack of maintenance can also lead to an erosion of faith or trust in the government. Projects that involve actions like the creation of community gardens and conservation wetlands will require continued maintenance from project implementers in order to maintain their benefits to the community. Without maintenance, even the best intentioned green projects can fall back into disrepair, creating yet another VAD property in a community yet again. As such, when these plans, policies, and programs are developed, it is important not only to design them with implementation in mind, but to also take into account the cost (both time and monetary) of their maintenance.

  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Cleaning up and developing VAD properties with green infrastructure and open spaces in mind is an expensive undertaking, and typically one that a local government may not have the capacity or resource to do alone. Partnering with private developers and nonprofit organizations can help ease the initial financial burden and upfront costs associated with cleanup. Federal and state resources also exist that finance cleanup efforts. In some cases, working with individual partners within the community can even help with acquiring less than fee rights to a property for the purposes of redevelopment, as is seen in the Mirabeau Gardens (Gentilly District) case study (further discussed in Objective 1.5).  

  • Leverage existing data and resources: Determining where VAD property is located does not often require a total recreation of the wheel. Oftentimes, the federal government or local organizations are already tracking properties that have fallen into disrepair, are at risk of continued flooding, or lay abandoned or vacant. Policymakers and project implementers can use public and private partnerships they have built (see previous point) and existing federal and state databases to determine where these types of parcels exist — and can overlay data relating to other characteristics of a community like flood risk, socio-economic status, existing parks and amenities, etc. — to determine where to prioritize VAD property redevelopment.
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in: The life cycle of planning processes should begin with the community and continue beyond the point when a physical planning document is finalized. Education is particularly important in relation to the benefits of green projects and open spaces. This is especially true in instances where VAD properties are converted to offer green, safe, community amenities. Redeveloping plots of land that previously caused risks to the health and welfare of a community (see the introduction to this part for more information on the negative impacts of these types of properties) into a community garden or pocket park can help to transform a community. Communities are more likely to push for the design and implementation of these types of plans, policies, or programs in their own communities if they are aware of the numerous benefits that green infrastructure and access to open, green spaces can bring to their neighborhoods. A bottom-up push for project or plan implementation can be extremely persuasive when it comes to prioritizing a parishes’ limited resources.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Gentilly Resilience District Projects

In 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city’s vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans. The strategy outlines various recommendations, which all go towards one of three main goals: adapting to thrive, connecting to opportunity, and transforming city systems. One project featured in Resilient New Orleans is the Mirabeau Water Gardens project. Informed by the design and stormwater management features outlined in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the Mirabeau Water Gardens project, once completed, will serve as a recreational, environmentally friendly amenity for the community that also reduces flood risk. Additional projects a part of the Gentilly Resilience District include the Pontilly Neighborhood Stormwater and the Blue and Green Corridors projects. Throughout the development of the plans and programs relating to the Gentilly Resilience District, local policymakers offered numerous opportunities for community input. Most of the projects not only increase community resilience, but also offer new spaces for the community to gather, educate residents on the benefits associated with green infrastructure, and incorporate safe walking and biking paths throughout the neighborhood. Many of these projects are being installed on parcels and properties that were previously vacant or had been damaged by storm events in the past.  

Resilient Edgemere, New York City, Community Plan

The Resilient Edgemere Community Plan is a long-term plan for social and climate resilience for the coastal community of Edgemere in New York City (NYC), New York. After Hurricane Sandy, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development launched the Resilient Edgemere Community Planning Initiative in 2015. Edgemere is a low-lying waterfront community located on a barrier island (the Rockaways) that continues to recover from Sandy, while increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as intensified coastal storms and sea-level rise. This community development framework offers goals, strategies, and proposed investments in over 60 projects to be implemented over the next 10 years, many of which are centered on climate change adaptation. Among many projects included in the plan are buyout pilot projects where the government purchases property that has been damaged or is a high risk of flooding with the goal of returning it to its natural state. 

 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of North Miami, Florida: Good Neighbor Stormwater Park and Repetitive Loss Master Plan

The City of North Miami, Florida Good Neighbor Stormwater Park is a public open space with the capacity for local flood prevention, doubling as a stormwater reservoir. A repurposed vacant lot within North Miami’s residential neighborhood of Sunny Acres, this adaptive stormwater green infrastructure is vegetated with an array of native trees and plants, while also acting as a communal space with walking paths and artistic structures that educate the public on flooding hazards. 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Baton Rouge–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development

The Imagine Plank Road: Plan for Equitable Development (plan) is an equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) plan developed to guide the revitalization of the Plank Road corridor, an area in north Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish (parish). Released in November 2019, the plan is a response to historical disinvestment in the Plank Road corridor and addresses issues of infrastructure decay, jobs and commerce, and health and safety. The plan is anchored by a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will run along the corridor and connect it to other parts of Baton Rouge. There are seven new developments proposed along the corridor, each designed to provide quality of life amenities and generate tax revenue while preserving local neighborhoods’ history and culture. Build Baton Rouge (BBR) is the lead agency on the plan and took an approach that emphasized community engagement and public-private partnerships in planning and implementation. The Plank Road plan will be implemented concurrently with FUTUREBR, the comprehensive master plan adopted by the parish and the City of Baton Rouge in 2011. Environmental resilience is a major element of the plan’s Benchmark 5: Health and Safety. The Health and Safety benchmark emphasizes solutions that integrate environmental resilience with the public health benefits of green space. There are two primary categories of recommendations: increasing green space and increasing green infrastructure.

Miami-Dade County, Florida: Sea Level Rise Strategy

In February 2021, Miami-Dade County, in collaboration with private consulting partners, released the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. The strategy outlines the five different ways that the County, its agencies, and its partners can facilitate county-wide adaptation to climate impacts, especially sea-level rise: 1.) building on fill; 2.) building like the keys; 3.) building on high ground around transit; 4.) expanding greenways and blueways; and 5.) creating blue and green neighborhoods. To help advance these five approaches, the strategy outlines ten strategic actions built on previous work done throughout the county to help communities prepare for increased flooding and higher sea levels. As part of the recommendation to build blue and green neighborhoods and building on high ground around transit, the Strategy outlines recommendations to redevelop vacant lots to better facilitate these goals.

Greening Vacant Lots

In a 2016 book, Local Code – 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design and the Nature of Cities, the author, Nicholas de Monchaux, discusses how vacant lots can be a valuable resource for helping cities boost their climate resilience.  Monchaux, an architecture professor at the University of California- Berkeley, analyzed vacant lots in four cities (New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Venice). He highlights the potential to use vacant lots for projects to mitigate urban heat islands and manage stormwater; he also discusses the equity aspects of adaptively reusing vacant properties. He suggests that cities invest more in greening unused spaces in underserved communities as a way to achieve greater environmental and social impact.  The book looks at the potential transformation of different types of lands and public spaces including abandoned public streets, lots, rights-of-way, and alleyways. 

Mississippi Urban Forest Council: Terry, Mississippi Arboretum Project

Terry, Mississippi is a small town of less that 1,500 people 15 miles southwest of Jackson Mississippi that is home to two small parks. In 2011, in collaboration with the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Mississippi Urban Forest Council, the Mayor’s Office announced an initiative to plant trees throughout the town in order to maintain its “Americana” feel. As part of this plan, the city worked to identify and inventory potential planning sites, determine which types of trees would best benefit the community, and develop a campaign to encourage citizen contribution and buyin to the project.

New Orleans, Louisiana Project Home Again Land Swaps

The New Orleans Project Home Again (PHA) in Louisiana involved a land swap and redevelopment program implemented post-Hurricane Katrina that can serve as an example of how public-private partnerships can help people retreat away from flood-prone coastal areas. Through this project, PHA aimed to concentrate redevelopment at higher elevations away from low-elevation floodplains and expand relocation options for impacted homeowners. The hurricane-damaged homes on participants’ original properties were demolished and converted to climate-resilient open spaces for flood retention, environmental, and community benefits. Specifically, PHA used a land swap program that enabled low- and middle-income homeowners to relocate to less vulnerable areas with new affordable, clustered housing. The PHA program demonstrates how land swaps can offer a tool for planners and policymakers to effectively guide redevelopment in disaster recovery settings and expand affordable and resilient housing opportunities. A similar land swap model could also be considered in a pre-disaster context and phased over time, if community consensus, vacant or developable land, and funding for housing construction exist. 

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts is one of the first examples of a city-land trust partnership designed to address a range of community challenges including housing affordability, and racial and economic inequality. In the 1980s, DSNI created the community land trust, Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI) to combat deterioration in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood, which as a result of disinvestment had numerous vacant properties and had become a frequent site for dumping and arson. The goal of the land trust was to facilitate redevelopment of the neighborhood without displacing existing residents and to empower community control over future development. DNI acquired 60 acres of land and currently stewards 225 units of affordable housing, an urban farm, a greenhouse, a charter school, parks, and a town common. The DSNI is also notable because of its unique partnership with the City of Boston. The City granted the land trust eminent domain authority to condemn lands in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood and provided the land trust with significant financial resources to support the development of affordable housing and other community projects in the neighborhood. DSNI’s work has helped to enhance the resilience of the community by preventing displacement in the face of rapid gentrification in the city, enhancing food security for residents, creating and stewarding green space that helps to reduce urban heat islands, and by increasing social cohesion in the neighborhood through community activities and a community-led governing Board. DSNI shows how innovative public partnerships between land trusts and cities can be fostered to address climate resilience and other community stressors, such as the lack of affordable housing, deterioration, and disinvestment.

Objective 1.4:

Maintain rural landscapes and character while accommodating new development.

The Need

Traditionally, the most commonly used definitions for rural areas come from the federal government and more specifically, the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (see Goal Four for more information on rural landscapes). The Census Bureau defines rural areas as “any housing, population, or territory NOT in urban areas.”See footnote 93 The USDA and OMB build on this base definition by adding factors like population density and county and municipal boundaries in determining what is rural.See footnote 94 At the regional and local levels, other descriptions for urban and rural areas come from Metropolitan Planning Organizations in planning for transportation assets.  In general, rural landscapes can be characterized by:

  • “[S]parsely settled lands in natural, open or cultivated states [and l]ot sizes are typically large, but may be small if . . . developable land is scarce”See footnote 95; 
  • Location that’s further away from critical infrastructure, public transportation, and community services and amenities; 
  • Less population compared to urban areas; and 
  • Limited in government staffing and capacity and have fewer per capita financial resources based on lower total populations and decreased property tax revenues. 

Rural America is not only home to a significant portion of our country’s population and natural resources, but provides the rest of the population with necessities like water, food, and energy.See footnote 96 As of 2020, 59.5 million people — making up 19 percent of the population — live in what the Census Bureau considers rural.See footnote 97 In Louisiana alone, as of 2017, rural communities account for around 80 percent of the state’s landmass, with a population of more than 1.2 million ( around 26 percent of the state’s population).See footnote 98 

What makes rural communities especially unique is their characteristics of expansive landscapes and a sense of community. Nationwide, 63 percent of those that call rural communities home have been living there for over eleven years.See footnote 99 Forty percent of those living there have stated that they know most of, if not all of, their neighbors.See footnote 100 Essentially, those living in rural communities have a strong sense of connection between their person and the land on which they have depended — and in many cases, the land that their family has depended upon for generations. 

Rural communities will need to develop resiliently in order to address these issues. However, population pressures and new development could potentially threaten the lifestyle, culture, and landscapes that make rural communities across Louisiana and the country unique. Moving forward, it will be important that governments think proactively and take action in concert with communities to find ways to encourage growth and development while also retaining what makes rural communities special. 


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

Just as is the case with urban areas, no two rural communities are alike — though they are all susceptible to risk from natural hazards, including flooding, hurricanes, and increased temperatures.See footnote 101 Consequently, legal, planning, policy, and project solutions to increase rural resilience should be tailored to each individual community. As such, the legal, planning, and policy options and tools discussed below should be considered on a community-by-community basis, and implemented in combination with each other to “help rural towns get the environmental and economically sustainable growth they want.”See footnote 102 These policy options, while not comprehensive, include: 

  • Planning; 
  • Land use, zoning, and other ordinances; 
  • Acquisitions; and
  • Projects.

Objective 1.2 and Objective 1.3 outline similar types of plans and policy tools a community can promulgate or amend to guide project implementation. These same policy tools can be used in a rural context as well. 

Planning 

Planning is an especially important tool to preserve the natural characteristics that inherently define what makes a rural community unique. There are various types of plans that rural governments can use in Louisiana to identify and prioritize green spaces and nature-based projects. To guide or regulate development and land use to better “greaux” new and protect existing green spaces and projects in these areas, local policymakers can consider developing or updating comprehensive plans or other types of relevant plans (e.g., adaptation and resilience plans). For more information on how planning documents can be used to encourage nature-based stormwater management solutions specifically, see Objective 2.2.

In instances where rural communities have the opportunity to create or amend broader, community-wide comprehensive plans, policymakers should work directly with the community to determine which unique aspects of their community residents think are most important to preserve. Because local comprehensive plans help to establish the future of a community, this will help to ensure that any comprehensive plan directly reflects the community’s “choices” about where residents want development to occur.See footnote 103 Policymakers, in collaboration with residents, can “designate areas for town centers” and create a comprehensive plan that incorporates economic development, infrastructure installation, and public transit without risking those rural values. 

One example of a relatively smaller suburb creating a comprehensive plan that emphasizes the importance of retaining rural, natural character is the City of Gonzales, Louisiana’s Comprehensive Plan. Among the guidelines that the comprehensive plan is designed around is the idea that land-use strategies must maintain community character. As part of this idea, one of the priorities established by stakeholders and incorporated into the plan was to ensure that new development is balanced with providing a healthy community that minimizes flood risks and protects sensitive, undeveloped areas. Examples like this show that the maintenance of rural character — including the natural, open spaces that make these communities unique — can be included in planning documents that ultimately guide policy decisions and project implementation. 

For a further analysis of local comprehensive planning documents generally, see Objective 1.2.

Land Use and Zoning 

In addition to designing and implementing planning documents and strategies, local governments can evaluate updating land-use and zoning ordinances to support local nature-based priorities — as well as encourage the expansion and maintenance of open spaces — to build community resilience in a rural context. Ideally, these regulatory amendments will be guided by and aligned with relevant plans, especially local comprehensive plans. In a rural context especially, zoning ordinances, land use maps, and overlay districts are especially important tools, because they are enforceable tools that regulate where development occurs and where open spaces can remain preserved. For example, designating areas under zoning ordinances as “restricted growth” can not only help to preserve rural character, and stabilize property value, but they also have the added benefit of “providing a viable economic outlet for current landowners,” since these properties can essentially serve as part of a land bank.See footnote 104 

Overlay districts can further protect rural areas by enforcing more stringent restrictions on development. As established in Objective 1.2, overlay districts are tools that can add additional regulations on already existing zoning prohibitions based on “special characteristics in that zone, such as for natural, historical, or cultural resources protection.”See footnote 105 Because rural areas, in their nature, are composed of significant portions of natural spaces (either cleared or still maintaining their natural character), policymakers can use overlay districts to protect existing open spaces from development. 

The Louisiana Land Use Toolkit provides several examples of language that can be used in land-use ordinances to protect open, green spaces from development. 

The Rural Corridor Overlay District (-RC) is hereby established in order to protect and preserve the natural, scenic beauty along designated rural corridors. Maintaining the attractiveness of these roadway corridors enhances the economic value of the community by encouraging tourism and trade. This overlay district is also established for the purpose of: A. Protecting the public investment in and lengthening the time during which highways can continue to serve their functions without expansion or relocation by expediting the free flow of traffic and reducing the hazards arising from cluttered roadside development; and B. Reducing the costs of future highway expansions by requiring that buildings and structures be sufficiently set back from the right-of-way to provide adequate storage for vehicles until they can safely enter the highway.See footnote 106 

Essentially, establishing land-use and zoning ordinances and overlay districts similar to this not only helps to codify what makes rural communities so unique — the natural, scenic beauty of its open spaces — but protects these areas from development as the community continues to grow and expand into the future.

Acquisition 

Another way to protect open spaces from future growth and development and restore previously developed areas is to pass ownership to the government to conserve this land. While acquisition tools will be discussed in Objective 1.5, briefly, these tools include: 

Projects 

The design and implementation of individualized projects can also help to expand or create new open spaces and introduce green infrastructure into a rural community. As established in Objective 1.1, examples and scales can vary from demolishing an existing structure on a parcel of land to creating a pocket park within a community, to restoring acres of land back to their natural state to offer ecosystem services and open space for recreation, as well as mitigate flood impacts. 

For example, as highlighted in the small town of Terry, Mississippi, the rural community emphasized the importance of their “small-town charm” and the importance of the trees lining their “Americana” streets. In collaboration with the Mississippi Urban Forest Council, a project to plant trees commenced, where volunteers from the community planted 130 trees, 75 shrubs, and other greenery. Small town projects like this exemplify the ways in which rural community values, like planting trees and open spaces, can lead to projects that help make that community more resilient. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When identifying and promoting ways to maintain rural character while still allowing for resilient development, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of tools and actions:

  • Lead with data
  • Leverage local partnerships
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenance
  • Overcome barriers to rural community engagement

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

Any project or resulting plan created with expansive community engagement should be considered with these principles and expectations in mind. Throughout the process, policymakers should base their community engagement on listening, being credible, and remaining open.See footnote 107 Engagement should take the form of in person and remote outreach so that the largest base of potential stakeholders can be reached. 

  • Lead with data: Because rural areas often have fewer resources and staff capacity than their urban counterparts, avoiding wasting limited time and maximizing resilience efforts is vitally important. This means that any decisions made by policymakers relating to planning, policies, property acquisitions, or projects for the sake of maintaining open spaces and implementing green infrastructure solutions should be directly supported by relevant data. Using existing databases and catalogs, as outlined by Objective 5.2 and Objective 5.3, can help rural governments avoid “recreating the wheel,” and streamline any survey and inventory process to better prioritize what projects will maximize benefits within a rural community. However, leading with data must also strike a balance with cultivating stakeholder engagement and buy-in at any project outset.
  • Leverage local partnerships: Due in part to the “trust” and “new faces” barriers that sometimes face officials when attempting to regulate or design projects for rural areas, working with and through organizations that are already on the ground in these communities is critical. These organizations and stakeholders will often have better first-hand knowledge of local perspectives and the challenges that residents of rural communities face. Trusted partners can also work to educate rural community members about the benefits surrounding green infrastructure projects and open spaces. Partners can include local officials or decisionmakers that are already involved in the community, and economic and community interest groups — such as sustainably focused agricultural organizations that are working to protect landscape integrity while promoting economic success, academic institutions that already have a presence in the community, and rural planning groups that offer training services and share technical resources.See footnote 108 
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenance: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different projects can further a government’s overall housing and resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents by asking them to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to action. This is especially true in communities that already foster some distrust towards the government in some cases, and new faces in most others. Thus, projects should be designed with the intention that they be implemented in ways that help a community retain its rural character while also making room for resilient growth.

    In instances where a green project or open space is protected by some of the tools listed above, a lack of maintenance can also lead to an erosion of faith or trust in the government. Projects that involve actions like the creation of community gardens, planting trees, and conserving wetlands will require continued maintenance from project implementers in order to maintain their benefits to the community. As such, when these plans, policies, and programs are developed, it is important not only to design them with implementation in mind, but to also take into account the cost (both time and monetary) of their maintenance. These costs are especially important to consider in rural contexts, where staff resources and capacity may not be as robust as in urban areas.
  • Overcome barriers to rural community engagement: Rural communities are unique in that they may lack sufficient or reliable access to services like internet or cell phone/telephone service. Additionally, because of the inherent nature of most rural communities — that they are often spread over large geographic areas — it can take much more time and higher costs to reach and engage with smaller populations. Other barriers to public participation include lack of access to transportation (personal or public) to attend in-person meetings; tensions and mistrust between officials and residents; engagement fatigue, and more. Policymakers should consider tools and strategies to overcome these barriers and other barriers to ensure not only that they reach the most stakeholders they can during outreach processes, but that they do so in a way that overcomes or mitigates these concerns.


The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina: Floodplain Buyout Program

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (CMSS) — a county-wide regional utility in North Carolina — has been administering a Floodplain Buyout Program to relocate vulnerable residents out of floodplains and reduce long-term flood damage. The buyout program is focused on risk reduction and flood mitigation best practices, where once bought out, properties are returned to open space uses to restore their natural beneficial flood retention and water quality improvement functions and provide other community amenities, like parks and trails. CMSS has purchased more than 400 flood-prone homes and businesses and enabled over 700 families and businesses to relocate to less vulnerable locations outside of the floodplain. CMSS has also supported a number of leaseback arrangements on a case-by-case basis with property owners to increase participation in the buyout program and reduce the county’s property maintenance costs.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Gentilly Resilience District Projects

In 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city’s vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans. The strategy outlines various recommendations, which all go towards one of three main goals: adapting to thrive, connecting to opportunity, and transforming city systems. One project featured in Resilient New Orleans is the Mirabeau Water Gardens project. Informed by the design and stormwater management features outlined in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the Mirabeau Water Gardens project, once completed, will serve as a recreational, environmentally friendly amenity for the community that also reduces flood risk. In this instance, the 25 acres of space that are being developed to house the Mirabeau Water Gardens project was leased to the city by the Sisters of St. Joseph, on the condition that it be used to create an amenity for the community that “evoke[s] a huge systemic shift in the way humans relate with water and land.

Mississippi Urban Forest Council: Terry, Mississippi Arboretum Project

Terry, Mississippi is a small town of less than 1,500 people 15 miles southwest of Jackson Mississippi that is home to two small parks. In 2011, in collaboration with the Mississippi Forestry Commission and the Mississippi Urban Forest Council, the Mayor’s Office announced an initiative to plant trees throughout the town in order to maintain its “Americana” feel. As part of this plan, the city worked to identify and inventory potential planning sites, determine which types of trees would best benefit the community, and develop a campaign to encourage citizen contribution and buy-in to the project.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Boulder, Colorado: Affordable Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Environmental Plans and Initiatives

The city of Boulder, Colorado is experiencing the joint pressures of rapid regional population growth and climate change — challenges that are not unique to this city alone. Boulder has addressed these challenges in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, a plan jointly adopted by the City and County of Boulder to direct decisions on land use, natural and built environments, and climate. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is a strong example of a planning document that places an emphasis on housing and the environment. As part of the Environmental Plans and Initiatives being implemented within the city, Boulder has identified opportunities to conserve open spaces through mechanisms like having the city and county purchase priority lands, accepting voluntary donations of fee simple interests from property owners, and promoting the use of conservation easements. Open space plans and policies in the city apply to public lands acquired and managed as natural, agricultural, recreational, cultural, and habitat conservation areas. Currently, 63 percent of the Boulder Valley is protected as open space by the city and county.

Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0

The Louisiana Land Use Toolkit was created by the Center of Planning Excellence (CPEX), as a model development code to support economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable development for communities of Louisiana. The Toolkit applies “Smart Growth” principles to future development planning, aiming to create resilient communities, revitalized neighborhoods, increased land value, affordable housing, and protected rural, natural, and open space areas. The Toolkit is a free, online resource designed for Louisiana parishes and municipalities to tailor to local needs by adopting a zoning code, a subdivision code, or an individual ordinance — or to be customized into a complete development code. It specifically addresses potential zoning ordinance language that can help rural communities protect their open spaces.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Gonzales, Louisiana: Gonzales Comprehensive Plan

The City of Gonzales, Louisiana is a relatively small city located in the eastern part of Ascension Parish and centrally located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Facing increasing retail and commercial development, the city updated its local comprehensive plan to accommodate rapid growth. The Gonzales Comprehensive Plan was created in collaboration with Gonzales’s residents, city staff, various stakeholders, and Gonzales’s elected officials. In the plan, the city presents a clear strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales. The city addresses Gonzales’s land use & Urban design, mobility and transportation, housing, economy, quality of life and city services, and redevelopment of its downtown area. The plan’s environmental considerations include emphasizing the city’s green spaces and community amenities and benefits, and reducing future flood risk/building overall community resilience. As part of the environmental considerations, the Comprehensive Plan helped to promulgate the Silverleaf Buyout program. The Silverleaf neighborhood in Gonzales is an example of a neighborhood that was affected by rising waters and increased flooding events in Louisiana. Gonzales worked with the neighborhood to implement the city’s first buyout to address these threats, relocate residents to a safer area, and restore natural wetlands for their community, environmental, and risk-reduction benefits. 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish is one of Louisiana’s oldest settled areas. The parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural. The parish has undertaken some work to downzone some of its most vulnerable conservation areas and create incentives to direct population growth into already-populated areas. However, these initiatives are still being implemented parish-wide. In response to impacts from repeated hurricanes and weather events, the parish has taken multiple initiatives to address these risks that come from its proximity to both rising sea levels and congestion-prone evacuation routes. The Parish’s Comprehensive Plan seeks to limit wetlands development through innovative methods like transferring development rights from privately owned wetlands to other developable lands.

Objective 1.5:

Promote and support land acquisitions from willing sellers for open space conservation, parks, and community amenities, including through tools like buyouts.

The Need

As previously stated in the Introduction and Background of the Regional Vision, Louisiana’s geographic position makes the state unique in that it is home to some of the country’s most dynamic coastal and riverine systems in the country. It is this same geographic position, however, that puts much of the state at risk for sea-level rise and flooding. These characteristics, combined with current land-use and development patterns, have led to the construction of residential and commercial buildings in areas prone to flooding, leading to the highest rates of repeated-loss properties in the nation.See footnote 109 Because of sea-level rise and flooding, many properties are also falling into disrepair. As outlined in Objective 1.3, VAD properties are also an issue across the state. These vulnerabilities may increase due to rising seas, coastal subsidence, increased rainfall amounts over shorter periods of time, and more intense hurricane seasons as a result of climate change.

Much of the land that is being flooded and impacted by these events is privately owned.See footnote 110 When these events occur, government and private resources — especially in overburdened and underrepresented communities — are typically not sufficient to help people address the damages to their homes and properties and rebuild after every storm. Especially in areas where there is little green infrastructure, the environment has less of an ability to adapt to rising sea levels and increased flooding. As noted in previous objectives, deteriorated, abandoned, and empty property can have significant negative impacts on a community. Regardless of where they are located, the presence of these properties correlates to increased crime rates, declining property values throughout the entire community, increased risks to health and welfare, and higher municipal maintenance costs.See footnote 111 

To combat this trend, local governments can look to acquisition strategies to work with communities to transfer priority land to public ownership. While land acquisitions are often costly and cannot be used in every instance where an extreme weather or flooding event has occurred, these types of programs should be implemented in communities where acquisition will help to maximize social, environmental, and fiscal benefits for the community.

Types of Acquisition Programs 

Acquisition programs that governments can utilize include both the direct purchase of properties in fee simple agreements, or through conservation easements.See footnote 112  

A conservation easement is an interest in land often donated by the landowner to a third-party organization, such as a land trust or government agency. The easement is recorded against the property to bind future landowners and includes terms that limit development of the property and sometimes require management activities to preserve important natural resources on the site. By dedicating a conservation easement, landowners qualify for state and federal tax incentives.See footnote 113 

One of the types of government acquisition programs include voluntary buyouts, which are programs wherein a government (federal, state, or local) comes to an agreement with a willing seller — typically in regards to a property in a high-risk area that has repeatedly flooded — to buy the property from that seller so that the seller can move to a less flood-prone area.See footnote 114 Typically, after purchasing the property from the seller, the government will then demolish any existing structures, prohibit future development, and either restore the property to its original state or allow it to return to it naturally (this last element will be discussed later in this part).See footnote 115 Buyouts as a program can work in both coastal and riverine contexts, and can be implemented on a variety of scales, including parcel by parcel and community-wide.See footnote 116 However, environmental and resilience benefits are maximized when buyouts occur on a larger scale. 

In addition to environmental benefits, voluntary buyouts protect lives into the future. They can also help governments avoid the costs associated with rebuilding public infrastructure and use emergency response resources to reconstruct buildings in areas that repeatedly experience flooding and destruction.See footnote 117 On the other hand, however, voluntary buyouts can take a significant amount of time to complete, especially when conducted on a neighborhood or community-wide scale. Voluntary buyout programs can also be expensive to undertake from start to finish, especially where active long-term land management and restoration occurs. There are social implications as well — in some instances, the buyout price (fair market value) of a participants home may create cost barriers, since there is no guarantee that a similar house in a comparable neighborhood with less flood risk will be covered by what the government has paid an owner. 

Another category of government acquisitions are open space acquisitions, which are designed to facilitate the attainment of property for the purposes of protecting open spaces and working lands.See footnote 118 “Through these programs, governments voluntarily acquire title to all or part of a tract of privately owned land for specified conservation purposes. Governments can acquire either fee simple title or interests in or use rights to land through easements or covenant agreements. Landowners who decide to participate in one of these programs receive money for the purchase of their land or a conservation easement. In addition, federal, state, or local law may also provide private landowners with tax incentives or credits, particularly for conservation easements.”See footnote 119 Typically, land purchased through open space acquisitions is undeveloped and does not have structures that the government will later need to demolish.

Governments can also acquire VAD parcels through enforcing vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) property laws. Depending on the way laws about VAD parcels are written within a region, parish, or municipality, the government may have the authority to acquire VAD properties. In instances where an owner defaults on taxes or refuses to make repairs and improvements required by law, a parish or municipality may be able to place a lien on the abandoned property, which could then proceed into a foreclosure action.See footnote 120 Additionally, municipalities can focus on tax foreclosure on vacant properties as a way to acquire properties.See footnote 121  

Once the local government gains ownership over these types of parcels, they can restore the land to its natural state, incorporate green infrastructure and stormwater management projects, and/or implement other projects that convert the land to better benefit the community in which it is located. For example, redeveloping deteriorated properties for habitability purposes can help increase tax bases for a community, especially since it is likely these properties previously were delinquent on taxes.See footnote 122  

Redeveloping land gained through government acquisition programs with nature-based solutions in mind can also greatly benefit a community. As evidenced in Objective 1.2, the installation of nature-based projects like green spaces, blue and greenways, and resilience districts can help to revitalize a community. Overall, converting previously owned private property into spaces that can act as community amenities — such as parks, stormwater gardens, urban farms, affordable housing developments, and more — can greatly benefit communities, and provide more people access to green spaces, which can help communities become more resilient. 


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are a variety of tools that a government can use to acquire land. In this instance, the Regional Vision and the programs outlined below only analyze those options where the sellers or property owners are willing to sell or donate their land. In some instances, eminent domain is a legally viable option for the government to gain ownership of a property or parcel; however, it will not be discussed here. Instead, this part will outline recommended strategies local governments can undertake to acquire property and convert those spaces into nature-based amenities that can help a community become more resilient overall. While not comprehensive, these actions include:  

  • Determining which properties acquisitions will maximize community, environmental, and resilience benefits
  • Creating or expanding existing government acquisition programs; and 
  • Developing and funding restoration projects on those lands.
Determine Which Property Acquisitions Will Maximize Benefits

Determining the properties that will maximize community, environmental, and resilience benefits that can be acquired through buyout, open space acquisition, or leasing depends on a variety of factors. First, policymakers should look to those areas that are most susceptible to flooding and climate impacts. Introducing natural infrastructure and other forms of stormwater management projects (See Objective 1.2 and Goal 2), can help make a community more resilient and give typically underserved and underrepresented populations greater access to open spaces. As stated in Objective 1.2, with limited funding and local government capacity, the communities that are most susceptible to the impacts of flooding, extreme weather events, and climate drivers should be identified and prioritized relating to green space projects and resilience district implementation. Identifying these communities will likely require community outreach and vulnerability impacts assessments, among other research. Residents of communities that are most susceptible to flooding and extreme weather impacts can share significant knowledge regarding the hazards the neighborhood faces, what assets the community currently has that can help mitigate these risks, and existing programs operating within the community. Residents often have the best first-hand knowledge of how flooding and disasters threaten their community. Accordingly, policymakers should first engage with prospective communities on the vulnerabilities they face to help determine which communities are on the frontlines of these risks and may be interested in learning about and considering a buyout or other type of land acquisition. 

Another way to at least determine parcels that the government can potentially buy or ascertain during a tax foreclosure is by identifying VAD parcels. As established by Objective 1.3, policymakers can use tax records and/or vacant and deteriorated property ordinances where they exist. Additionally, local governments can work with federal and state governments to determine if and where there are any brownfields within a community’s boundaries.

Create and/or Expand Existing Government Acquisition Programs

Parishes and municipalities can consider pursuing one or two options relating to property acquisition. First, where land acquisition programs already exist, parishes and municipalities can acquire parcels with restoration in mind, including by adding flood mitigation and resilience purposes that align with other community-driven plans and local laws and policies. Second, where there are no programs, governments can work with state, local, and private partners to establish funding mechanisms and create guidelines on how to acquire property in areas with the highest flood risks. Much of this work may require coordination with state agencies that have acquisition or land management authority like the Louisiana Office of Community Development, Louisiana Land Trust, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. The creation or expansion of a government acquisition program will require investments in time, effort, and resources. In many instances, governments will need to hire dedicated staff — or at least train existing staff — and identify new funding resources to do as such. Agencies or policymakers leading acquisition projects will also need to learn to navigate both the political, community, and equity concerns surrounding these types of programs. 

Regardless, there are some examples where acquisition programs have proven more successful and property owners have moved from homes that are at high risk of flooding. For example, in Charlotte-Mecklenberg County, the Storm Water Services Utility (CMSS) has been administering a buyout program since 1999, which works to relocate residents whose homes are at risk of flooding. Since its inception, CMSS has purchased more than 400 flood-prone homes and properties, and restored upwards of 185 acres to open space with recreational amenities for the community. 

In instances where a property has fallen prey to vacancy, abandonment, or deterioration, the government can, in some instances, obtain title to the property. In East Baton Rouge (Plank Road), land banking — which enables cooperative land management in which a public entity owns properties and has the responsibility and authority to develop them — has allowed for greater community control over the maintenance and use of these types of parcels. Many of the currently vacant or deteriorated parcels within the community are being targeted for green infrastructure and open space projects. 

For more information on acquisition tools available to state, regional, and local governments, please see the Georgetown Climate Center’s Managed Retreat Toolkit part on Acquisition Tools. 

Develop and Fund Restoration Projects

Deciding how a government-acquired parcel should be reused and for what purpose should be determined on a case-by-case, community-by-community basis.See footnote 123 After acquisition projects on these properties can focus on green spaces and nature-based solutions and/or affordable housing and community development. These types of projects are not inclusive of all reuse options — and while these two types of programs are often integrated, for the purposes of the Regional Vision, they are discussed separately here. Additionally, potential financing and funding resources are also discussed below. 

Nature-Based Projects 

Acquiring properties and restoring them with an eye towards resilience will likely require at least some demolition and restoration actions. In addition to the health and community benefits of green projects as outlined in Objective 1.2, at the very least, nature-based projects can have positive impacts like better social cohesion between neighbors, higher property values throughout the community, and enhanced economic stability. From a general perspective, when cities or local governments work to tear down deteriorated structures, “demolition activities should be paired with interim urban greening strategies that can stabilize neighborhoods and markets along with midrange reuse opportunities for turning some of these vacant lots into parks, gardens, urban farms, and green infrastructure that can increase property values for surrounding homes, improve public health, and improve water quality through reductions in impervious surfaces.”See footnote 124  

Relating to voluntary buyouts, land acquired by the government is typically restored to its natural state, or otherwise incorporates green, stormwater management infrastructure.See footnote 125 These spaces can not only help hold floodwaters back, but also act as a neighborhood garden, community park, or other recreational space to be used by the public. When done on a community-wide or larger scale, governments “maximize the benefits that buyouts can offer, including flood reduction through the greater conversion of open space and minimized or eliminated government costs for providing services (e.g., emergency, infrastructure development and repair) to remaining hold-out residents.”See footnote 126 Potential green projects on properties obtained through any of the aforementioned tools in Objective 1.5 include: 

Description: Concept drawing of Mirabeau Water Garden. Credit: City of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mirabeau Water Garden Drainage Improvement and Green Infrastructure Project (Winter 2021), available at https://nola.gov/getattachment/Resilient-New-Orleans/%28HMGP%29-Stormwater-Projects/Mirabeau-Water-Garden/MWGupdated.pdf/?lang=en-US.

Housing and Smart Community Development 

Redeveloping parcels into a green amenity for a community can go hand in hand with creating affordable housing on properties that previously did not serve a community or provide any sort of tax base to the local government. Relating to affordable housing, plans like the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy and Resilient Edgemere directly recommend that vacant parcels or parking lots be elevated on infill and used to create affordable and mixed-use housing around transit.See footnote 127 Redeveloping government-acquired land with economic growth in mind (and not specifically using nature-based methods or projects) can help revitalize a community, bring jobs to the area, improve streets and transportation, and increase local municipal income. For more information on developing affordable housing within a community, look to Goal Three (Urban) and Goal Four (Rural). 

Funding 

Buyouts and open space acquisitions can be expensive. In Louisiana, the median residential assessed property value runs upwards of $210,000.See footnote 128 These prices can vary widely, and municipalities must also consider the costs associated with demolition, project development, and long-term restoration and maintenance of acquired land. In general, funding for buyouts has most commonly come from from federal disaster recovery grants, leveraging public-private partnerships, implementing fees for developing projects that are not environmentally friendly (e.g., stormwater or impervious surface fees), and higher increased property taxes.See footnote 129 Other ways to offset some of these costs include:  


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When identifying and promoting ways to create or expand government acquisition programs, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of tools and actions:

  • Lead with data
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in
  • Integrate acquisitions with other laws, policies, plans, and projects
  • Avoid environmental gentrification
  • Plan with an eye toward implementation and maintenance
  • Implement programs proactively, not just reactively

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

  • Lead with data: Because government acquisition programs can be relatively expensive, avoiding wasting limited time and maximizing resilience efforts is vitally important. Using existing databases and catalogs, as outlined by Objective 5.2 and Objective 5.3, can help rural governments avoid “recreating the wheel,” and streamline any survey and inventory process to better prioritize what projects will maximize benefits within a community, and determine what properties will have the most beneficial effects for the entire community.
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation to encourage buy-in: The life cycle of acquisition processes should begin with the community. Education is particularly important in relation to voluntary buyouts and acquisition programs. Communities are more likely to push for the implementation of these types of policies in their own communities if they are aware of how the program works and the benefits buyouts can bring their family. A bottom-up push for program implementation can be extremely persuasive when it comes to prioritizing a parishes’ limited resources. The more people that are interested in a buyout or acquisition program, the greater the area of land the government will be able to restore, and thus, more space will be available for restoration and flood mitigation purposes. Additionally, there are often social and equitable concerns surrounding government acquisition programs. As a result, it is vital that communities are involved early in the creation and development of any acquisition program to encourage voluntary buy-in to the program.

  • Integrate acquisitions with  other laws, policies, plans and projects: “Acquisition tools should be conceived of and communicated as one part of a comprehensive managed retreat strategy to facilitate the transition of people and coastal ecosystems away from vulnerable areas. By linking acquisitions with other tools (e.g., planning, regulatory, market-based), decisionmakers can minimize the social disruption of acquisitions and maximize economic, environmental, and social benefits by restoring acquired lands.”See footnote 130 
  • Avoid environmental gentrification: While greening projects and programs offer significant community benefits, adding green spaces in communities can actually backfire. Green spaces are in high demand and can be a significant neighborhood amenity.See footnote 131 Adding these types of spaces can increase rents and purchase prices for homes, displacing lower-income residents who are typically residents of color.See footnote 132 Balance must be struck between creating a community that is just “green enough” to make neighborhoods healthier and more attractive without forcing families from homes they have lived in for decades.See footnote 133  
  • Plan with an eye towards implementation and maintenance: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different projects can further a government’s overall housing and resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents by asking them to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to action. This is especially true in communities that face environmental disasters repeatedly, and are forced to rebuild their homes again and again. In instances where buyouts or open space acquisitions have occurred, policymakers should ensure that any nature-based projects that are implemented are also maintained: “To attain objectives of long-term risk reduction and coastal resilience, buyouts have to be about more than an exercise in ‘walking away.’”See footnote 134
  • Implement programs proactively, not reactively: Buyouts have traditionally been implemented as part of a reactive effort to respond to disasters like hurricanes or floods. But as noted previously (Introduction), these types of events are becoming more frequent and more severe in Louisiana. As a result, programs like voluntary buyouts should be used in a way to encourage residents to move from areas with higher risk of flood before the next disaster or flood event occurs. This can help avoid loss of life, property and environmental damage, and the trauma associated with losing one’s home to a horrific weather event.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, North Carolina: Floodplain Buyout Program

Floodplain Buyout Program: Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, which includes the City of Charlotte, is vulnerable to the impacts of flooding due to property development within the flood zone. In 1999, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services (a county-wide regional utility) launched a Floodplain Buyout Program to relocate residents out of the floodplain and reduce long-term flood damage. The buyout program is focused on risk reduction and flood mitigation best practices, where once bought out, properties are returned to open space uses to restore their natural beneficial flood retention functions and provide passive community amenities, like parks and trails. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services has also supported a number of leaseback arrangements on a case-by-case basis with property owners to increase participation in the buyout program and reduce property maintenance costs. As a result of the floodplain acquisitions, the community has benefited from creating an additional 185 acres in open space and recreational assets as well as other community benefits, such as the development of newer code compliant buildings in less vulnerable locations within Mecklenburg County. The program has been funded through a combination of federal and local government sources, with leasebacks also supporting some cost recuperation. Between 1999 and 2019, more than 400 flood-prones homes and businesses have been purchased by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services through the Floodplain Buyout Program. This program has enabled over 700 families and businesses to relocate to less vulnerable locations outside of the floodplain.

Floodplain Buyouts: An Action Guide for Local Governments on How to Maximize Community Benefits, Habitat Connectivity, and Resilience

In this report, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and University of North Carolina (UNC) collected case studies from across the country of communities that have established buyout programs and management structures to “make the most” out of acquired properties in terms of minimizing governmental costs and maximizing community, ecosystem, and resilience benefits. The report includes examples and recommendations that could spark discussion, and potentially innovation, at the local level. For example, the report features case studies of Green Forks, Minnesota and Tulsa, Oklahoma that fund greenway maintenance with an annual utility fee and stormwater fees assessed on new construction projects, respectively. Wyoming County, West Virginia leases bought-out properties to neighboring landowners for $25 per year for non-intensive agricultural (e.g., gardens) and grazing uses. Although the rent charged is minimal, the greater advantage is that a private property owner assumes maintenance costs and can give life to open spaces. The report also includes a useful decisionmaking framework that local governments can consult to assess potential uses for acquired properties against different tradeoffs, such as funding, the size and scale of a bought-out area, and legal feasibility and political acceptance questions. Ultimately, ELI and UNC find that while there is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to what local governments should do with bought-out properties, there is increasing evidence — and an increasing number of jurisdictions — actively planning for and managing this land, and that restoration to its natural state of open, green space is beneficial for the community.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Boulder, Colorado: Affordable Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Environmental Plans and Initiatives

The city of Boulder, Colorado is experiencing the joint pressures of rapid regional population growth and climate change — challenges which are not unique to this city alone. Boulder has addressed these challenges in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, a plan jointly adopted by the City and County of Boulder to direct decisions on land use, natural and built environments, and climate. The Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is a strong example of a planning document that places an emphasis on housing and the environment. As part of the Environmental Plans and Initiatives being implemented within the city, Boulder has  identified opportunities to conserve open spaces through mechanisms like having the city and county purchase priority lands, accepting voluntary donations of fee simple interests from property owners, and promoting the use of conservation easements. Open space plans and policies in the city apply to public lands acquired and managed as natural, agricultural, recreational, cultural, and habitat conservation areas. Currently, 63 percent of the Boulder Valley is protected as open space by the city and county.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Gentilly Resilience District Projects

In 2015, the City of New Orleans released its Resilient New Orleans strategy outlining the city’s vision and plan for building a more equitable, adaptable, and prosperous New Orleans. The strategy outlines various recommendations, which all go towards one of three main goals: adapting to thrive, connecting to opportunity, and transforming city systems. One project featured in Resilient New Orleans is the Mirabeau Water Gardens project. Informed by the design and stormwater management features outlined in the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, the Mirabeau Water Gardens project, once completed, will serve as a recreational, environmentally friendly amenity for the community that also reduces flood risk. In this instance, the 25 acres of previously deteriorated property that are being developed to house the Mirabeau Water Gardens project was leased to the city by the Sisters of St. Joseph, on the condition that it be used to create an amenity for the community that “evoke[s] a huge systemic shift in the way humans relate with water and land.

Miami-Dade County, Florida: Sea Level Rise Strategy

In February 2021, Miami-Dade County, in collaboration with private consulting partners, released the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. The strategy outlines the five different ways that the County, its agencies, and its partners can facilitate county-wide adaptation to climate impacts, especially sea-level rise: 1.) building on fill; 2.) building like the keys; 3.) building on high ground around transit; 4.) expanding greenways and blueways; and 5.) creating blue and green neighborhoods. To help advance these five approaches, the strategy outlines ten strategic actions built on previous work done throughout the county to help communities prepare for increased flooding and higher sea levels. Among some of the many tools recommended by the strategy, policymakers are encouraged to develop and implement voluntary buyout programs, which can go towards advancing building like the keys, expanding greenways and blueways, building around transit, and creating blue and green neighborhoods. 

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — City of Austin, Texas: Flood Risk Reduction Buyout Projects

The City of Austin, Texas has adopted a model to provide consistent relocation benefits for voluntary home buyouts in the city’s floodplains as a part of its “flood risk reduction projects.” In addition to the cost of a person’s original home, the city will provide homeowners with moving and closing costs, and a replacement housing payment if the cost of a new comparable home (located outside of the city’s 100-year floodplain) is more than the original home. Floodplains cover nearly ten percent of Austin’s land area. This policy encourages owner participation in the buyout program and helps to minimize the economic and social costs of relocation. Since the 1980s, the city has implemented ten buyout projects, with each project encompassing anywhere from a handful to more than 800 properties. The city’s Watershed Protection Department prioritizes buyouts in accordance with a Watershed Protection Master Plan that strategically guides related city actions, including potential buyouts, to reduce the risks associated with erosion, flooding, and poor water quality. A mix of municipal bonds, federal grants, and local funds (primarily through a drainage fee paid by owners of properties based upon impervious surface cover) have been used to fund the buyouts. Austin’s example is noteworthy for its emphasis on implementing buyouts in accordance with a comprehensive flood mitigation program and facilitating transitions for people located in floodplains through relocation assistance. Other jurisdictions considering managed retreat could implement an interdisciplinary buyout approach across different sectors and government agencies (e.g., floodplain and emergency management and housing and community development). An integrated local response can reduce flood risk in a riverine or coastal context and also minimize the social and economic costs of buyouts.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Baton Rouge–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development

The Imagine Plank Road: Plan for Equitable Development (plan) is an equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) plan developed to guide revitalization of the Plank Road corridor, an area in north Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish (parish). Released in November 2019, the plan is a response to historical disinvestment in the Plank Road corridor and addresses issues of infrastructure decay, jobs and commerce, and health and safety. The plan is anchored by a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will run along the corridor and connect it to other parts of Baton Rouge. There are seven new developments proposed along the corridor, each designed to provide quality of life amenities and generate tax revenue while preserving local neighborhoods’ history and culture. Build Baton Rouge (BBR) is the lead agency on the plan and took an approach that emphasized community engagement and public-private partnerships in planning and implementation. The Plank Road plan will be implemented concurrently with FUTUREBR, the comprehensive master plan adopted by the parish and the City of Baton Rouge in 2011. Environmental resilience is a major element of the plan’s Benchmark 5: Health and Safety. The Health and Safety benchmark emphasizes solutions that integrate environmental resilience with the public health benefits of green space. There are two primary categories of recommendations: increasing green space and increasing green infrastructure.

Resilient Edgemere, New York City, Community Plan

The Resilient Edgemere Community Plan is a long-term plan for social and climate resilience for the coastal community of Edgemere in New York City (NYC), New York. After Hurricane Sandy, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development launched the Resilient Edgemere Community Planning Initiative in 2015. Edgemere is a low-lying waterfront community located on a barrier island (the Rockaways) that continues to recover from Sandy, while increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as intensified coastal storms and sea-level rise. This community development framework offers goals, strategies, and proposed investments in over 60 projects to be implemented over the next 10 years, many of which are centered on climate change adaptation. Among many projects included in the plan are buyout pilot projects where the government purchases property that has been damaged or is at high risk of flooding with the goal of returning it to its natural state.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Boston, Massachusetts

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts is one of the first examples of a city-land trust partnership designed to address a range of community challenges including housing affordability, and racial and economic inequality. In the 1980s, DSNI created the community land trust, Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI) to combat deterioration in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood, which as a result of disinvestment had numerous vacant properties and had become a frequent site for dumping and arson. The goal of the land trust was to facilitate redevelopment of the neighborhood without displacing existing residents and to empower community control over future development. DNI acquired 60 acres of land and currently stewards 225 units of affordable housing, an urban farm, a greenhouse, a charter school, parks, and a town common. The DSNI is also notable because of its unique partnership with the City of Boston. The City granted the land trust eminent domain authority to condemn lands in the Dudley Triangle neighborhood and provided the land trust with significant financial resources to support the development of affordable housing and other community projects in the neighborhood. DSNI’s work has helped to enhance the resilience of the community by preventing displacement in the face of rapid gentrification in the city, enhancing food security for residents, creating and stewarding green space that helps to reduce urban heat islands, and by increasing social cohesion in the neighborhood through community activities and a community-led governing Board. DSNI shows how innovative public-partnerships between land trusts and cities can be fostered to address climate resilience and other community stressors, such as the lack of affordable housing, deterioration, and disinvestment.

Goal Two: Greaux natural flood mitigation through targeted infrastructure and development planning.


Introduction

In addition to the roles that natural solutions play in fostering community resilience, as discussed in Goal One, they also can be an important consideration and component of infrastructure and development planning. Infrastructure provides essential functions for daily life, from the roads and bridges that help move people and goods, to the pipes and facilities that provide water and wastewater services, to the energy infrastructure that we rely on for power every day. These services are critical components of what can help a community and local economy thrive, and infrastructure considerations are central to broader development or redevelopment planning.

Despite their importance to communities and local and regional economies, infrastructure and development can also contribute to a variety of environmental challenges — including exacerbating flood risk. The scale of these challenges depends significantly on the geography, hydrology, landscape, and development patterns of an area. Flooding challenges and the impacts on communities and properties look different in different settings: for example, in rural areas, the primary concern may be the need to channel water away from properties and preserve large-scale tracts of land that provide natural flood mitigation, while in urban areas, dealing with runoff and increasing permeability in an otherwise largely impervious built environment may be priorities.

Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission. 

While infrastructure and development can contribute to flood risk, they can play a role in mitigating flooding as well, particularly when the role of nature is a key component of infrastructure planning and development requirements. Local governments can ensure that natural flood mitigation is prioritized as much as possible by integrating considerations like open space preservation, nature-based solutions, and green infrastructure investments into infrastructure-related planning processes and land-use and zoning requirements and incentives. 

For purposes of this Regional Vision, nature-based solutions refer to projects that incorporate sustainable, environmental systems and/or processes into the built environment to improve a community’s adaptive capacity through mitigating flood risk, reducing temperatures, improving air quality, and more.See footnote 135 The term “nature-based solutions” will be used broadly in this Regional Vision. Unless otherwise noted, this term is intended to include solutions sometimes referred to as “green infrastructure” or “green stormwater infrastructure,” which seek to manage stormwater where it falls by maximizing permeability, instead of relying on traditional concrete-based stormwater management systems that are often underground.See footnote 136 In addition to benefits of flood mitigation and stormwater management, nature-based solutions have many other social, environmental, and economic co-benefits that can help encourage these investments as part of overall infrastructure and development planning.

This goal focuses on the role that infrastructure and development can play in affecting flood risk, and identifies legal, planning, policy, and project opportunities to expand the use of nature-based solutions, green infrastructure, and other approaches that provide natural flood mitigation. These approaches and opportunities are best considered in conjunction with a jurisdiction’s needs related to housing affordability and development more broadly, and with an emphasis on community resilience, all discussed in the other goals in this Regional Vision.


Land Use and the National Flood Insurance Program

Integrating natural flood mitigation strategies and solutions into planning, land-use and zoning, and other regulations relating to infrastructure and development can help local governments reduce risk while realizing many other environmental, social, health, and other resilience-building benefits. In Louisiana, the use of comprehensive planning, land-use and zoning, and other development regulations by local governments resembles a patchwork of approaches. Some parishes have comprehensive plans (with varying degrees of formal acceptance and thus legal effect) but no zoning; some have both comprehensive planning and zoning, while others have neither. Many parishes have adopted some form of subdivision or other development regulations, regardless of a comprehensive plan and/or zoning ordinance. Floodplain management ordinances, however, are widespread; nearly all local governments in Louisiana participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.See footnote 137 The information below is provided as background and context related to federal flood regulations affecting land use and development at local levels; the terms defined and discussed below will be used throughout the objectives of this goal.

The National Flood Insurance Program, established by the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968,See footnote 138 exists both to “provide access to primary flood insurance” to properties with significant flood risk, and to “mitigate and reduce the nation’s comprehensive flood risk through the development and implementation of floodplain management standards.”See footnote 139 Local governments wishing to participate in the NFIP are required to develop a floodplain management ordinance that, at a minimum, meets the minimum federal standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the Code of Federal Regulations.See footnote 140

FEMA undertakes studies to identify “areas within the United States having special flood, mudslide, and flood-related erosion hazards” and to assess flood risk.See footnote 141 In coordination with participating communities, FEMA then uses these studies to develop Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMS), which designate specific types of flood zones depending on the type and magnitude of flood risk. Notably, FIRMS for many years have also served as the basis for flood insurance rates. Of particular focus is the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), which encompasses all “flood risk zones that have a chance of flooding during a ‘1 in 100-year flood’ or greater frequency.”See footnote 142 Local governments participating in the NFIP must meet certain standards related to land development within the SFHA, including requiring development permits, requiring that the lowest floor of residential buildings be elevated to or above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE),See footnote 143 restricting development in the regulatory floodway,See footnote 144 and more.See footnote 145 While an in-depth discussion of how flood insurance rate setting is outside the scope of this Goal, it is worth noting that in 2021, FEMA adopted a revised methodology — Risk Rating 2.0 — that is intended to set insurance rates based not only on flood zones but also on more property-specific considerations like building characteristics, past incidence of flooding, and different types of flooding.See footnote 146 FIRMs will still be used for floodplain management purposes and to determine flood insurance purchase requirements.See footnote 147

Individuals within communities participating in the NFIP that have adopted a floodplain management plan and regulations complying with the minimum federal standards can then obtain flood insurance through the program. Even though the NFIP, flood insurance can be very costly, however. To help communities alleviate the cost of flood insurance premiums for residents and simultaneously help to achieve goals related to comprehensive flood risk mitigation, Congress authorized the creation of the Community Rating System (CRS).See footnote 148 The CRS is a subprogram of the NFIP that incentivizes participating communities to go above and beyond the NFIP’s minimum standards in return for flood insurance premium discounts. The goals of the CRS are:

  1. to provide incentives for measures that reduce the risk of flood or erosion damage that exceed the [minimum federal floodplain management criteria] and evaluate such measures; 
  2. to encourage the adoption of more effective measures that protect natural and beneficial floodplain functions; 
  3. to encourage floodplain and erosion management; and 
  4. to promote the reduction of Federal flood insurance losses.See footnote 149

Communities can receive CRS credits by undertaking a range of activities, which then qualify them to receive a classification rating that corresponds to insurance discounts. Importantly, CRS credits communities for activities that minimize flood risk for new development, including preserving open space, protecting natural floodplain functions, promoting higher regulatory standards and regulating new development in the floodplain, and regulating development in the watershed.See footnote 150

This goal identifies legal, planning, policy, and project-related solutions for parishes and municipalities that wish to greaux resilience through natural flood mitigation, and specifically, by integrating nature-based solutions and flood mitigation considerations into different infrastructure and development planning, regulation, and investment processes. To the extent that solutions discussed can help communities reduce flood insurance costs by obtaining CRS credit, these opportunities are called out, in addition to other social and environmental co-benefits. The solutions discussed in this goal are also intended to be considered as part of a more holistic approach that considers community resilience, housing affordability, infrastructure, and natural flood mitigation, depending on an individual jurisdiction’s needs and priorities. As with the other goals in the Regional Vision, the solutions identified here should also be considered and implemented using the implementation and capacity-building solutions discussed in Goal Five.

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives that were identified as priorities through the process to develop the Regional Vision. Again, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of every action a jurisdiction could implement to greaux natural flood mitigation and resilience through infrastructure and development planning, regulation, and investment. Moreover, these objectives are only intended to serve as a starting point for many parishes, municipalities, and communities in Region Seven and Louisiana that are already adopting some flood mitigation solutions related to infrastructure and development. As such, policymakers may consider and see all or parts of their community in one, all, or some of the objectives. The objectives are also informed by informational interviews, case studies, and other resources to suggest how policymakers may evaluate and use them in practice.

Objective 2.1:

Collaborate regionally to identify upstream investments in the infrastructure and natural environment that will mitigate downstream flooding.

The Need

In watershed regions across the country, and within Region Seven, local governments are increasingly recognizing a need to collaborate at regional scales to alleviate challenges associated with flooding. Water does not respect jurisdictional boundaries; it will flow to lower-lying areas using the path of least resistance.See footnote 151 This reality can create challenges for downstream communities that cannot be easily — or even entirely — resolved by these communities on their own. Collaboration and coordination with upstream communities across regional and watershed scales are important for the resilience and safety of people as well as infrastructure and ecosystems in flood-prone regions. Ultimately, a watershed-based approach can help yield greater flood mitigation outcomes.See footnote 152

Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission.

In Louisiana, this need for regional approaches to flood mitigation was especially apparent following the historic 2016 floods, leading to the creation of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative (LWI) and a goal of regional, watershed-based flood risk management.See footnote 153 The state has recognized the need to work “within the interdependencies of [its] communities, infrastructure, political jurisdictions, and natural environment to increase Louisiana’s resilience and its ability to adapt and thrive.”See footnote 154 LWI is designed to facilitate intra- and inter-watershed collaboration to improve governance and decisionmaking around investments that will improve flood mitigation.

This is no easy task, however. Funding is limited, and local governments are accustomed to thinking about physical infrastructure investments in terms of what they can do within their own jurisdictional bounds to achieve better outcomes for their communities. Regional watershed-scale planning and decisionmaking requires consideration of larger-scale complex relationships in the built and natural environments, and in certain instances, advocating for investments that are outside a given parish or municipal government’s own authority in the interest of greater regional resilience. This objective aims to “greaux” regional resilience by calling for Region Seven parishes and local governments to work together in identifying built or natural infrastructure investments that maximize flood mitigation outcomes for the region — focusing especially on needs of downstream communities.


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Regional coordination and governance are challenging. However, as noted in the Introduction to this Regional Vision, Region Seven parishes and municipalities already have a mechanism in place in the LWI through which to coordinate on setting priorities for investments that will mitigate downstream flooding. Although the regional steering committees established in each of the LWI regions are not legislatively authorized entities as of early 2022, for purposes of region-wide watershed management and decisionmaking, they have served as a starting point for parishes and other authorities within each LWI region to build relationships and a common practice of collaboration and coordination, which is critical to the success of any regional governance effort — regardless of the level of formal decisionmaking authority.

A regional governance analysis completed by the LWI for Region Seven indicated that there are multiple authorities across the region involved in water management roles, none of which have the authority to operate throughout the entire watershed region.See footnote 155 Within each individual parish, parish and municipal governments hold the majority of authorities relevant to mitigating flooding impacts, including adopting and enforcing of land-use and zoning ordinances, developing watershed management plans and floodplain management standards, generating revenue through taxation and bonding, and implementing projects.See footnote 156

The Regional Capacity Building Grant Program (RCBG) was developed as one component of the LWI to help the eight regions initially build capacity for coordination, develop regional steering committees, and make recommendations for work plans and long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 157 Each region submitted final recommendations for a long-term watershed coalition in August 2021. Phase 2 of the RCBG Program is intended to support continued flood risk reduction efforts and to implement recommendations for the long-term watershed coalitions.See footnote 158

In the absence of a legislatively authorized regional governing entity for watershed management for Region Seven, or in the interim until such an entity is created, Region Seven parishes and municipalities should continue to work together in assessing flood risks and mitigation needs that would best serve the region. However, there are additional options for Region Seven local governments in the absence of a state-established regional governance structure for watershed-based planning.

Local governments in Louisiana have options for formalizing agreements to jointly develop projects, including for flood control and drainage, or to engage in other joint exercises of local powers,See footnote 159 and regional planning commissions are authorized to form associations for the purposes of broader regional planning efforts.See footnote 160 Parishes are also authorized to form drainage districts that span more than one parish,See footnote 161 which could be a useful tool for addressing cross-boundary drainage and flooding challenges at smaller watershed scales. Regional governance (i.e., decisionmaking) can take a variety of forms, though, and does not necessarily have to be formalized to be effective. Many regional collaboratives across the United States are demonstrating the values of coordinating regionally — yet informally (i.e., without formal regional authority) — to build resilience.See footnote 162

Regardless of formality, regional coordination can be an effective capacity-building tool and a way to pool and leverage limited resources, share knowledge and expertise, and undertake studies that can inform regional to local decisionmaking. In the context of planning for investments that will improve resilience at regional scales, regional collaboration could take the form of: 

  • Jointly sponsoring or undertaking regional studies to help identify priority locations for investments (e.g., the four-county Southeast Florida region developed a Unified Sea-Level Rise Projection for use by decisionmakers in the individual counties), 
  • Coordinating in the development of watershed master plans (which can earn communities credit under the Community Rating System), 
  • Partnering to seek and apply for funding from additional federal or other sources, and 
  • Sharing best policy practices and facilitating other peer learning opportunities.See footnote 163

Any of these activities, undertaken in partnership, could help Region Seven parishes build flood resilience within communities and at the broader regional scale.

For more information on regional coordination and governance more broadly, see Objective 5.4.


Crosscutting Practice Considerations and Tips

When identifying and promoting ways to promulgate or expand regional collaboration, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of tools and actions:

  • Build in time and budget for engaging communities and elected officials 
  • Building and maintain trust and relationships
  • Identify data and modeling and other needs that can be met through regional collaboration
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including those related to regional coordination and new capacity-building partnerships.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective. 

  • Build in time and budget for engaging communities and elected officials: Collaborating regionally is challenging for many reasons, but support from both community and elected official levels can go a long way. Robust outreach efforts to inform and engage communities, especially those most impacted by these challenges, such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), low-income, and resource-constrained communities, around priorities for flood resilience and how a region-wide approach could help can generate bottom-up momentum for regional-scale initiatives. Additionally, elected officials should be informed at key points to ensure that there is legislative and executive buy-in before any necessary action items arise, especially regarding votes or decisions related to budget and funding, or project prioritization.
  • Build and maintain trust and relationships: Trust and transparency are critical for the success of regional initiatives that involve multiple local governments. Collaboration provides unique opportunities for parish and municipal staff to engage with peers and counterparts from other jurisdictions, and work towards common goals, which can include regional-, state-, and even federal-level projects. Building these relationships and trust over time helps to generate a collective will to pursue joint projects or funding opportunities, rather than compete for them.See footnote 164 Thus, over time, collaboration may help mitigate some of the sensitivities and political challenges associated with advocating for investments within another jurisdiction in pursuit of the greater regional benefit. Trust and relationship-building among staff involved in regional collaboration can also create continuity, which can help maintain momentum even as leadership and elected officials transition over time.See footnote 165
  • Identify data and modeling and other needs that can be met through regional collaboration: Collaboration can be an extremely effective way of maximizing outcomes with less individual input — a case where the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. Scientific and technical studies and assessments can be very costly to undertake for an individual jurisdiction, however, the cost to expand such a study or assessment to a larger geographic scale is often not significantly more. In many instances, it is more cost-effective for neighboring jurisdictions to pool resources (or partner to secure joint funding) to pay for these efforts, compared to singular jurisdictions undertaking their own individual studies or assessments. For example, the four-county Southeast Florida region has developed unified sea-level rise projections and climate indicators for the region and completed a regional greenhouse gas inventory, among other regional-scale projects.See footnote 166 Similarly, jurisdictions working together can better leverage the differing expertise from among the pool of participating staff to advance the goals of regional working groups and other collective efforts and programs. 
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnershipsWhile historically decisionmaking has been limited to governmental participants, recent studies show that diversity and inclusion in decisionmaking spaces and prioritizing procedural equity has led to better outcomes.See footnote 167 Looking outside parish and municipal governments to partners in nonprofit, academic, community, and other circles can help bring in expertise to fill gaps from the core group of participating government officials. These partners can also help to neutralize challenging conversations and facilitate ways to build consensus across a region.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons. 

Related Resources

 
State of Iowa and State of Texas: Regional Water Planning

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB or Board) is a governmental entity in the state of Texas that coordinates water planning and water project financing, often with collaboration from other state agencies and entities. The TWDB partners with other Texas state entities, such as the Department of Agriculture and Division of Emergency Management, to coordinate funding allocations and water resource management throughout the state. TWDB also designates Flood Planning Region inside the state. TWDB is currently engaged in regional flood planning for the state, and the Board is in the process of creating new regional flood plans that will inform the development of a first-ever statewide flood plan scheduled for completion in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

Iowa has a statutorily created Water Resources Coordinating Council (WRCC) within the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship that includes members from Iowa University deans, officials from other state departments, and federal representation from EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal officials or designees who oversee regional or state-focused policies affecting Iowa water. WRCC oversees the statewide regional watershed assessment program, which assesses all state watersheds over the course of five-year rotations. Much like TWDB, the WRCC also takes various coordinating actions, such as reviewing voluntary management best practices, developing protocols for interagency regional watershed coordination, and contracts with partners and third parties. These examples from Texas and Iowa may provide useful models for other regions regarding statewide and regional interagency coordination relating to watershed management.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Following Hurricane Harvey, the city created its Resilient Houston plan to guide investments to make Houston more resilient to future storms and disasters. Goals 8 and 18 of Resilient Houston seek to foster collaboration with other counties and regional entities to promote integrated watershed management. Regional cooperation of this kind is consistent with Houston’s efforts under Goal 10 to create a “one water plan” that prioritizes resilient infrastructure and coordinates federal, state, and local efforts to develop a Stormwater Master Plan. Multiple goals in Resilient Houston thus seek to move away from managing flood waters at only the city level and toward conserving natural benefits through local and regional collaboration and innovation. These nature-based drainage approaches include promoting denser urban infill to relieve green spaces, leveraging flood mitigation investments with multi-functional design elements, and incentivizing GSI on private property to “mimic the natural flow of water in pre-development conditions.” Houston’s example can help other jurisdictions consider opportunities for regional watershed coordination to help enhance flood readiness by coordinating efforts across multiple jurisdictions experiencing similar risks and challenges. 

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy is designed to help guide the city’s steps to become more resilient and adapt to sea level rise and flooding by gradually implementing actions through a watershed-based approach. Virginia Beach consists of four watersheds, both inland and coastal, that are characterized by unique physical properties and land-use patterns and affected by five distinct types of flooding - high tide, wind tide, storm surge, rainfall/compounding, and groundwater flooding. To accommodate these differences, four watershed-specific plans were developed with a suite of adaptation tools and projects for each watershed. The city applied a general “Adaptation Framework” that includes four primary categories of adaptation tools or responses - natural mitigations, engineered defenses, adapted structures, and prepared communities - to address the diverse needs of each of the city’s watersheds. The strategy is the result of a five-year, city-led effort to engage the community and study sea level rise and flooding in Virginia Beach. The strategy is noteworthy for identifying adaptation tools and projects based on the different types of flooding that occur in each of the city’s watersheds. Other local governments may consider this example to similarly craft watershed- or neighborhood-scale adaptation plans in jurisdictions with diverse flooding risks, geographies, and land-use patterns.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

Austin’s watershed management plan was most recently updated in 2016, with the original plan being adopted 20 years prior. The updated initiative, the Watershed Protection Strategic Plan, aims to address complex challenges including climate change, population growth, and racial inequities related to how low-income communities of color in Austin have historically been underserved by the city. With regards to flooding, the next iteration of the plan aims to capture a more holistic version of risk that incorporates social vulnerability with technical risk data. The updates will be informed by climate projections as well as a National Weather Service rainfall study conducted for Texas in 2018 titled Atlas 14 that includes more recent flood-related data to enable the city to more accurately predict flood risk. Through the watershed plan update, the city also intends to increase community engagement beyond that involved for the original 2001 plan by putting more time and effort into meeting a broad cross-section of residents through different means. In addition, the new data and plan will inform potential amendments to the city’s floodplain management regulations, including the boundary of the 100-year floodplain and where future development may occur relative to that boundary. Other cities can learn from Austin’s approach to leading with data and planning to guide future regulatory changes.

Objective 2.2:

Consider high-value opportunities to avoid development in areas that provide natural flood mitigation, and to integrate natural and nature-based solutions into development requirements.

The Need

As areas in Region Seven experience population changes and development pressures, policymakers are considering ways to preserve land that provides natural flood mitigation benefits. There are many well-documented advantages to prioritizing natural flood mitigation, when possible, over traditional gray infrastructureSee footnote 168 approaches to flood mitigation. Natural floodplains can slow runoff and provide storage for excess water, reducing the flow rate and velocity of floodwater, thereby helping to reduce the risk of flooding to surrounding areas, infrastructure, and communities.See footnote 169 They can also provide important ecosystem services, such as providing habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife and promoting biodiversity; filtering pollutants and improving water quality; and recharging groundwater resources.See footnote 170

For any local government, regardless of the scale, preserving areas that provide natural flood mitigation can be an important component of a resilience strategy — not just for the immediate communities where the projects are implemented, but also for those adjacent and further downstream as well. The more water that can be stored in place and released slowly, the less strain there is on built infrastructure to provide flood mitigation and the less risk there is of loss of life and property.

In addition to reducing risk and providing ecosystem services, there are other practical reasons to preserve natural floodplains and otherwise integrate natural and nature-based solutions into development requirements. Under state law, local governments in Louisiana are authorized to adopt regulations that will help minimize losses from flooding and that comply with requirements of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968.See footnote 171 As discussed in the Background for Goal Two, parishes and municipalities must agree to comply with federal regulations and participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in order to access federally -subsidized flood insurance coverage, and to receive federal post-disaster financial assistance.See footnote 172 To participate in the NFIP, communities must demonstrate that they have floodplain management regulations in place that meet minimum standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 173 However, for communities that go beyond the minimum floodplain management requirements, including through higher regulatory standards and preserving open space, it is possible to realize significant savings in the cost of flood insurance through the Community Rating System, which is discussed further in the Background for Goal Two.

Credit: The Water Collaborative.

There are many options available to local governments seeking to preserve areas that provide natural flood mitigation and to expand or integrate new nature-based solutions into the built environment. While many of the opportunities to preserve large tracts of wetlands and other open spaces that provide natural flood mitigation may arise in rural areas of Region Seven, there are also opportunities to promote natural flood mitigation and stormwater management in more urban areas through nature-based solutions (including low-impact development and green infrastructure practices), discussed further in the infrastructure planning context in Objective 2.4. Various approaches to building community resilience by expanding green space in more urban areas are discussed further in Goal One of the Regional Vision. Natural flood mitigation opportunities related to development requirements or open space preservation should also be considered in the context of housing needs and development patterns; policymakers can refer to Goal 3 and Goal 4 for more information.

This objective calls on Region Seven local governments to identify those areas within their boundaries that provide the greatest potential for nature-based flood mitigation, and to explore options either to protect these areas from development entirely or, should these areas be developed, to incorporate new high-value natural features in development through regulatory or incentive means.


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Local governments can seek to protect and expand natural and nature-based flood mitigation through one or a combination of three types of actions:

  • Planning
  • Land-use and zoning regulations; and 
  • Incentives.

Additionally, local governments can consider opportunities to acquire and conserve land for flood mitigation or stormwater management purposes, for example through the acquisition of vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties and conversion to green spaces such as a stormwater park. For more information on these policy options, please see Objective 1.3.

Planning

Two planning approaches that local governments can utilize to preserve and enhance open space areas providing natural flood mitigation include comprehensive planning and watershed master planning.

Comprehensive Planning

As it has been noted in other parts of the Regional Vision (see, e.g., Objective 1.2, Objective 4.1), it is often the case for parishes and municipalities that community and land development (and preservation) begins with and is guided by comprehensive planning. In Louisiana, a local comprehensive plan — referred to as a “master plan” in state statute — is “a statement of public policy for the physical development of a parish or municipality” that is adopted by that parish or municipality.”See footnote 174 Parishes and municipalities that adopt master plans are required to consider them when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 175 This procedural requirement encourages local governments to take actions that are consistent with their local comprehensive plans.

If parishes and municipalities set policies prioritizing natural flood mitigation projects and the preservation of open space in their local comprehensive plans, these plans can serve as a guiding and coordinating force among subsequent local ordinances and regulations. Ascension Parish is one example of a Region Seven local government with a Master Land Use Plan, which includes a chapter focused on drainage, floodplain management, and wastewater. Comprehensive plans are also an ideal mechanism for setting a holistic vision that integrates housing and infrastructure considerations, with needs for flood mitigation considered in all contexts. For more information related to housing considerations in planning, see Goal Three and Goal Four.

Watershed Master Planning

Another type of plan that Region Seven local governments may choose is developing a watershed master plan. These plans are intended to provide an overall vision and decisionmaking framework for reducing flooding within a watershed. Watershed master plans typically evaluate how different design stormsSee footnote 176 affect runoff within the watershed (including perhaps under future climate conditions as well as current conditions), identify wetlands and natural channels, and recommend regulatory standards, projects, and other strategies to improve flood mitigation.See footnote 177 Jefferson Parish developed a Watershed Management Plan with comprehensive recommendations for mitigating flood loss damages, including the recommendation to adopt qualifying ordinances that prohibit development, alteration, or modification of existing natural channels. Regulating development and redevelopment according to a watershed master plan can earn a community credit under the Community Rating System Activity 450, Stormwater Management ⎯ Watershed Master Plan (452.b).See footnote 178 

Land-Use and Zoning Regulations

Local governments can also consider adopting or amending land-use and zoning, subdivision, and other development ordinances to preserve areas providing natural flood mitigation, either alongside the development of a master plan or as a standalone effort. These regulatory approaches can create enforceable development standards and requirements related to natural flood mitigation, while providing regulatory consistency and transparency to the development community.

Zoning and Overlays

One of the most common ways to create consistent development restrictions is through zoning, which establishes permissible uses (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial) for given areas within a jurisdiction's boundaries. Overlay zones or districts can provide an additional layer for regulations depending on special characteristics, such as sensitive environmental features. Overlay zones allow local governments to address the specific needs of discrete geographic areas without needing to amend the underlying use classifications laid out in a zoning ordinance. For this reason, overlays can be a useful tool for preserving natural floodplains and open spaces by restricting development or requiring minimum lot sizes in “sensitive areas” to help limit development-related stormwater runoff. St. Tammany Parish, for example, uses a Rural Overlay to provide greater protection for forests and undeveloped land and place limitations on the percentage of a lot that can be developed. St. Bernard Parish is piloting a resilience district approach, which will implement an overlay district to better encourage green infrastructure and open spaces within a certain area of the community. Zoning approaches that significantly reduce the amount of development can earn a community credit under the Community Rating System Activity 420, Open Space Preservation ⎯ Low-density Zoning (422.g).See footnote 179 

Buffer and Greenspace Requirements

Land-use, zoning, and floodplain ordinances can also be used to establish buffer requirements, which specify that during development, a certain amount of land must remain preserved in its natural state in order to provide ecosystem services like flood mitigation. This can help to ensure that development adjacent to the buffer zone does not suffer from increased flood risks.See footnote 180 For example, Tangipahoa Parish requires a “25-foot perimeter buffer of undisturbed green space” for all major subdivisions and special use commercial districts.See footnote 181

More generally, local governments can also require that developers set aside land for greenspace depending on the type or size of a development project. For example, St. Tammany Parish requires a minimum ratio of 580 square feet of greenspace per residential lot for any subdivision development with more than 25 lots.See footnote 182

Buffers and greenspace requirements are additional examples of regulatory approaches that can help meet flood mitigation goals while not prohibiting development outright. Buffer requirements that prohibit buildings and fill within the buffer zone can also earn communities credit under the Community Rating System Activity 420, Open Space Preservation — Open Space Preservation (422.a).See footnote 183 Jefferson Parish applies greenspace requirements and standards based on specific zoning districts, overlays, and uses.See footnote 184

Minimum Lot Sizes

Other regulatory approaches, like minimum lot sizes, can similarly provide protection within the floodplain or other environmentally sensitive areas without prohibiting development outright. Setting a minimum acreage for lots to be developed, local governments can enhance natural flood mitigation by effectively limiting the concentration of development (and therefore impervious surface) that is permitted. Minimum lot sizes (of five acres or more) can also earn a community credit under the Community Rating System, Activity 420, Open Space Preservation ⎯ Low-Density Zoning (422.g).See footnote 185 St. John the Baptist Parish applies a 25-acre minimum lot size (and limits uses other than those related to conservation or forestry to single-family) within its Environmental Conservation District,See footnote 186 a classification that helps to restrict development in low-lying marsh areas or areas that otherwise provide critical ecosystem services. This approach may not be appropriate in all circumstances, however, such as in dense urban areas or areas where housing affordability may be a concern. For more information on housing affordability considerations in urban contexts, see Goal Three, and in a rural context, see Goal Four.

There are two things that should be considered when developing these regulatory approaches:

  1. Opting for  low-discretion, rather than high-discretion language will make the expectations and purpose of the approaches clearer; and
  2. Fully understand the unintended consequences of the approaches that you are adopting. For example, while a minimum lot size may be ideal for preserving open space it is also cost-prohibitive for certain individuals and communities and may further exacerbate existing affordable housing crises.

To assist local governments in Louisiana with developing comprehensive plans, land-use and zoning ordinances, and other regulatory approaches, the Center for Planning Excellence has produced relevant resources, including a Land Use Toolkit, a Coastal Land Use Toolkit, and an Implementation Guide. Region Seven parishes and municipalities may find these resources useful, particularly when considering developing or updating a comprehensive plan and/or land-use and zoning ordinance. 

Incentives

Finally, incentives can provide another method to help ensure that open space is preserved or new green features are included as a component of development. Incentives can take a variety of forms; several examples are discussed below. Many incentives for open space preservation can achieve a community credit under the Community Rating System Activity 420, Open Space Preservation ⎯ Open Space Incentives (422.f).See footnote 187

Transfer of Development Rights

One example of an innovative method to preserve wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas in their natural state, which ultimately helps to mitigate flooding, is through a transfer of development rights (TDR) program. TDR provides a market incentive to shift development away from certain areas (in this case, environmentally sensitive areas that provide flood mitigation).See footnote 188 TDR offers developers rights to other developable lands (“receiving areas”) in exchange for purchasing development rights from willing sellers in environmentally sensitive areas (“sending areas”), which are then preserved in their natural state. Development rights can be extinguished in sending areas through the private or nonprofit purchase of an entire parcel of land (also known as an “in fee total”) or through the purchase of conservation easements to all or part of a person’s property.  St. John the Baptist Parish envisions potentially creating a TDR program, as indicated in the parish’s Comprehensive Plan Land Use’s Hazard Mitigation Element.See footnote 189 For more information and examples related to TDR programs, please see the Georgetown Climate Center’s Managed Retreat Toolkit part on Transfer of Development Rights.

Other Density/Use Incentives

Aside from TDR programs, local governments can offer other types of incentives to preserve open space for flood mitigation purposes by allowing subdivision developers to increase density or decrease lot sizes compared to what would otherwise be allowed in the specified area. For example, Tangipahoa Parish offers the option of “conservation developments,” in which smaller lot sizes are permitted in exchange for preserving stormwater management areas, a majority of which must be contiguous with each other.See footnote 190 In order to take advantage of this incentive, a subdivision must meet certain size requirements, and generally the stormwater management area must be in the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or amount to at least 30 percent of the gross site size if the site is within Flood Zones X or X500 (both of which are deemed lower-risk and outside the SFHA).See footnote 191 The parish is also offering incentives for wetlands preservation in major subdivisions consisting of 20 or more acres, or 50 or more lots.See footnote 192

Permitting Incentives

Local governments might consider offering developers non-financial types of incentives like access to expedited permitting processes or shortened review periods to incorporate green space in development plans. Houston completed an Incentives for Green Development study to examine different approaches to encourage green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) in development. The stakeholders engaged for the study indicated that expedited permitting would incentivize greater uptake of GSI in development.

Tax Incentives

Local governments can discourage development in and encourage the preservation of natural floodplain areas by offering tax incentives. In this context, tax incentives could include, for example, programs that lower tax assessments in exchange for an agreement to preserve land in its natural state, and programs that freeze increases in property taxes so long as the environmentally sensitive areas within a project area are preserved and undeveloped.See footnote 193


Crosscutting Practice Considerations and Tips

When considering the most appropriate and feasible ways to preserve or expand areas that provide natural flood mitigation, decisionmakers may find the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips useful:

  • Consider flood mitigation needs holistically
  • Lead with data
  • Prioritize education about the benefits of natural flood mitigation
  • Engage communities and other stakeholders
  • Coordinate with other authorities in the parish 

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting practice tips and considerations including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and identifying priority data needs around flooding, drainage, and mitigation options.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Consider flood mitigation needs holistically: Flood risks and potential solutions that seek to preserve open space or otherwise maximize nature-based solutions that provide natural flood mitigation should be considered in the context of overall development patterns, housing needs, and affordability concerns. Preserving open space and implementing regulations that otherwise limit development can be costly, and ultimately affect the affordability of new homes; these costs should be considered alongside the flood mitigation benefits of strengthening standards and the overall housing needs and affordability concerns in a parish or municipality. Decisionmakers can refer to Goal Three and Goal Four for more information on how to integrate solutions that promote housing affordability in urban and rural contexts, respectively.
  • Lead with data: In prioritizing physical locations that provide natural flood mitigation, decisionmakers should ensure that they are relying on the latest data and science. This includes maps estimating flood depths and extent and precipitation estimates relating to intensity, frequency, and duration of weather events. The Louisiana Watershed Initiative is also working with technical experts to develop hydrologic and hydraulic models for the state’s watersheds, which will support more data-driven decisionmaking when completed. Accurate data and models with a good understanding of uncertainties can help local governments justify decisions regarding areas to protect from development through various planning, regulatory, incentive, or other measures. For more information on prioritizing data needs related to flood mitigation, see Objective 5.2
  • Prioritize education about the benefits of natural flood mitigation: In order to build capacity and to generate buy-in from the public and elected officials to preserve open space, these audiences should have access to spaces where they can develop a common understanding of the many benefits of natural flood mitigation, including social, environmental, and economic co-benefits. Local governments should consider a variety of approaches to interact with these audiences, such as through developing fact sheets, social media, displays and signs in preservation areas, and through holding meetings and other in-person engagements. 
  • Engage communities and other stakeholders: Decisions regarding development limitations or requirements designed to protect or enhance natural areas for flood mitigation should involve robust community and stakeholder engagement. Community members, especially those who are resource-limited and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income stakeholders, have direct knowledge about flood challenges their neighborhood is experiencing. As such, any decisionmakers should seek to learn from individuals firsthand about their experiences and priorities. Additionally, decisionmakers should prioritize input from and transparency with the development community throughout the stakeholder engagement process. Effective community and stakeholder engagement practices that decisionmakers can adopt in this context are discussed further in Objective 5.1.
  • Coordinate with other authorities within the parish: While inter-parish coordination is important for an overarching regional scale strategy for flood mitigation, intraparish coordination should also be prioritized when considering planning, regulatory, or incentive measures to preserve open space for natural flood mitigation. Planning and environment departments are key partners, but decisionmakers should also identify any other relevant agencies or authorities (e.g., drainage districts, municipalities, parks, open space, and community development or revitalization departments) in the parish that should be involved in order to provide greater legal and policy consistency and coordinated implementation, when possible. Making intraparish coordination standard practice can help avoid conflicting legal or implementation efforts. Additionally, coordination within a parish (and across parishes, if feasible) can help provide greater regulatory consistency to the development community.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons. 

Related Resources

 
Ascension Parish, Louisiana and St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana: Conservation Planning and Zoning

Ascension and St. Tammany Parishes are two parishes or counties in Louisiana that are using planning and zoning to promote floodplain management and conserve green spaces. Ascension Parish adopted a new Master Land Use Plan in 2019, which contains eleven chapters charting a future vision for land use in the parish over the next 20 to 25 years including priorities for balancing population growth with drainage, floodplain management, and recreation and open space, among other considerations. The parish emphasizes the benefits of parks and open spaces in terms of their health, environmental, social, and economic values, and the plan identifies ways to protect and conserve open spaces, including through floodplain management. In the plan, the parish also highlights how preserving and expanding recreational spaces in Ascension is an important sustainability and resiliency practice.

In 1999, St. Tammany released an updated version of its local comprehensive plan, New Directions 2025 (ND 2025). In ND 2025, the parish also recommends that the parish government expand and extend existing conservation areas and establish a network of contiguous open spaces, with the 100-year floodplain network serving as a starting point. Expected benefits of these actions include mitigating flood risk, providing community amenities, enhancing natural resources, and supporting recreational activities like hunting and fishing. These parishes provide examples that may be useful for other local governments regarding the use of planning as a step towards preserving open space for natural flood mitigation and other benefits.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish is one of Louisiana’s oldest settled areas. The parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural. The parish has undertaken some work to downzone some of its most vulnerable conservation areas and create incentives to direct population growth into already-populated areas. However, these initiatives are still being implemented parish-wide. In response to impacts from repeated hurricanes and weather events, the parish has taken multiple initiatives to address these risks that come from its proximity to both rising sea levels and congestion-prone evacuation routes. The Parish’s Comprehensive Plan seeks to limit wetlands development through innovative methods like transferring development rights from privately owned wetlands to other developable lands. Other local policymakers working to address rural flood issues can look to St. John the Baptist for their policies designed to preserve rural and flood-prone areas and maintain parish character and reduce risk to homes and infrastructure.

City of Mexico Beach, Florida: Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code

Mexico Beach is a small, coastal community in Florida that has begun to adopt resilience measures. The city has a comprehensive plan to guide future development and land-use decisions. The plan encompasses multiple elements, including future land use, which includes protecting and conserving natural resources like coastal resources and beaches for their ecosystem services and aesthetics. The comprehensive plan promotes this type of development by mapping the city’s municipal areas and designating categories of future land use for each area within it. For example, the preservation district is used to protect natural and environmentally sensitive resources, and future development within it is limited to compatible uses. The city’s land development code builds on the comprehensive plan’s goals and guiding principles through regulation. Each district in Mexico Beach comes with a maximum permitted ratio of impervious surface area. The lowest of these is found in preservation districts, where impervious cover cannot exceed 20 percent. In these districts, beach dunes and natural beach areas must be preserved in all cases. In addition, the code identifies “protection zones” which govern the development of environmentally sensitive features. The code includes protection zones for trees, beaches and dunes, wetlands, and wildlife. Local governments wishing to set preservation goals can learn from the approach to comprehensive planning and implementing regulations in Mexico Beach, which have established preservation districts for environmentally sensitive areas.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

Austin’s watershed management plan was most recently updated in 2016, with the original plan being adopted 20 years prior. The updated initiative, the Watershed Protection Strategic Plan, aims to address complex challenges including climate change, population growth, and racial inequities related to how low-income communities of color in Austin have historically been underserved by the city. With regards to flooding, the next iteration of the plan aims to capture a more holistic version of risk that incorporates social vulnerability with technical risk data. The updates will be informed by climate projections as well as a National Weather Service rainfall study conducted for Texas in 2018 titled Atlas 14 that includes more recent flood-related data to enable the city to more accurately predict flood risk. Austin provides an example for other jurisdictions on how pursuing zoning and growth management can help cities incorporate green spaces into the future of urban and suburban developed areas, providing environmental benefits.

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy is designed to help guide the city’s steps to become more resilient and adapt to sea-level rise and flooding by gradually implementing actions through a watershed-based approach. Virginia Beach consists of four watersheds, both inland and coastal, that are characterized by unique physical properties and land-use patterns and affected by five distinct types of flooding - high tide, wind tide, storm surge, rainfall/compounding, and groundwater flooding. To accommodate these differences, four watershed-specific plans were developed with a suite of adaptation tools and projects for each watershed. The city applied a general “Adaptation Framework” that includes four primary categories of adaptation tools or responses - natural mitigations, engineered defenses, adapted structures, and prepared communities - to address the diverse needs of each of the city’s watersheds. The strategy is the result of a five-year, city-led effort to engage the community and study sea-level rise and flooding in Virginia Beach. The strategy is noteworthy for identifying adaptation tools and projects based on the different types of flooding that occur in each of the city’s watersheds. Other local governments may consider this example to similarly craft watershed- or neighborhood-scale adaptation plans in jurisdictions with diverse flooding risks, geographies, and land-use patterns.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Norfolk, Virginia: PlaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk Vision 2100, and Resilience Zoning Updates

Norfolk, Virginia is a coastal city whose history, economy, and culture are deeply tied to its location on the water. Facing new challenges of increased flooding and sea-level rise due to climate change, Norfolk has responded by developing a host of planning and zoning initiatives that are informed by these new risks and designed to increase the city’s resilience against them., Norfolk Vision 2100, the city’s long-term vision for building resilience through land-use strategies, designates different areas in the city according to a four-color system, with each color designation primarily based on two factors: flooding risk and present or future assets. Each color corresponds to a set of adaptation and resilience strategies that should be targeted for the unique risks and opportunities that define a given area type. The city also updated its zoning ordinance with changes designed to foster resilience using overlays and a resilience quotient system that awards points for integrating different resilience features in development. Norfolk’s efforts are an example of how various tools, including a comprehensive plan, a long-range plan, and an updated zoning ordinance, can be used together to build an integrated strategy for local resilience.

Objective 2.3:

Evaluate whether fill limitations, freeboard, or other requirements may help reduce flood risk from development.

The Need

The challenges with flooding in Region Seven and across Louisiana are widespread, with many contributing factors. These contributing factors include weather-related events — precipitation events, coastal storms, and tidal flooding  — and are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration. However, the effects of legal and policy decisions, including those relating to development and land-use patterns, drainage infrastructure, pervious and impervious surface area, and more, have also created challenges affecting where and how people can live and their overall resilience. Land use and development affect how readily water is (or is not) able to move through natural channels, and whether the natural environment has the capacity to accommodate changing flood patterns. Natural filtration capacity is lost as open space is converted to other uses. Development typically increases impervious surface areas, which leads to a greater velocity of stormwater runoff during precipitation events or other high water conditions, thus exacerbating flood risk. Sometimes, development also involves the use of earthen fill to elevate areas in the floodplain that are to be developed further. This is intended to reduce flood risk to the development itself by elevating the property. However, in some cases, this can actually exacerbate flood risk for surrounding (lower elevated) properties, and even the raised property itself, depending on the characteristics of the fill. That is, earthen fill can affect the overall ability of the land to store and convey water, increasing flood risks for upstream and downstream communities.See footnote 194

Given the significant impact of development on flood risk, it is important for local governments to have plans and regulations in place that seek to avoid or mitigate flood-related impacts from development as much as possible. Based on research and outreach conducted to inform the Regional Vision, drainage issues have been cited as a primary challenge by many of the parishes in Region Seven. It is also important for development and infrastructure itself to be designed with flood resilience in mind, particularly as some parts of Region Seven are experiencing historic growth, with recent escalations in the rate of permit applications filed.

This objective focuses on the need to evaluate and mitigate flood risk in areas that may be subject to new development. In addition, it encourages policymakers to consider whether existing standards are sufficient to protect new homes, as well as neighboring areas upstream and downstream.

Policymakers should contemplate policy options that impose stricter flood mitigation standards for new development, holistically and in the context of other factors, like housing needs and affordability, both of which can be affected by development regulations. Furthermore, the recommendations in this objective should also be considered in the context of flooding risks associated with existing homes and infrastructure, and the legal, planning, and policy mechanisms that can be implemented to help address these risks. The recommendations contained in this objective do not address this risk to existing structures, except to the extent that regulations discussed may also apply to substantial redevelopment.


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Informed by the latest data on local flood risk, local governments can seek to avoid or mitigate flooding from new development through one or a combination of three types of actions:

  • Freeboard requirements
  • Limitations on fill; and 
  • Stormwater and drainage regulations.

As discussed in the Background for Goal Two, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) establishes minimum standards for floodplain management and regulation within the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA, also referred to as the floodplain). Among these requirements is a minimum standard that building sites, subdivision proposals, and other proposed new developments in the floodplain are determined to be “reasonably safe from flooding.”See footnote 195 Supported by the latest available data and modeling, this standard can help local governments justify decisions to go beyond minimum NFIP requirements with respect to development proposed within a designated floodplain. Local governments may wish to consider these legal and policy options outlined above among the range of tools and approaches to reduce the risk of flooding to properties.

Much of the discussion below relates to technical classifications of how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines geographic zones or areas of the floodplain under the NFIP based on factors like frequency and intensity of flood risk and proximity to the coast. These zones also have impacts on local land-use and zoning. This objective does not define each of these zones in text. For more information about each of these zones, see the Congressional Research Service’s Introduction to the National Flood Insurance Program. Additional definitions and information relating to the NFIP can be found in the Goal Two Background.

Freeboard Requirements

The minimum NFIP floodplain management standards require that “all new construction and substantial improvement of residential structures” in the regulatory floodplain (also known as the Special Flood Hazard Area or SFHA) be elevated at or above the base flood elevation (BFE).See footnote 196 However, given the growing frequency and intensity of flood events, including outside the SFHA,See footnote 197 some local governments have adopted or are considering incorporating new or enhanced freeboard requirements in parish and municipal ordinances.

Credit: Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.

Freeboard refers to “an additional amount of height above the [BFE] used as a factor of safety in determining the level at which a structure’s lowest floor must be elevated or floodproofed to be in accordance with state or community floodplain management regulations.”See footnote 198 Freeboard can help account for unknown or unanticipated factors that can contribute to flood heights greater than the BFE, such as impacts from development in the watershed, wave action, blockage of infrastructure (e.g., bridges and culverts) by debris, or sea-level rise. Additionally, if a community that participates in the Community Rating System (CRS) program would like to work towards achieving a rating of eight or higher, they must have at least one foot of freeboard adopted.See footnote 199 Thus, freeboard not only reduces the risk of a structure flooding, it is also an explicit way to ensure that a parish or municipality can reap the full benefit of CRS points that are earned from activities to reduce flood insurance premiums across the participating community.

There are different ways that local governments can approach freeboard requirements, which are typically implemented in local ordinances including the floodplain ordinance. The following portion of this objective will contain potential provisions to be implemented or amended within an ordinance. While this list is not exhaustive, potential recommendations include: 

  • Raising the elevation requirements applying to the lowest part of a structure: Typically, elevation requirements either apply to the “lowest floor” (which may or may not include basements) or to the “lowest horizontal structural member of the lowest floor” (which can include components like HVAC systems and ductwork). The former is typical in the NFIP minimum criteria for SFHA A Zones,See footnote 200 while the latter is applied in V Zones as a stronger requirement, which mandates lower components of a structure to meet the elevation criteria.See footnote 201

    Description: An illustration of the difference between development standards applied in flood zones. Credit: Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Either of these standards could be applied in the context of a freeboard requirement, although the same freeboard requirement applied to the “lowest horizontal structural member of the lowest floor” would typically result in a more protective standard. Tangipahoa Parish applies a one-foot freeboard requirement based on the lowest floor (including basements) for new construction and substantial improvements of residential structures in areas of shallow flooding (AO/AH zones).See footnote 202
  • Specifying how structures may be elevated: There are multiple ways that structures can be elevated to meet freeboard requirements; in the absence of specific standards, this could include the use of compacted earthen fill, pier and beam construction, piling and columns, or other types of raised foundations.See footnote 203 As noted below, there are downsides to the use of earthen fill and its use for the purpose of structural support is generally prohibited in all SFHA V zones,See footnote 204 so local governments could specify alternative means of meeting freeboard requirements. 
  • Expanding the zones or areas where freeboard requirements apply: In considering freeboard requirements, local governments must determine the FEMA flood zones (e.g., A and V zones only, or broader) or other areas (e.g., parish or municipal overlay zones or districts) in which to apply the requirements. Expanding these areas to include more properties can directly help reduce flood risks, as structures will be required to be elevated higher above the identified floodplain. For example, Mexico Beach, Florida updated its regulations following Hurricane Michael to require one-and-a-half feet of freeboard in both the 100-year SFHA and 500-year floodplains.See footnote 205 St. Tammany Parish requires the lowest finished floor of structures built-in “areas of special concern,” which are defined by ordinance, to be “situated at least 24 inches above the crown of the road surface directly adjacent to and in front of the parcel.”See footnote 206 Jefferson Parish applies a minimum one-foot freeboard requirement in Zone AE for all new residential construction and substantial damage/improvement of residential structures.See footnote 207

Communities adopting freeboard requirements can receive points under CRS Activity 430, Higher Regulatory Standards — Freeboard (432.b), with the total amount of points depending on the extent of freeboard requirements (relative to the SFHA), the height of freeboard required, and whether or not fill is also regulated.See footnote 208 

Limitations on Fill

For properties in the SFHA that are not in the designated regulatory floodway,See footnote 209 the placement of earthen fill is a common practice in the development community to help raise structures above the BFE.See footnote 210 Upon elevating with fill, property owners can petition FEMA to request that the area be removed from the SFHA, in which case requirements to comply with minimum NFIP floodplain management standards would no longer apply.See footnote 211 The same “reasonably safe from flooding” standard also applies when earthen fill is used to elevate an area proposed for development to or above the BFE. That is, when a map revision is sought to remove a filled area from the SFHA, the community must provide written assurance that “the land and any existing or proposed structures to be removed from the SFHA are ‘reasonably safe from flooding.’”See footnote 212

While the use of fill can help reduce flood risk for the structures built on top of the filled area, it can exacerbate flooding challenges for neighboring properties and communities as it “reduces floodplain storage capacity, can deflect waves onto neighboring property,” as well as having adverse impacts on environmental quality (e.g., wetlands, vegetation, and water) and functions such as drainage.See footnote 213 One option for local governments is to include additional restrictions or limitations on the use of fill in the SFHA and other areas that are environmentally sensitive or potentially at higher flood risk. These requirements, included in local floodplain management regulations, can take several different forms including:

  • Prohibiting fill in certain areas: The NFIP minimum floodplain management standards require prohibiting fill in portions of the SFHA designated as floodways,See footnote 214 but local governments may choose to entirely prohibit the use of fill for new development in the floodplain or in specific areas that may be deemed higher risk or critical environmental areas. This approach also maximizes credit in the CRS Activity 430, Higher Regulatory Standards – Development Limitations (432.a), with total points adjusted based on the portion of the SFHA covered by the restriction.See footnote 215
  • Implementing no-net-fill and other compensatory mitigation provisions: One alternative option to prohibiting the use of fill is to establish a no-net-fill requirement or other forms of compensatory mitigation requirement. These types of requirements are designed to ensure that any flood storage capacity lost due to the use of fill is compensated for by removing fill elsewhere to add storage capacity. For example, St. Tammany Parish generally prohibits net fill in “critical drainage areas” and on any lots or parcels 90 feet or less in width, except with an approved development plan.See footnote 216 Following Hurricane Harvey, Houston also extended its no-net-fill regulation to cover the entire 500-year floodplain. Compensatory mitigation requirements can also earn communities credit under CRS Activity 430, Higher Regulatory Standards – Development Limitations (432.a).See footnote 217
  • Limiting the amount or total average height of the fill: Where fill is permitted, it is common to place restrictions on the amount of fill that can be used, which include limitations on average height and how far (horizontally) beyond the building footprint the use of fill may extend. Ascension Parish limits fill to 36 inches in height, and only within the foundation footprint on individual lots smaller than one-half acre; however, the parish is considering extending this limit to all development scenarios (including subdivisions and commercial lots).See footnote 218 
Stormwater and Drainage Regulations

Aside from or in addition to freeboard requirements or limitations on fill, local governments may wish to implement other regulations that reduce flood risk through drainage infrastructure and stormwater management requirements. For example, parishes and municipalities can implement provisions requiring best management practices, requirements that properties retain a certain additional percentage of runoff relative to pre-development conditions, or promulgate provisions requiring that nature-based solutions or other features are included to provide adequate water storage capacity to accommodate a certain storm-frequency event. Iberville Parish requires that new development provide drainage infrastructure sufficient to accommodate a ten-year storm event. For commercial, industrial, institutional and certain multifamily developments, St. Tammany Parish requires a certain percentage reduction of pre-development peak runoff relative to the 25- or 100-year storm event, depending on the overall development size in acreage (e.g., with parcels five acres or larger required to reduce runoff by 25 percent for a 100-year storm event with on-site detention ponds required).See footnote 219 Based on the best available science and data, Region Seven parishes and municipalities might consider how future conditions could affect design storm events and whether to incorporate these anticipated changes into stormwater and drainage regulations.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When considering the most appropriate and feasible ways to minimize flood impacts from new development, decisionmakers may find the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips useful:

  • Consider flood mitigation needs holistically
  • Lead with data
  • Engage communities and other stakeholders
  • Coordinate with other authorities within the parish

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting practice tips and considerations including the use of science and data related to flooding, drainage, and mitigation (Objective 5.2).

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Consider flood mitigation needs holistically: Flood risks and potential solutions relating to new development should be considered comprehensively and in the context of flood risks to existing development and infrastructure needs to be identified by communities. Regulations affecting new development can be costly to implement, and ultimately affect the affordability of new homes; these costs should be considered alongside the flood mitigation benefits of strengthening standards and the overall housing needs and affordability concerns in a parish or municipality. Additionally, there may be greater concerns related to flooding of existing infrastructure, homes, and other properties, pointing to the need for parishes and municipalities to prioritize policy options that mitigate flooding in areas that are already developed.
  • Lead with data: When considering the utility of development limitations and requirements for reducing flood risk, decisionmakers should ensure that they are relying on the latest data and science. This includes maps estimating flood depths and extent and precipitation estimates relating to the intensity, frequency, and duration of flooding and weather events. The Louisiana Watershed Initiative is also working with technical experts to develop hydrologic and hydraulic models for the state’s watersheds, which will support more informed decisionmaking when completed. Using accurate data and models in conjunction with a good understanding of uncertainties can help local governments justify decisions to place limits on the use of fill in the floodplain or implement freeboard requirements. For more information on prioritizing data needs related to flood mitigation, see Objective 5.2.
  • Engage communities and other stakeholders: Decisions regarding development limitations or requirements designed to reduce flood risk from new developments and projects should involve robust community and stakeholder engagement. Community members, especially those who are resource-limited and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income stakeholders, have direct knowledge about flood challenges their neighborhood is experiencing, and decisionmakers should seek to learn from individuals firsthand about their experiences and priorities. Additionally, decisionmakers should prioritize input from and transparency with the development community throughout the stakeholder engagement and implementation processes. Effective community and stakeholder engagement practices that decisionmakers can adopt in this context are discussed further in Objective 5.1.
  • Coordinate with other authorities within a parish or municipality: As with Objective 2.2 and prioritizing open space preservation, intraparish coordination should also be prioritized when considering development limitations and requirements like fill restrictions and freeboard. Planning and environment departments are key partners, but decisionmakers should also identify any other relevant agencies or authorities (e.g., drainage districts, incorporated municipalities) in the parish that should be involved in order to provide greater policy consistency and coordinated implementation when possible. Making intraparish coordination standard practice can help avoid conflicting or duplicative regulatory or implementation efforts. Additionally, coordination within a parish and municipality (and across parishes and municipalities, if feasible) can help provide increased regulatory consistency to the development community.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Ascension Parish, Louisiana and St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana: Conservation Planning and Zoning

Ascension and St. Tammany Parishes are two parishes or counties in Louisiana that are using planning and zoning to promote floodplain management and conserve green spaces. Ascension intends on creating a master drainage plan for parish-wide drainage infrastructure. In Ascension’s Master Land Use Plan, the parish recommends improving the existing drainage system. The parish also discusses the potential effectiveness of establishing a drainage impact fee, a one-time fee paid only by new development to offset increases in impervious surface cover. Through May 2022, the parish was under a nine-month development moratorium for new subdivisions. During that process, the parish evaluated and approved updates to its Unified Land Development Code, which includes zoning regulations, to better balance population growth and increased flood risk. The final amendments to the Unified Land Development Code, which primarily focus on flooding and drainage, wetlands preservation, and traffic, were informed by the principles and recommendations in the Master Land Use Plan. St. Tammany Parish has adopted certain fill restrictions and freeboard requirements applying to development in specified areas. Ascension and St. Tammany Parishes provide examples that may be useful for other local governments regarding the use of regulatory mechanisms to mitigate flood impacts that could otherwise result from new development.

Overview of Selected Parishes’ Freeboard, Fill, and Open Space Rules and Projects within Louisiana’s Region Seven Watershed

As coastal erosion and the threat of major hurricanes and other flooding events continue to threaten Louisiana, parishes have begun to adopt jurisdiction-specific approaches to mitigating those risks. The establishment of freeboard requirements, no-net fill practices, and the incorporation of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), such as open spaces and native vegetation, are three major ways to prepare for and mitigate flooding. This brief entry provides a non-exhaustive overview of some of the ways five Louisiana parishes are using these approaches: Ascension, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Tangipahoa. Elevation and fill requirements in the parishes only apply to constructions in the 100-year Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) or the floodway within it. Fill and other encroachments into the floodway are generally prohibited absent a showing that flood levels in the community would not be raised by that encroachment. These parishes provide examples that may be useful for other local governments regarding the use of regulatory mechanisms to mitigate flood impacts that could otherwise result from new development.

City of Mexico Beach, Florida: Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code

Mexico Beach is a small, coastal community in Bay County, Florida that has begun to adopt resilience measures following climate-enhanced disasters from hurricanes and flooding. Following Hurricane Michael, Mexico Beach amended its zoning regulations to require that new structures be elevated at least a foot and a half higher than the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s base-level flood predictions in both the city’s 100-year and 500-year floodplains. Many of the homes and businesses that are now covered by this enhanced elevation requirement were impacted by Hurricane Michael, therefore prompting the zoning change. Even smaller towns and cities affected by hurricanes and flooding can similarly build on climate projections and best available scientific data to consider amendments to their plans and zoning ordinances.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. In 2018, the city responded by adding structural elevation requirements in the 500-year floodplain and increasing them for the 100-year floodplain. In addition, the city developed the Resilient Houston plan. To reduce flooding in the weeks following Hurricane Harvey, the city extended its no-net-fill regulation to cover the entire 500-year floodplain. No-net-fill means that when space is filled inside the floodplain for development, an equivalent amount of space must be preserved outside of the floodplain to offset the removal of floodwater storage capacity inside the floodplain. The city also studied how to encourage GSI development in the Incentives for Green Development study (IGD study). The IGD study identifies regulatory flexibility, tax abatements, award and peer-recognition programs, and expedited permitting processes as key opportunities to increase the use of GSI. Between August 2021 and August 2022, the city is in the process of piloting an expedited permitting process for a minimum of ten projects. Specifically, the city is working with “developers to test, evaluate and formalize the process steps necessary for an expedited review of projects that include nature-based solutions.” The IGD study also recommends property tax abatements to incentivize GSI. Property tax abatements reduce an owner’s property tax by a certain amount for a specified time to encourage a public benefit. Local policymakers can look to Houston as an example of how to build resilience using planning and GSI incentives to reduce flood risk and provide more open space amenities. 

Objective 2.4:

Integrate nature-based solutions into infrastructure planning processes and implementation.

The Need

Nature-based solutions in the built environment can be valuable tools for flood mitigation and stormwater management, in addition to preservation of larger tracts of open space. Nature-based solutions, which are defined in the Regional Vision to include green infrastructure, can be used to replace traditional “gray” infrastructure with vegetated or permeable surfaces. When used in this way, these approaches retain and filter stormwater where it falls rather than relying on built systems to convey stormwater elsewhere.See footnote 220 In addition to stormwater management, there are many co-benefits to including nature-based solutions into planning and development. These include environmental benefits, such as filtering water pollutants, improving air quality, sequestering carbon, and providing habitat.See footnote 221 They also provide important social and health benefits, such as reducing urban heat, providing recreational opportunities, and improving mental health and well-being through access to nature.See footnote 222 Local governments can also realize cost savings compared to conventional gray infrastructure for stormwater management.See footnote 223 

Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hard infrastructure, like roads, can exacerbate flooding challenges by reducing the surface area providing natural water storage capacity or by acting as barriers to the surface flow of water.See footnote 224 Additionally, many forms of infrastructure are designed for long lifespans, sometimes many decades for larger investments like bridges. It is therefore important to ensure that these investments will be justified, cost-effective, and informed by the latest data relating both to the need for the infrastructure, and potential risks like flooding.

Planning, appropriately, plays a key role in infrastructure decisionmaking, providing an opportunity to develop a long-term vision and establish priorities for investment needs over time. Infrastructure planning processes can be a useful way to ensure that nature-based solutions are integrated into the built environment and help to minimize environmental impacts like worsened runoff that might otherwise occur from hard infrastructure alone. By recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities upfront, especially during the initial planning phase, local governments can help ensure that benefits provided by nature-based resilience and flood mitigation are realized from infrastructure investments and projects long into the future.

This objective focuses on how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven can integrate policies promoting nature-based solutions into different infrastructure planning processes. For a more holistic approach, local governments should consider conducting infrastructure planning in conjunction with the approaches for fostering resilient, affordable housing (discussed in Goal Three and Goal Four) and for incorporating nature-based approaches and open space in neighborhoods (discussed in Objective 1.2).


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Three types of processes that lend themselves well to integrating nature-based solutions include:

  • Transportation planning;
  • Drainage and stormwater management planning; and 
  • Other broader (non-infrastructure specific) processes, such as climate adaptation, resilience and hazard mitigation planning.

These plans can be used individually or together. However, overall, when developing new or amending existing plans, parishes and municipalities should make an effort to integrate nature-based projects into these plans to help ensure their benefits can be realized community-wide. 

Transportation Planning

“Transportation planning” often refers specifically to the development of long-range transportation plans, a prerequisite for states and urbanized regions to receive federal surface transportation funding. However, individual parishes and municipalities may wish to develop their own transportation plans to set priorities for local investment needs. Used in this part, “transportation planning” is intended to refer to local (parish or municipal) transportation planning, but these recommendations may also be applied in the context of statewide or metropolitan long-range transportation planning. Transportation planning should also integrate well with other forms of development-related planning, including comprehensive planning and any other plans that address land-use patterns and housing considerations.

There are many opportunities to integrate nature-based solutions into transportation planning and design. In doing so, it is possible to mitigate the flooding of roads and other infrastructure, while providing other social, environmental, and aesthetic benefits. Along roadways, for example, nature-based projects have proven to be effective at reducing air pollution including particulate matter, which can be particularly important in urban areas with more vehicular traffic.See footnote 225 These types of solutions can include tree planting, the installation of bioswales, the introduction of other green features along the right-of-way, and replacing traditional, non-permeable roads with permeable pavements (particularly for roads with low-volume traffic). Other nature-based solutions like vegetated berms have been also studied for the potential to provide protection for coastal roads from coastal flooding and surge.See footnote 226

Local governments that opt to develop transportation plans, such as a  transportation master plan or transportation adaptation plan, can prioritize nature-based solutions in these documents as a way to steer investments towards these infrastructure projects that will help build resilience and mitigate flooding. For example, Ascension Parish developed a Transportation Master Plan in 2020 that identifies green infrastructure as a policy consideration that will help the parish achieve its overall vision.See footnote 227 The parish recommends using “green infrastructure best practices when possible for transportation improvements” and adopting green street standards “to provide additional benefits for stormwater management.”See footnote 228

Drainage and Stormwater Management Planning

Credit: The Water Collaborative.

Another way that local governments can plan for nature-based flood mitigation is through drainage master planning or stormwater management planning. Drainage master plans and stormwater management plans provide an overall vision and plan for managing surface water and storm runoff, identifying drainage and flooding challenges and proposing infrastructure investments and regulatory changes to mitigate these challenges.

East Baton Rouge Parish is in the process of finalizing a comprehensive Stormwater Master Plan, which includes gathering data and developing models to understand buildings and areas at higher risk from flooding now and in the future. The parish is working to identify criteria, guidance, ordinances, projects, and other activities to mitigate flooding, and ultimately will develop a 20-year stormwater capital improvement plan to prioritize projects based on established criteria.See footnote 229 During the process of developing its Stormwater Master Plan, the parish also approved an interim change to its Unified Development Code to require the prioritization of green infrastructure solutions in transportation investments.See footnote 230

On a smaller scale, many local governments require drainage plans as a condition of subdivision development, which can help mitigate any exacerbated flood impacts that would otherwise occur as a result of development activities. St. John the Baptist Parish mandates that project proponents create a stormwater management plan for any development occurring on one acre or more (or resulting in the installation of one acre or more of impervious surface).See footnote 231 This plan must “include post-development stormwater best management practices (BMPs) that limit the post-developed peak flow rate to the pre-developed peak flow rate for the ten-year, 24-hour and the 25-year, 24-hour storm event.”See footnote 232 St. Tammany Parish requires a drainage and pavement plan for “construction of commercial, industrial, institutional and certain multifamily developments, with the goal of improving pre-development runoff and reducing post-development runoff based on a minimum 25-year storm event.”See footnote 233

Broader Cross-Sector Planning

Although not specific to infrastructure, local governments can also integrate policies and projects featuring nature-based solutions in other types of crosscutting plans, such as local comprehensive, hazard mitigation, and climate adaptation and resilience plans.

Comprehensive Planning

As discussed previously in Objective 1.1 and Objective 2.2, comprehensive planning provides the overarching policy vision for development within a specified parish or municipality. Comprehensive plans can therefore help a local government establish policies that prioritize green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in the built environment as land is developed or redeveloped.

Hazard Mitigation Planning

Hazard mitigation planning is another valuable tool for expanding the use of nature-based solutions, particularly in that it opens up new potential sources of funding to implement these projects. Developing a hazard mitigation plan (HMP) is a prerequisite for receiving Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).See footnote 234 Projects implemented with HMA funds must align with priorities established and mitigate vulnerabilities identified in a local government’s HMP. Hazard mitigation planning can also earn a community credit under Community Rating System (CRS) Activity 510 ⎯ Floodplain Management Planning (although the maximum credit awarded is for the development of a community-wide floodplain management plan rather than a multi-hazard plan).See footnote 235

Climate Adaptation and Resilience Planning

Climate adaptation and resilience plans outline or direct how local governments will aim to address forecasted climate change impacts, including challenges related to floods increasing in magnitude and frequency. These plans vary in format, level of detail, and sectors covered, among other factors, and are often preceded by and aligned with or include a climate vulnerability assessment. Adaptation and resilience plans are a logical vehicle for identifying priorities to reduce flood impacts, including through nature-based solutions; however, they typically lack the same authority or legal status of a local comprehensive plan or hazard mitigation plan.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When considering the most effective ways to integrate nature-based solutions in infrastructure-related planning processes, decisionmakers may find the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips useful:

  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation
  • Lead with data 
  • Educate the public and elected officials about the benefits of nature-based solutions
  • Coordinate with other authorities within the parish
  • Identify and allocate long-term funding for maintenance

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting practice tips and considerations including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and using quantitative and qualitative data to inform decisions.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation: Nature-based solutions can provide substantial benefits to communities in the form of flood mitigation, improved air quality, heat mitigation, aesthetic improvements, recreational opportunities, and general health and well-being. However, there are challenges with implementing these projects, particularly relating to upfront and maintenance costs, especially when considered outside of the context of long-term cost benefits or when not considering the advantages of co-benefits. Additionally, in areas at risk of gentrification, nature-based solutions have the potential to actually harm communities and exacerbate displacement pressures. Policymakers should practice meaningful engagement early and throughout infrastructure planning processes to ensure that policies and priorities included in these plans reflect the needs of communities. Effective community and stakeholder engagement practices that decisionmakers can adopt in this context are discussed further in Objective 5.1.
  • Lead with data: As with other decisions regarding flood risk mitigation, planners and policymakers should ensure that planning efforts are informed by the latest data and science. This should include, as part of the planning process, a standardized method to integrate any updates to the science and analysis related to flood risk and the economic and environmental benefits of nature-based solutions. Accurate data and models with a good understanding of uncertainties can help local governments justify policy changes and projects prioritized in infrastructure planning efforts, as well as investment decisions. For more information on prioritizing data needs related to flood mitigation and green space, see Objective 5.2 and Objective 5.3.
  • Educate the public and elected officials about the benefits of nature-based solutions: In order to build capacity and generate buy in from community members and organizations, academic and private experts, and elected officials to prioritize nature-based solutions, these audiences should have access to spaces where they can develop a common understanding of the many benefits of these approaches, including social, environmental, and economic co-benefits. Local governments should consider a variety of approaches to interact with relevant audiences, such as through fact sheets, social media, displays and signs in preservation areas, and through meetings and other forms of in-person and virtual engagement.
  • Coordinate with other agencies and authorities within the parish: As with Objective 2.2 and Objective 2.3, intraparish coordination should also be prioritized in infrastructure planning processes. This is particularly important across agencies and departments like planning, transportation, and the environment because they may not often interact with one another and will need to coordinate to plan for and implement nature-based solutions as part of infrastructure investments. A clear understanding of the key agencies’ authorities is critical. Any relevant agencies that may need to be involved in the implementation of these projects should communicate regularly and have collaboration structures in place to ease project implementation.
  • Identify and allocate long-term funding for maintenance: One of the main challenges of implementing nature-based solutions is in long-term financing and structures in place for maintenance, which is critical for these projects to function properly (i.e., for flood mitigation and other purposes). There are many options for funding and financing nature-based solutions, but local governments should understand the potential limitations (e.g., whether certain sources can be used for ongoing maintenance or only as capital investments). For more information on funding and financing nature-based solutions, see the Georgetown Climate Center’s Green Infrastructure Toolkit, Funding and Financing.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — Miami-Dade County, Florida: Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan

Little River — one community within Miami-Dade County — includes the Village of El Portal, the northern part of Miami, and two unincorporated areas. The Little River Adaptation Action Area (AAA) plan was released in January 2022 as part of the process to implement the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Adaptation Action Areas are locations that are especially prone to climate impacts like coastal flooding so that they can be prioritized for funding and planning purposes. The primary drainage system within the Little River AAA is made up of the Little River canal and its associated salinity control structures, the smaller canals, and the neighborhood systems, which consist of street inlets, pipes, pumps, French drains, and exfiltration trenches. When conducting a study relating to potential flood mitigation alternatives, the South Florida Management District (the District) found that the Little River area and its drainage infrastructure was among the most vulnerable in the area. To continue to address stormwater and drainage concerns, the Little River AAA plan offers four adaptation tools: improving the regional drainage system, improving local stormwater management, increasing permeable surfaces, and expanding green spaces. Other local jurisdictions could look to the Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan for an example on how to integrate nature-based solutions into a community-level adaptation planning process.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2014 and a Coastal Zone Management Plan in 2016. Most recently in 2019, the parish partnered with the state and nonprofit philanthropy Foundation for Louisiana through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) capital improvement process to create an Adaptation Strategy. Collectively, the plans offer a variety of principles, goals, and policies related to the parish’s growth and development. Those policies and development planning goals encompass prioritizing natural features, such as adopting green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) solutions and conserving open space. In general, the parish seeks to preserve low-density and conservation-oriented development trends across most of the parish, much of which is flood-prone. This approach will discourage floodplain and open space development by directing population growth and affordable housing investments toward drier, denser areas of the parish. Those policies allow the parish to preserve rural and flood-prone areas and maintain parish character and reduce risk to homes and infrastructure. Other local jurisdictions could look to St. John the Baptist Parish for an example on how to integrate nature-based solutions into a parish- or county-level adaptation planning process.

City of Mexico Beach, Florida: Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code

Mexico Beach is a small, coastal community in Bay County, Florida that has begun to adopt resilience measures following climate-enhanced disasters from hurricanes and flooding. Mexico Beach’s land development code outlines requirements for all development in the city and describes its zoning principles. In addition the land development code contains measures to preserve the city’s natural features, including district-specific maximums on impervious surface cover, landscape requirements, and protective zones for beaches, dunes, endangered species, wetlands, shorelines, and trees. Each district in Mexico Beach comes with a maximum permitted ratio of impervious surface area. The lowest of these is found in preservation districts, where impervious cover cannot exceed 20 percent. Regardless of the type of district, all development and redevelopment in the city is subject to landscape requirements. The purpose of these requirements is to encourage a holistic design approach that integrates existing vegetation, natural stormwater management systems, and native species to protect environmentally sensitive features and reduce the negative impacts of urbanization. Mexico Beach provides a model for other jurisdictions looking to increase the use of nature-based solutions and reduce impervious space through development regulations.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Houston, Texas: Resilient Houston and Affordable Housing and Nature-Based Efforts

Houston has been battered by six federally declared flooding disasters in five years, including the record-setting Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Following Hurricane Harvey, the city created its Resilient Houston plan to guide investments to make Houston more resilient to future storms and disasters. Houston’s post-Harvey approach to embracing nature involves adopting nature-based approaches for flood control and resiliency purposes. The city’s bayous receive significant amounts of pollution, especially during hurricanes and other disaster events. In addition to stormwater runoff, storm surges that result from the wind created by hurricanes carry pollutants and threaten coastal stability by eroding shorelines and disrupting habitats. Goal 9 of Resilient Houston addresses these issues and embraces the role of the area’s bayous by incentivizing “water-aware” development, designed to work in tandem with the natural flowing of rivers and bayous, and by employing natural systems to improve and protect surface water quality and coastal protection. Resilient Houston Goal 11 calls for updating Houston’s infrastructure design manual and adopting more comprehensive approaches like encouraging the use of GSI and on-site water capture and retention through best management practices, such as low-impact development. Resilient Houston outlines proposed initiatives like incorporating large-scale GSI and nature-based planning and design to expand the water detention capacity of bayou corridors. The city also recommends developing a new resilience quotient points system for GSI projects to better ensure that they provide a more standard or consistent level of benefits for people throughout the city. Other jurisdictions looking to integrate green infrastructure and nature-based solutions into a resilience planning process can look to the recommendations provided in Resilient Houston.

Broward County Florida Resiliency Standards for Flood Protection: Broward County Code of Ordinances Article XXV, Chapter 39.

Adopted by the Broward County Board of Commissioners in early 2020, Broward County’s new flood protection standards establish, and account for sea-level rise in, baseline elevation and maintenance standards for coastal and shoreline flood mitigation infrastructure for tidally affected communities in the County. Broward County adopted a new policy (2.21.7) in the County Land Use Plan requiring tidally influenced municipalities to adopt a local ordinance consistent with the regional standards, which were incorporated into county code as a model ordinance. The standards are meant to implement a regionally-consistent minimum elevation for flood mitigation and tidal barrier infrastructure that accounts for combined effects of sea-level rise, high tides, and high storm surge, and to ensure new structures are constructed under standardized criteria that account for future sea-level rise and flood pattern predictions through 2070. This approach to infrastructure planning and design by Broward County can serve as an example to other jurisdictions on how to ensure more resilient infrastructure through design standards.

Objective 2.5:

Evaluate alternatives to septic in high- and/or low-flood-risk areas (e.g., municipal sewer systems) to mitigate environmental pollution and promote infrastructure resilience.

The Need

Credit: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Many communities, especially in rural areas, rely on onsite sewage treatment systems — often septic systems — to dispose of sanitary sewage and other liquid and solid waste. In Louisiana, as of September 2020, nearly 300,000 onsite wastewater treatment systems had been permitted, and these systems treat nearly 55 billion gallons of wastewater per year.See footnote 236 Septic systems typically involve a septic tank, where organic matter is digested and wastewater separated from solids, and a soil treatment area, where wastewater effluent from the tank percolates through the soil and is treated using natural aerobic processes before reaching the groundwater table.See footnote 237

However, with changing flooding and weather patterns — such as more frequent and extreme precipitation and heat events, and sea-level rise — there is a greater likelihood and risk of septic system failure. Precipitation and sea-level rise can heighten groundwater tables, reducing the effectiveness of septic systems as a higher groundwater table reduces the depth of unsaturated soil — a critical need for the natural filtration processes to function.See footnote 238 Higher temperatures may also increase microbial demand for oxygen, reducing the amount of oxygen available in soil treatment areas for natural aerobic treatment processes.See footnote 239 These conditions also increase the risks of environmental and groundwater contamination from untreated sewage, which can have impacts on water quality, ecosystems, and human health.See footnote 240

Some Region Seven parishes have cited pollutant discharge issues, specifically from septic and other sewage systems, as an ongoing challenge. State regulations prohibit the installation of a new sewer system anywhere where groundwater may be contaminated.See footnote 241 Despite this prohibition, on-site sewage treatment systems, which include septic systems, still impair many of Louisiana’s watersheds.See footnote 242

With the increasing variability and intensity of flood events, it is particularly important for local governments to take steps to mitigate the current risk of septic system failures where possible, and minimize future risk as needs for new sewer systems are considered. These actions can have implications for housing affordability as well, given that septic system failure or more frequent maintenance as a result of extreme weather and flooding can significantly increase individuals’ total housing costs as well as the habitability of their homes. This objective outlines actions that local governments can take to encourage the use of wastewater management systems other than septic. 


How to Make Progress on This Objective

While the state holds primary responsibility and authority for regulating the disposal of sanitary sewage,See footnote 243 parish governments may adopt stricter standards.See footnote 244 Parishes in Louisiana have the authority to enact and enforce sewerage permitting systems with respect to individual sewage disposal systems (including septic), provided that minimum lot size requirements are met and the system is approved by the state public health officer prior to issuance of a permit.See footnote 245 Accordingly, parishes might consider some or all of the following types of actions:

  • Amending inspection requirements 
  • Amending siting and design standards (especially in higher risk areas);
  • Prohibiting new septic systems under certain circumstances; and/or 
  • Requiring that new developments be connected to sewer systems.

Vulnerability assessments and studies detailing anticipated effects from precipitation events on groundwater change and soil saturation can help justify decisions to implement some of these policy options. 

Inspection Requirements

Routine inspection and maintenance of septic systems can have a major impact in the prevention of system failure. Louisiana state regulations specify that inspections of septic tanks “should” occur every six years, and pumping every eight years.See footnote 246 Parishes might consider implementing more frequent inspection requirements (e.g., at more regular intervals or adding an inspection requirement when a property relying on a septic system is sold), or requiring inspections that test treatment performance rather than just operability of septic systems.See footnote 247 However, with stricter inspection requirements, parishes should consider what enforcement mechanisms might be used and ways to alleviate burdens on those who might be disproportionately affected by these standards, such as low-income individuals.

Siting and Design

Parishes could also consider amending siting and design requirements for septic systems to better account for heightened groundwater tables and more intense flooding. In order to issue a permit required for an individual sewerage system, including septic systems, the state health officer must first make determinations regarding the soil, drainage patterns, lot size, and other considerations to ensure that the system would not likely create a nuisance or public health hazard.See footnote 248 Additionally, there are siting specifications with respect to the placement of absorption trenches, and the areas where septic tank effluent is disposed. These specifications include the permeability of the soil, groundwater table, and percolation rate (the rate of effluent entering the soil).See footnote 249 State regulations require a minimum distance of two feet between any area proposed for a septic system absorption trench and the top of the groundwater table, and a minimum of four feet of depth for any clay or other impervious strata.See footnote 250 In areas with severe flooding challenges, or where groundwater tables are likely to rise, these minimum distances may, in the future, prove insufficient for the proper treatment of wastewater effluent.

Policymakers could consider amending the siting and design requirements in their local ordinances to account for future projections in groundwater or add an additional safety factor to the minimum distance between the current groundwater table and the filtration area. Broward County, Florida is one example of a local government using future groundwater projections in certain infrastructure decisions — specifically, for surface water management licenses when a permit is sought for new development or major redevelopment.See footnote 251 Local governments could also consider requiring innovative septic treatment systems, such as those that provide secondary treatment, allowing for a shallower placement of the infiltration area than in a traditional septic system leachfield, or those controlling volumes of wastewater release so as to reduce periods when the soil is saturated.See footnote 252

Septic Restrictions

For areas deemed to have higher flood risk, especially those with a greater potential to impact groundwater tables, parishes might consider strengthening restrictions on new septic systems beyond the existing state standards. Restrictions on new septic systems could be implemented depending on the density of use of the area, as well as the likelihood of flood risk, accounting for future conditions. In addition to the benefits of protecting the environment and human health, restrictions on new septic systems under certain circumstances could also yield financial benefits. Prohibiting new septic systems in the floodplain, for example, can earn local governments credit under the Community Rating System (CRS), Activity 430, Higher Regulatory Standards – Other Higher Standards (432.o).See footnote 253 Parishes may wish to implement these actions in conjunction with requirements to connect to or provide for new community sewerage systems, discussed below.

Connecting to Sewer

Parishes may consider mandates or incentives to connect new developments and projects to community sewerage systems. The state generally requires connections to community sewerage systems where there is one available — a determination that considers the horizontal and vertical separation of the structure from the sewer main or lateral, political or other boundaries, and available capacity of the system).See footnote 254 For all new subdivisions, the state requires the provision of new community sewerage systems; individual sewerage systems (such as septic) are allowed only under specified circumstances set out in the sanitary code — including an upper limit of 125 lots, and required submission of a comprehensive drainage plan, among other requirements.See footnote 255 Alternatively, if a parish governing authority has enacted and enforces a sewage permitting system and the individual lots meet certain lot size and frontage criteria, individual sewerage systems may be permitted in subdivisions.See footnote 256 Under current state law, replacement of an existing sewerage system with a new individual sewerage system is permissible when it will not result in a public health hazard or nuisance, in the opinion of the state health officer.See footnote 257

Parishes might consider adopting regulations that set stricter thresholds for when development must connect to or provide a community sewerage system. For example, St. Tammany Parish requires community sewerage for new subdivisions of 15 lots or more (in contrast to the default state threshold of 125 lots); for subdivisions of less than 15 lots, the minimum lot size is two acres, and developers must submit a comprehensive drainage plan and meet other requirements in order to permit individual sewerage systems.See footnote 258 Tangipahoa Parish requires community sewerage systems for subdivisions with more than 8 lots, unless the lots are each at least one acre in size and have 125 feet of frontage.See footnote 259


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When considering the most appropriate and feasible ways to reduce risk of septic system failure and related environmental impacts, decisionmakers may find the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips useful:

  • Use the latest data and conduct vulnerability assessments to prioritize systems at the highest risk of failure
  • Develop public information and education campaigns regarding the benefits of alternatives to septic systems

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting practice tips and considerations including data needs related to infrastructure and flood risk.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Use the latest data and conduct vulnerability assessments to prioritize systems at the highest risk of failure: Regulations for new septic systems alone will not help parishes address the significant risks of existing septic systems failing. To understand the complete risk from existing systems and prioritize efforts to address these risks, decisionmakers need a good understanding of where existing septic systems are and what the flood risks are in those areas. If an inventory of existing septic systems is available, decisionmakers should conduct a vulnerability assessment to identify which systems may be at risk of failing, and prioritize their efforts accordingly. If such an inventory is unavailable for any reason, this can be a priority investment for local governments.
  • Develop public information and education campaigns regarding the benefits of alternatives to septic systems: To help generate public awareness and buy-in, parishes should develop informational campaigns to help residents understand the risks to their septic systems from increased flooding and the benefits and tradeoffs associated with septic and alternatives to septic systems.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — Miami-Dade County, Florida: Little River Adaptation Action Area Plan

Little River — one community within Miami-Dade County — includes the Village of El Portal, the northern part of Miami, and two unincorporated areas. The Little River Adaptation Action Area (AAA) plan was released in January 2022 as part of the process to implement the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Adaptation Action Areas are locations that are especially prone to climate impacts like coastal flooding so that they can be prioritized for funding and planning purposes. In the Little River AAA alone, it is estimated that over 100 septic systems are already failing due to the high level of the groundwater table. To address septic systems concerns, the AAA plan outlines two adaptation tools: converting septic systems to sewer systems and raising drain fields. Plans are currently underway within the Little River AAA to connect households currently dependent on septic systems to sewer lines. The Little River Adaptation Action Area plan provides an example of how jurisdictions can consider sewage system alternatives in communities with a high proportionate reliance on septic systems.

Miami-Dade County, Florida: Sea Level Rise Strategy

In February 2021, Miami-Dade County, in collaboration with private consulting partners, released the Miami-Dade County Sea Level Rise Strategy. Chapter three provides ten distinct actions that Miami-Dade County can “initiate in the short term” to help advance the five adaptation approaches and prepare communities within the county to “live with more water.” One of the ten actions outlined by the plan is to “address vulnerable septic systems.” Within Miami-Dade County, there are upwards of 100,000 septic systems. While the county is currently implementing its plan to convert septic systems to mainstream plumbing, the cost to do so is extremely high. Moving forward, conversion projects should be “pursued in a methodical and phased approach that better aligns infrastructure and land use goals to address the systems that pose the highest risk.” Addressing and removing septic systems in vulnerable areas would help to advance the adaptation approaches of building on fill, building like the keys, and expanding green and blueways. The county should continue to implement and support existing programs that facilitate the installation of “public laterals” that connect these properties' wastewater systems to the public sewer. Additionally, decommissioning of the 9,200 septic systems deemed most vulnerable to sea level rise by the Water and Sewer Department should be prioritized. One report that lays out these vulnerability studies and identifies places where septic has been successfully replaced can be found in Miami-Dade County’s Septic Systems Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise Report. Miami-Dade County’s Sea Level Rise Strategy can offer a model for considering long-term needs for transitioning away from septic systems and prioritizing vulnerable areas through an adaptation planning process.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish is one of Louisiana’s oldest settled areas. The parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural. The parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan in 2014 and a Coastal Zone Management Plan in 2016. In general, the parish seeks to preserve low-density and conservation-oriented development trends across most of the parish, much of which is flood-prone. This approach will discourage floodplain and open space development by directing population growth and affordable housing investments toward drier, denser areas of the parish. Those policies allow the parish to preserve rural and flood-prone areas and maintain parish character and reduce risk to homes and infrastructure. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan includes goals and objectives related to hazard mitigation; Hazard Mitigation Goal One is to “[f]acilitate [s]ound [d]evelopment in the Parish so as to reduce or eliminate the potential impact to development from hazards and/or disasters.” To further this goal, one of the policy options recommended is to “[c]onsider prohibiting septic tanks and flood proof existing water and wastewater facilities in the 100-year flood plain and any designated natural hazard areas.” St. John the Baptist Parish provides a model to establish a basis for transitioning away from septic systems by setting policy priorities in land use planning.

Broward County, Florida Ordinance 2017-16 and Future Conditions Maps for Infrastructure Design

Pursuant to Broward County Ordinance 2017-16, Broward County, Florida is referring to new groundwater maps that display how sea-level rise and precipitation changes are expected to affect future groundwater levels in reviewing applications for surface water management (i.e., drainage infrastructure) licenses required for certain development projects. These requirements are intended to help ensure more resilient infrastructure investments in the future that will improve the effectiveness of drainage infrastructure and help mitigate surface flooding under future climate conditions. With an effective date of July 1, 2017, the future conditions map visualizes the average groundwater table under sea-level rise and precipitation conditions predicted for the years 2060-2069. In May 2017, the Commission passed Ordinance 2017-16, integrating the new future conditions maps into the Water Resource Management Article of the County Code, and requiring their use in “applications for a new surface water management license, applications for major redevelopment of existing sites, and applications for major modifications to existing surface water management licenses submitted after June 30, 2017,” meaning that the heightened design standards will generally apply in licensing requirements for a new development or major redevelopments. In June 2021, the Broward County Board of County Commissioners enacted Ordinance No. 2021-33 and adopted Broward County's Future Conditions 100-Year Flood Map 2060. This future conditions map displays the expected future 100-year flood elevations for Broward County and will be used to determine the “future minimum habitable floor elevations for new buildings and major redevelopments and future investments in resilient infrastructure in the County.” While not explicitly tied to septic systems, this example from Broward County, Florida could serve as a model for how to integrate future projections in groundwater or other flood-related considerations into permitting decisions, including those related to sewage systems.

Goal Three: Greaux resilient, urban affordable housing options.


Introduction

The state of housing affordability in the United States is frequently referred to as being in a “crisis.” In reality, the housing crisis stems from multiple interconnected crises, including decreased construction and the rising value of land, the costs of which are then passed down to homeowners and renters. The fact that income levels have not kept pace with rising housing costs in the last half-century means that, increasingly, housing affordability has become unattainable for many low-and moderate-income (LMI) households.See footnote 260  

In Southeast Louisiana, the cost of housing in urban areas is at an unprecedented high, with many regions experiencing some of the sharpest increases in the cost of housing. In New Orleans, where approximately half of the city’s residents are renters, the cost of rent increased 49 percent between 2000 and 2022; meanwhile, average income levels over the same period dropped eight percent.See footnote 261 Between late 2021 and early 2022, New Orleans experienced the second-fastest increase in rent in the country, second only behind the City of Miami, Florida.See footnote 262 Across the state, 44 percent of low-income residents in 2021 were housing cost-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing costs); the number was nearly doubled for extremely-low-income (ELI) households.See footnote 263 Overall, there was a shortage of over 100,000 rental homes affordable and available for ELI renters.See footnote 264  

The aim of this goal is to provide regional and local governments and other housing stakeholders with a survey of options to address what has been referred to as the three “Ps” of affordable housing: preservation, production, and protection — specifically within an urban context (see Background below).See footnote 265 Together, the three “Ps” refer to a holistic approach to making housing available and affordable, placing emphasis on not only building new affordable housing, but also on maintaining current housing stock and keeping the cost of rent or homeownership affordable. Importantly, the final prong of “protection” highlights the importance of creating and maintaining community stability and addressing the factors that may lead to displacements, such as rising housing costs and/or physical risks, such as flooding and other hazards.  

Indeed, the affordable housing crisis has also been shaped and intensified by converging crises in public health and the environment. Nationally, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about both economic devastation — felt most acutely by LMI households — as well as an “eviction tsunami.”See footnote 266 In Louisiana, residents are also grappling with extreme weather events that are intensifying as a result of climate change. These events are oftentimes catalysts for the migration and displacement of individuals. For example, during the 20002010 Census period, which coincided with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Southeast Louisiana experienced significant population shifts. As illustrated in the map below, many coastal areas saw a sizable decrease in population, while inland communities — including in Region Seven — expanded by as much as 25 percent over the same ten-year period.

Image: https://lasafe.la.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Regional_Population-Shift_Clean.jpg

Description: This map illustrates population changes along the Louisiana coast between 2000 and 2010. The red bubbles indicate the location and percentage of population losses that occurred over that ten-year period and green bubbles show population gains.

Credit: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Regional Population Shift, LA SAFE (2018), https://lasafe.la.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Regional_Population-Shift_Clean.jpg.

In essence, homeowners and landlords are confronting a perfect storm that has led to significant increases in the cost of housing: increasing flood risk as a result of changing development and environmental patterns; higher prices for flood and property insurance; renovation costs from recent hurricanes; and pandemic rental protections that are drying up even as landlords are still recouping lost rent from COVID-19. In the case of landlords, these costs are more often than not passed down to renters. In 2021, the lack of affordable and/or available housing was described by Governor John Bel Edwards as the “single greatest concern” in the state, citing over $3 billion in unmet housing needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and other storms.See footnote 267  

The social, economic, and political consequences of unaffordable or unavailable housing are far-reaching and multi-generational. Access to housing (or one’s neighborhood and built environment) is one of the five social determinants of health, alongside education, economic stability, healthcare, and social and community context.See footnote 268 Housing is not merely inextricably linked with the other determinants that shape health outcomes for every individual; it is also foundational. The lack of safe, quality, affordable housing can lead to poor physical and mental health, which can, in turn, destabilize one’s economic and social welfare. The neighborhoods where people live can also define their access to essential resources like education, jobs, food, and healthcare. In short, housing is a fundamental human right.See footnote 269 

The options offered in this goal should be tailored to the unique characteristics of each community in Region Seven. Maintaining or constructing housing that is affordable for families are complex and challenging processes that require significant investments in time, money, political will, and community support. Importantly, affordable housing development requires a breadth of stakeholders with different expertise, roles, strategies, and priorities — including local government, developers and owners, nonprofits, and other private or for-profit stakeholders. 

The diversity of stakeholders affected by affordable housing also reflects the complexity of implementing solutions to producing, preserving, and protecting affordable housing. Solutions on paper do not always translate into practice, and the viability of proposed responses from one jurisdiction to the next — and even within communities — may differ. For example, the practice of upzoning to create greater density (thereby improving affordability) may be embraced in some neighborhoods, while, in other communities, residents may object due to concerns about potentially changing the neighborhood character or gentrification.See footnote 270  As relayed in informational interviews conducted to guide the Regional Vision, the concept of affordable housing is also associated with problematic social stigmas in communities across Region Seven. Although these stigmas are not unique to the region, negative perceptions of affordable housing can complicate necessary community dialogues and the development of legal, planning, and policy solutions. Approaches to addressing affordable housing challenges are seldom linear, and require customized, multi-dimensional approaches that leverage resources and expertise from all housing stakeholders — including, critically, members of the impacted community (see Goal Five).


Background: Affordable Housing in an Urban Context

There is no federal legal framework for the right to affordable housing.See footnote 271 Since the 1980s, following a decrease in federal housing resources, state and local jurisdictions have assumed the primary role for planning and administering local housing programs.See footnote 272 With the decline in federal investments in housing development programs, state and local jurisdictions have been tasked with responding to a complex system of factors that have contributed to increased housing costs, including the higher costs of building materials, labor, and land — all in the face of growing demand. 

The discussion in this part focuses specifically on affordable housing challenges and opportunities in urban areas. The distinction between urban and rural is fluid and may vary across jurisdictions and even over time, as shifting populations can change many of the defining characteristics of a locality, including its tax base, government and administrative capacity, population density and size, and geographic boundaries. 

Description: An aerial view of downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Credit: Josh Lintz, FormulaNone (via Wikimedia Commons), https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BatonRougeAerial-Dec2012.jpg.

For the purposes of the Regional Vision, “urban” refers to geographic areas “characterized by medium-density development with both residential and commercial uses”; are located in proximity to critical infrastructure as well as community services and amenities; have a larger population relative to rural areas, usually exceeding 50,000 residents; and, due to higher tax revenues, have access to more financial resources per capita.See footnote 273 While there is no standard definition to describe urban areas, the most common definitions come from the federal agencies.See footnote 274 These definitions provide a data-driven foundation to support many federal, state, and local policy decisions, including the distribution of federal funding and resources. However, these high-level definitions can be limiting because they rely on a narrow set of factors to identify urban areas that may not fully encompass the character of and challenges facing urban communities. As such, the definition applied in the Regional Vision attempts to be more comprehensive and inclusive of the non-exhaustive list of factors that characterize urban communities. 

Admittedly, as discussed under Goal Four, affordable housing is not merely a frontline concern in urban areas. However, to the extent that legal, regulatory, and social frameworks differ between urban and rural areas, so, too, are the opportunities and resources that may be deployed to address affordable housing in urban areas.

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives identified through the process to develop the Regional Vision. The actions below elevate many of the priorities identified through the course of developing the Regional Vision. Each goal and objective have been informed by informational interviews with housing practitioners and stakeholders; in many cases, they are also supported by case studies that help illustrate how these priorities have been addressed in similarly situated jurisdictions. As with other parts of the Regional Vision, the discussion below is intended to help serve as a starting point for regional and local governments that are engaged in the complex process of growing and producing affordable housing.

Objective 3.1:

Maintain and preserve quality, resilient, affordable housing for frontline populations and existing residents.

The Need

The preservation of existing affordable housing stock is fundamental to promoting housing stability and avoiding the displacement of current residents, whether from gentrification and market pressures or physical risks like flooding. While producing new housing can help alleviate the demand for housing that is affordable and available to overburdened and underresourced residents, the pace of new construction usually lags far behind demand. Compared to creating new housing, the preservation of existing housing is also more cost-effective, requiring less resources in time and money. Therefore, prioritizing the preservation of existing housing — and helping its residents to stay in place — will be key to communities seeking to prevent the displacement of current residents and increase local resilience.

As other parts under this goal and the Regional Vision illustrate, creating new housing can also be challenging in the face of regulatory barriers, the rising cost of land, and exclusionary neighborhood mentalities like NIMBYism (or “Not in My Backyard”). Similarly, housing preservation can be complicated by several factors that decrease supply and/or affordability, including:See footnote 275  

  • Expiration: Government subsidies for housing are time-limited and do not exist in perpetuity. Project-based subsidies, where property owners agree to affordability and other types of restrictions in exchange for a capital subsidy, are limited in duration and non-transferable from one property to another. When these restrictions expire, owners — and particularly for-profit owners — are more likely to exit the affordability restrictions and operate properties as market-rate housing instead of affordable housing.
  • Deterioration: The physical quality of all housing will deteriorate over time, requiring the property to undergo ongoing maintenance and other operating or capital support to preserve habitability. Aging housing stock that do not pass physical inspections may lose government housing assistance, taking the property out of eligibility for affordable housing. Additionally, older properties may have structural issues — due to age and/or damage from flooding and extreme weather — and require accessibility upgrades, weatherproofing, and green or energy efficiency improvements.
  • Appropriations: Government-subsidized housing requires continuous funding from Congress. When federal appropriations fluctuate or do not keep pace with the rate of inflation, properties are at great risk for losing affordable units through expiration or depreciation. 

How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are a variety of approaches that can be adopted by local policymakers to advance affordable housing preservation goals. The examples discussed below illustrate strategies that help to incentivize current or future property owners to maintain rents at an affordable rate, and/or empower mission-driven organizations and developers to more easily acquire lower-and moderate-cost properties. A few key approaches that other jurisdictions have adopted to preserve affordable housing include: 

  • Preserving naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH);
  • Providing existing tenants with opportunities to purchase; and/or 
  • Supporting dedicated funding for anti-displacement programs.

Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH)

In policy discussions, “affordable housing” generally refers to housing that has artificially been made low-cost through government subsidy programs, such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) program.See footnote 276 However, in the United States, the majority of housing that is financially affordable for middle- or sometimes low-income households are non-subsidized housing, also known as naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH).See footnote 277 While there is no uniform definition for NOAH properties in the housing industry, the term is commonly used to describe privately owned, existing residential properties that are rented out at cheaper rates due to the property’s age and other related characteristics. Common features of NOAH properties include: 

  • At least 15 years old. NOAH buildings are de facto affordable in part due to the age of the building stock. Most NOAH properties were built between 1940 and 1990. 
  • Classified as Class B or C rental buildings or complexes with over 50 units. Class B and C properties are terms of art in the housing industry commonly understood to refer to buildings with four or more rental units (i.e., a commercial property that generates income). Class B and C properties fall on the middle and lower ends of the spectrum, respectively, in terms of age, rent, location, amenities, and other attributes.See footnote 278 By comparison, Class A buildings tend to be more recently constructed, charge higher rent, and include amenities, such as pools and fitness centers.
  • Do not receive subsidies. NOAH properties can be rented at lower rates due to the physical characteristics of Class B and C buildings. Therefore, what keeps NOAH properties affordable are their below-market-rate features rather than a reliance on government subsidy programs. While many residents of NOAH housing hold tenant-based housing vouchers, the units themselves are not directly subsidized through government programs.See footnote 279 
  • Intended for low-and moderate-income households. NOAH units are more affordable for low and moderate-income (LMI) households, whose income range between 30 to 95 percent area median income.See footnote 280 By comparison, NOAH properties would be prohibitively expensive for extremely low-income households that have incomes below 30 percent area median income (AMI).See footnote 281 

Given the prevalence of NOAH properties as the most common type of “affordable” housing in the nation, their preservation can play a significant role in keeping the cost of rent affordable, enabling existing residents to stay in place. Parishes and municipalities can help keep NOAH properties affordable by working by partnering with mission-oriented developers interested in keeping rent affordable for existing residents and reducing the risk of displacement. For example, the City of Charlotte, North Carolina has developed public-private partnership models to ensure the continued existence of (former) NOAH properties.See footnote 282  

In 2020, the Charlotte City Council adopted the Pilot Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Rental Subsidy Program, which was passed with unanimous bipartisan support from Charlotte’s City Council.See footnote 283  Under the Pilot NOAH Program, the City of Charlotte has pledged to work with developers of NOAH properties to preserve long-term affordability for renters earning between 30 and 80 percent AMI, or roughly $25,250 annually for a family of four in Charlotte.See footnote 284 The city helps developers acquire and preserve NOAH properties by providing them with an annual rental subsidy for a minimum of 20 years — or the duration of a deed restriction — at an amount not to exceed the city’s annual property tax bill.  The subsidy is then used to cover the difference between what an LMI household can afford and the rent on the unit. In exchange, participating developers and owners (if a property is owned by a separate entity from the developer) agree to affordability restrictions to limit rent growth, and to make units affordable to residents at specific income levels as the units become available through natural turnover. 

Opportunities to Purchase 

Several jurisdictions across the country have adopted some form of a “right of first refusal” (or “first right purchase”) law that provides tenants, nonprofits, housing agencies, or other mission-driven organizations with an advance period of time to make a purchase offer for a property. These so-called first refusal rights may be triggered under certain conditions, such as during the sale of a multifamily building, or when affordability restrictions on a building expire and the owner no longer wishes to participate in a subsidy program.See footnote 285  

Right of first refusal laws can provide eligible buyers of a property — including tenant associations, nonprofit developers, and local government agencies — with a valuable window of time to organize, produce financing, and make an offer on the property before competing market-rate developers are able to bid. In this way, right of first refusal policies can help prevent the conversion of lower-cost or subsidized housing into market-rate or luxury properties, all the while helping tenants become homeowners. Even if the tenants are ultimately unable to acquire the property, asserting the right of first refusal provides existing residents with additional time to locate new housing or access new housing services, thereby improving their chances of seeking new affordable housing, if not preventing their displacement.

In 1980, the City of Washington, D.C., adopted the nation’s first Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) to allow tenants the right of first refusal.See footnote 286 Under TOPA, tenants have the right of first refusal to match competing offers for the sale of subsidized housing or private rental housing. Tenants may purchase units individually (transferring them into condos) or collectively as a tenant association and in partnership with a developer. Between 2002 to 2013, TOPA has helped to preserve over 1,400 affordable units in the District.See footnote 287  

Anti-Displacement Programs 

Like renters, existing homeowners are also at risk of displacement in quickly growing neighborhoods. When home values increase due to population shifts due to flooding and extreme weather, rising demand, and/or physical renovations (among other factors), property taxes will also rise, placing existing residents at risk of displacement if they are unable to afford the increase. 

In order to help current homeowners stay in place, localities should consider collaborating with the private sector to support or create programs that provide financial support to homeowners in need of assistance. For example, the Anti-Displacement Tax Fund (ADTF) program in Atlanta, Georgia, provides financial assistance to eligible homeowners to offset the cost of rising property taxes, helping existing residents in some of the fastest-growing neighborhoods of Atlanta to stay-in-place and avoid displacement.See footnote 288 Established in 2017 and funded through private donations, ADTF provides a grant to existing homeowners for up to 20 years. The program specifically targets homeowners who have an annual household income below 100 percent of the area median income (AMI), and have lived in a home within the program’s designated geographic boundaries in the Westside community since at least March 2017. In 2020, Atlanta’s mayor issued an administrative order directed at the city’s development agency to implement a city-wide anti-displacement fund, using $4.6 million of the city’s $28 million housing trust fund to offset the rising cost of property taxes for residents who may experience a heightened risk of displacement.See footnote 289  

Credit: City of Austin, Texas, Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint, available at https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/StrategicHousingBlueprint_Final_September_2017.pdf.

Parishes and municipalities could also consider taking other proactive measures. The City of Austin provides one example of taking a comprehensive approach to addressing displacement, using a combination of planning, legal, and funding strategies to help residents stay in place. In 2014, the city created an Anti-Displacement Task Force, which led to a series of recommendations, the development of a Displacement Prevention Strategy, and the creation of the position of Community Displacement Prevention Officer.See footnote 290 Later, the city adopted a Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance, which requires developers to provide sufficient notice before tenants can be evicted, and directs the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development agency to establish a Developer Fund for Tenant Relocation Assistance. Finally, Austin’s comprehensive transit development plan, Project Connect, includes a $300-million investment toward anti-displacement measures that include transit-oriented development and affordable housing along new routes in the transit plan. To inform the city’s anti-displacement efforts, agencies leading Project Connect partnered with the city’s Department of Housing and Planning to create a series of anti-displacement maps that outline the displacement risk of various neighborhoods along new planned transit routes.


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When identifying strategies to preserve existing affordable housing in urban localities, decisionmakers may consider the following considerations and practice tips that apply to one or more of the strategies described above: 

  • Encourage collective action by residents
  • Promote housing literacy
  • Collaborate with mission-aligned developers

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. 

  • Encourage collective action by residents:  Tenants who negotiate together have greater bargaining power than those who act unilaterally. Local governments can pass laws that create right of first refusal opportunities to residents, as well as partner with local tenant associations, housing groups, and legal assistance programs to help tenants understand their rights. Right of first refusal policies are most effective at helping residents stay-in-place when communities already have a network of engaged residents who understand and share common housing priorities, are active in housing policy and community organizing, and are able to negotiate with a unified voice. For example, when residents invoke their TOPA rights, it is important that tenants agree on a common goal: whether to assign their right to purchase to a for-profit developer and move out (in exchange for a cash buyout), or continue to fight for their right to purchase the property and negotiate for lower prices.

  • Promote housing literacy: Local governments can help residents better understand their rights by distributing factsheets and other public outreach materials via different media platforms and locations (public meetings, libraries, social media), diverse formats (both electronic and hard copy, for residents who may not have access to the internet), and in languages that are inclusive of the local demographic. Residents who know their housing rights are better equipped to advocate on their own behalf, enabling them to have greater control over their housing conditions. Having an awareness of key strategies like the right of first refusal, or the resources to help navigate the intricacies of these policies, are critical to ensuring that residents are able to access already-available tools that can help them stay-in-place and keep their existing housing affordable.

  • Collaborate with mission-aligned developers: Parishes and municipalities should consider ways to partner with mission-aligned developers who share similar goals for increasing the availability of housing for families at all income levels, particularly those that are underresourced. Many preservation strategies require collaboration not only among current residents and community stakeholders, but also with and among certain kinds of developers. Affordable housing developers frequently take on multiple roles in the affordable housing lifecycle, adopting not only the role of the developer, but also that of a landlord and property manager. In many cases, residents may find themselves partnering with nonprofit or mission-aligned developers that are willing to make a positive, if not below-market-rate, return on investment. For example, in Washington, D.C., tenants who participated in the city’s First Right Purchase program under TOPA can assign a portion or all of their rights to a developer (either nonprofit or for-profit), in exchange for the developer’s commitment to rehabilitate and maintain the units at affordable rates for a prescribed period of time.See footnote 291 In Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the first developers to participate in the Pilot NOAH Subsidy Rental Program was a mission-aligned, for-profit developer that sought a mix of public and private financing sources to acquire and preserve existing NOAH properties.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Charlotte, North Carolina: Pilot Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Subsidy Program

The City of Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, and where the price of housing has increased exponentially in recent years. Like many large urban centers, Charlotte faces challenges in meeting the demands for affordable and available housing. In 2020, the Charlotte City Council adopted the Pilot Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) Rental Subsidy Program (“Pilot NOAH Program”) to help preserve some of the city’s over 20,000 units of housing that are considered naturally affordable, i.e., without the assistance of government subsidies. Under the Pilot NOAH Program, the city provides financial assistance to private developers who agree to keep the units affordable rather than rebuild them or raise the rent, which may lead to the displacement of current residents. Working in tandem with private investors who help subsidize the initial acquisition of NOAH properties, the Pilot NOAH Program has been created to help preserve the city’s affordable housing stock. The preservation of NOAH housing is one component of Charlotte’s broader strategy for preserving and creating affordable housing for low-and moderate-income residents, and can be illustrative for cities that seek to leverage additional public-private partnerships to improve housing affordability and availability in their jurisdictions.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Richmond, Virginia: Maggie Walker Community Land Trust and Richmond Land Bank

The Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT) in Richmond, Virginia, is the first community land trust (CLT) in the nation to be also designated a land bank, the Richmond Land Bank. In creating the Richmond Land Bank in 2018 — via a formal Memorandum of Agreement with MWCLT —  the City of Richmond merged two separate yet complementary mechanisms for expanding affordable homeownership opportunities for low-and-moderate income (LMI) residents: a land bank, which acquires and sells vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties; and a CLT, which conveys permanently affordable housing to residents in need. As of spring 2022, the Richmond Land Bank is the only formalized land bank and CLT partnership in the country. The land bank, which operates as a program under MWCLT, is one of three MWCLT initiatives working to produce permanently affordable housing in the Richmond metropolitan area. The Richmond Land Bank demonstrates an emerging approach for how urban localities could create more housing and homeownership opportunities for LMI residents, a strategy that merges two existing and complementary mechanisms to preserve community control over developable land, and enable the integration of environmental and adaptation benefits in affordable housing development.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Atlanta, Georgia: Prioritizing Affordable Housing and Nature in the Face of New Growth

While Atlanta’s affordable housing approach focuses on incentivizing development to increase the overall housing stock, the city’s plan also includes measures to alleviate displacement pressures on existing or legacy homeowners. In 2020, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms established the Atlanta Anti-Displacement Program, which established an anti-displacement fund (ADF) and directed the city’s development agency to begin building a comprehensive city-wide anti-displacement program. With $4.6 million in seed funding, the ADF will work to prevent displacement by covering property tax increases for homeowners in neighborhoods identified as experiencing a heightened risk of displacement.

Atlanta’s ADF will be modeled after the Westside Anti-Displacement Fund, a financial assistance program focused on the Westside neighborhoods of Atlanta that is managed by the philanthropy Westside Future Fund and administered by APD Urban Planning and Management. The Westside fund works to alleviate rising homeownership costs by covering property tax increases for qualifying homeowners for up to 20 years.

Currently in development, the Atlanta ADF will build on the experiences and lessons of the Westside Anti-Displacement Fund and create a new program that will provide a similar type of property tax assistance program city-wide. Atlanta’s anti-displacement initiatives demonstrate how cities can adopt a proactive approach to creating development without displacement.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Portland, Oregon: Planning and Zoning for Manufactured Housing Communities

In recent years, the City of Portland, Oregon has experienced rapid population growth and demographic shifts, resulting in changing housing dynamics — most notably, a decrease in affordable housing. Manufactured Housing Communities (MHC), or manufactured homes (also commonly referred to as “mobile homes” or “trailers”), are a valuable source of unsubsidized affordable housing for thousands of households in Portland. This form of housing, however, is threatened by the effects of climate change and development pressures.

In order to preserve MHC across the city, the City of Portland adopted amendments to its comprehensive plan and created a Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone in 2018. The Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone is a new base district that covers all existing MHCs in Portland, precluding any other commercial or residential use on the properties and effectively protecting these communities and their residents from park closures. Collectively, these community-driven efforts provide instructive lessons for how local governments and communities can work together through planning and zoning processes to protect MHC and affordable housing more broadly.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

The City of Austin has begun preparing anti-displacement measures to ensure that current renters and homeowners are not priced out of the area. Rapid population growth can cause displacement by causing increases in rental rates and property taxes, which can make it untenable for current residents to stay in their homes. In 2014, Austin created an Anti-Displacement Task Force to address displacement and gentrification concerns. The work of the task force led to the development of a Displacement Prevention Strategy and, in 2021, the initiation of a new position for a Community Displacement Prevention Officer. In 2016, Austin adopted a Tenant Relocation Assistance ordinance, which requires developers to provide sufficient notice before tenants can be evicted. The ordinance also directs the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development agency to establish a Developer Fund for Tenant Relocation Assistance. Project Connect, Austin’s comprehensive transit development plan, includes a $300-million investment toward anti-displacement measures that include transit-oriented development and affordable housing along new routes in the transit plan. To inform the city’s anti-displacement efforts, agencies leading Project Connect partnered with the city’s Department of Housing and Planning to create a series of anti-displacement maps that outline the displacement risk of various neighborhoods along new planned transit routes. Austin’s example demonstrates how cities can leverage community participation to create legal and policy tools to combat displacement.

City of Charleston, South Carolina Comprehensive Plan 2021

In the Charleston City Plan 2021, the City of Charleston presents a roadmap to guide land-use planning, policy, and investment through 2030, with a particular focus on creating a more resilient and equitable future. Charleston weaves resilience throughout the plan and also treats resilience and equity as an independent plan element. The plan addresses elements for Affordable Housing, Land-Use, and Natural Resources, among others, to accommodate population growth in the face of increasing flood risk. In the plan, the city presents the importance of managing population growth in a way that increases affordability for Charleston residents. The majority of affordable housing in Charleston is not deed-restricted and is known as naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH). With no deed restrictions or regulations to ensure that housing units remain affordable, the NOAH units are at risk of no longer being affordable. To increase the amount of NOAH stock, the plan suggests assisting low-income and African-American property owners to retain, reinvest, and redevelop their properties. The plan also encourages the city to increase landlord participation in rental assistance and other community housing programs.

To pursue equitable housing development, the plan discusses the need for increased housing security for existing residents in areas at risk of displacement. Specifically, the city calls for policy solutions tailored to preserve historic African-American settlement communities, such as approximating the boundaries of the African-American settlements established during Reconstruction to give those areas prominence and ensure their growth and development is determined by the community. In its planning efforts, the city also pledged to uphold its commitment to environmental justice by considering its history of redlining, segregation, and lack of attention to environmental hazards in lower-income neighborhoods. For example, Charleston’s most underserved neighborhoods are most vulnerable to flooding, extreme heat, and hazardous materials. According to Charleston’s 2020 All Hazards Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, approximately 71 percent of all hazardous materials are found in these neighborhoods. The plan is one example of how cities can adopt a more targeted approach to NOAH preservation and prioritize historically underserved communities.

Objective 3.2:

Identify land-use tools to incentivize new development towards low-flood-risk areas, and which can be implemented in jurisdictions that have not yet adopted comprehensive plans or zoning regulations.

The Need

Parishes and municipalities can manage new and existing development by deploying a suite of complementary measures, including local comprehensive plans and land-use and zoning ordinances.See footnote 292 Local comprehensive plans (also called master plans) shape long-term development and future planning for land use and transportation, which can then be implemented through land-use and zoning ordinances.See footnote 293 These ordinances, in turn, govern the location, height, size, and function of buildings that can be situated within a certain geographic area, as well as the how the land may be used (residential, transportation, commercial, agricultural, industrial, public use, or recreational). Zoning ordinances are then enforced through zoning permits, which are granted to authorize new development projects. 

Land use and zoning can play a critical role in increasing affordable housing in a region. Zoning may be used to increase density to allow more units to be built in certain areas — thereby maximizing their land use — or by permitting mixed-use zoning to allow commercial buildings to be developed alongside residential areas. Zoning regulations can also help address concerns about the impact of new development on the surrounding neighborhood and minimize disruptions, for example, by prohibiting the construction of a highway through residential neighborhoods or the installation of a sewage treatment plant across the street from a home. 

In Louisiana, some parishes and incorporated municipalities have zoning and others do not. This can lead local policymakers to develop innovative strategies to guide the use of the land and future development. The absence of zoning is not uncommon, as not all local jurisdictions have zoning or comprehensive plans. The City of Houston, Texas is one of the most well-known examples and the only major American city that does not currently use zoning ordinances to shape development.See footnote 294 Instead, Houston uses what has been called “de facto zoning,” referring to land-use regulations that serve similar functions as zoning ordinances, for example, restrictions on lot sizes; buffering ordinances that restrict building height, setback requirements, and construction styles; and deed restrictions that impose limits or conditions on the use or activities that may take place on properties.See footnote 295  

This objective identifies tools and strategies that parishes and municipalities in Region Seven with and without zoning can both consider.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are a variety of strategies that local policymakers can adopt to shape land use, planning, and development including: 

  • Adopting subdivision regulations;
  • Participating in the Community Rating System;
  • Creating land banks to place vacant, abandoned, and blighted land back into productive use; and/or
  • Supporting the creation of community plans to lead local priorities in housing and environment

The strategies below can be deployed in the absence of or independently from zoning ordinances or local comprehensive plans.

Subdivision Regulations

Communities that are not ready for comprehensive planning or zoning ordinances may consider adopting subdivision regulations, which govern the division of land into two or more lots and specify the standards and requirements for making the property suitable for development. Unlike zoning, which determines the permitted type and density of development within a prescribed community, subdivision regulations ensure that the division of land into smaller lots or parcels reflects the physical characteristics of the site and is usable and safe. For example, subdivision regulations can be used to avoid the creation of oddly shaped lots, ensure that each lot is connected to roads or sidewalks with adequate access for emergency vehicles, and that there is adequate stormwater management. 

Subdivision regulations can be used to mitigate flood risk and limit new development in flood-prone areas. For example, parishes and municipalities can limit or restrict development immediately adjacent to bodies of water, or increase setbacks from floodplains. Subdivision regulations can also be used to keep buildings out of the floodplain by promoting cluster developments to concentrate buildings outside of areas with high flood risk, which can simultaneously preserve open space and preserve the natural floodplain. Notably, many of these activities are credited under the Community Rating System, as described below.

Community Rating System 

The Community Rating System (CRS) is a subprogram of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that incentivizes participating communities to go above and beyond the NFIP’s minimum standards in return for flood insurance premium discounts.See footnote 296 Reduced insurance rates can provide an economic incentive for improving floodplain management practices while building political support to make regulatory changes. 

Communities can receive CRS credits by participating in a range of activities — from public outreach to land use — which then qualifies them to receive a classification rating that corresponds to insurance discounts. The activities range from public outreach projects on flood risk management or making flood-protecting information publicly available, to more time or resource-intensive activities like stormwater management or removing buildings from the regulatory floodplain. Importantly, CRS credits communities for activities that minimize flood risk for new development, including preserving open space (Activity 420); protecting natural floodplain functions (Activities 420 and 510); promoting higher regulatory standards, and regulating new development in the floodplain (Activities 430 and 310); regulating development in the watershed (Activity 450); and managing special flood-related hazards, such as coastal erosion or migrating stream channels (Activities 420 and 430). The points are distributed on a sliding scale. For example, maximum credit (250 points) is given when the entire floodplain in a subdivision is set aside as open space, while only 25 points are given for regulations that permit cluster development through subdivisions.See footnote 297 For more information on leveraging the CRS program, see the Introduction to Goal Two and Objective 2.3.

Land Banks  

Many communities in Louisiana and nationwide have large inventories of land that are vacant, abandoned, or blighted, much of which is concentrated in historically redlined neighborhoods — the same neighborhoods that face a shortage of quality, affordable housing and are also more likely to experience higher flood risk.See footnote 298 However, the time, cost, and resources necessary to acquire and obtain title to these properties can hamper efforts to develop affordable housing. (For more information on maximizing the use of vacant, abandoned, and blight properties, see Objective 1.3).

Increasingly, however, local governments are converting these properties back into productive use through the creation of land banks. Land banks are public entities (e.g., public nonprofit or government entities) that have been granted special powers through state enabling legislation to remove legal and financial barriers which can hinder the sale of the property on the private market.See footnote 299 Barriers may include tax liens that exceed the value of the property, or when the costs of repair exceed projected revenue that could be generated from the property. State enabling legislation, which varies from state to state, can permit land banks to overcome many of those barriers, including extinguishing past public liens and acquiring tax-delinquent properties at substantially less than the amount due on the property. Accordingly, land banks have greater flexibility than many local governments to market and convey properties in a way that prioritizes desired community outcomes — such as building affordable housing — rather than the highest offer on the property.See footnote 300    

As of 2021, there are over 250 land banks in the country, including three in Louisiana developed by Build Baton Rouge (formerly the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority); Lafayette Land Revitalization Authority; and New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.See footnote 301 

Planning

Parishes and municipalities that have not adopted local comprehensive plans or zoning ordinances could consider working with local stakeholders in the community to identify local priorities in housing, environment, and other focus areas to help guide local decisionmaking. These priorities can be included in other types of planning efforts at different scales, from the regional to the neighborhood level. For example, the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies adopted a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk, and included strategies to support resilience across multiple sectors, including in housing. In order to support parishes in reaching their housing and development goals, the strategies identify projects that direct development to low-risk areas and prepare for population growth.

In addition to incorporating housing in adaptation and resilience plans, parishes and municipalities could also consider supporting neighborhood-scale community planning processes. For example, the Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan (Community Plan) was developed by a consortium of universities and other nongovernmental institutions to develop community visions for housing and other services to increase community resources and enhance resilience to housing and environmental chances, among other stressors. Among its recommendations, the Community Plan proposed goals for expanding housing types to meet the needs of different types of residents at different income levels, as well as activities to encourage green development. 

Although it was developed to help guide the implementation of the East Baton Rouge Parish Comprehensive Plan, the Community Plan remains a notable example for jurisdictions that do not currently have local comprehensive planning processes, illustrating the process of integrating extensive community participation and perspectives from a diverse array of public and private stakeholders that collaborated to shape long-term development in the area. The Community Plan was developed by Southern University and the Southern University System Foundation, and incorporated the input of city staff, local and statewide nonprofits (including the Center for Planning Excellence), and consulting groups. This type of community engagement process, combined with the array of far-ranging and substantive recommendations for community resilience, can be used as a blueprint or springboard for future planning efforts in local communities. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When prioritizing land-use tools to encourage development in low-flood-risk urban areas, decisionmakers may consider the following considerations and practice tips that apply to one or more of the strategies described above: 

  • Consult existing templates and resources for drafting subdivision regulations
  • Encourage regional coordination on CRS activities
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.

  • Consult existing templates and resources for drafting subdivision regulations: In communities that are not ready to adopt zoning ordinances but are exploring the idea of adopting subdivision regulations, policymakers could consult local resources that provide model language and help tailor the regulation to the particular needs of the community. For example, the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0 and Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit, developed by the Center for Planning Excellent (CPEX) in 2021, offer a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, and include model subdivision codes that incorporate sustainable development and Smart Growth principles, and which may be used individually and tailored to the needs of each parish and municipality.
  • Encourage regional coordination on CRS activities: Jurisdictions already participating in the CRS can maximize their credits by collaborating with other CRS communities and pursuing CRS activities at a regional scale, for example through a CRS “Users Group."

    Activities that are ripe for regional coordination include developing a multi-jurisdictional regional Program for Public Information (PPI) to help participating members coordinate messaging around flood risk as well as increase CRS credits for community outreach activities. Compared to many of the other CRS activities, developing a PPI is less resource-intensive. Communities that share similar flood hazards can also share and disseminate similar public outreach information. Communities could also recruit a regional CRS coordinator to provide technical assistance to local governments on best practices for CRS participation. By sharing information and other resources, smaller and less-resourced jurisdictions, in particular, could collectively maximize the CRS credits earned in individual jurisdictions while enhancing regional flood resilience.See footnote 302 

    By the same token, jurisdictions that are not currently participating in the CRS could help build political support to enroll in the program by highlighting the experience of similarly situated jurisdictions that have used the CRS to help residents save on insurance premiums. In making the case to local leadership, government staff could point to the relative ease of participating in certain activities, such as public outreach, to reach CRS benchmarks that lead to longer-term cost-saving measures.

  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Local governments can also turn to partners like universities or nongovernmental entities to increase their capacity to provide research and other resources to support local development and planning efforts, as well as to increase capacity for participation in the CRS program. For example, in Region Seven, the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response & Technology at The University of New Orleans (UNO-CHART), facilitates two of the state’s four Users Groups: the Capital Region Area Floodplain Task Force (CRAFT), and the Flood Loss Outreach Awareness Task Force (FLOAT). UNO-CHART collects and shares research on the latest updates from the National Flood Insurance Program, as well as information from technical experts and practitioners. UNO-CHART also serves as a liaison with Louisiana’s ISO (Insurance Services Office), the entity that verifies community projects for CRS accreditation. UNO-CHART offers the support of using a nongovernmental facilitator to supplement local government resources and capacity, while further enhancing and disseminating the recognized benefits of participation in CRS Users Groups. 

    Similarly, the development of the Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan was spearheaded by Southern University, which assembled a diverse team of stakeholders under the Scotlandville Strategic Plan Committee. The committee was able to harness its strengths in community engagement and its preexisting relationships with members of the Scotlandville community to draw out the voices of residents and other stakeholders who might not have otherwise been heard.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0

The Louisiana Land Use Toolkit was created by the Center of Planning Excellence (CPEX) as a model development code to support economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable development for Louisiana communities. The Toolkit applies “Smart Growth” principles to future development planning, aiming to create resilient communities; revitalized neighborhoods; increased land value; more affordable housing; and protected rural, natural, and open space areas. The Toolkit is a free, online resource designed for the local needs of Louisiana parishes and municipalities, including options for a subdivision code and individual ordinances that can be customized into a complete development code.

The Toolkit was drafted to serve as a flexible planning, land-use, and zoning framework that can be adapted in diverse Louisiana jurisdictions, including suburban and rural communities, and to a variety of different environments or neighborhood characteristics. The model codes take into account the unique culture, traditional development patterns, and building types in Louisiana, as well as the requirements of Louisiana law. Relevant to this objective, CPEX provides resources on developing a growth management strategy and future land-use map. Parishes and municipalities in Louisiana can reference the Land Use Toolkit as a resource to inform potential planning, land-use, and/or zoning strategies related to housing, among other topics.

Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit 2.1

Developed by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), the Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit contains development standards that are designed to support hazard mitigation and natural resource protection in the coastal areas of Louisiana. The Toolkit offers a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, in particular for those communities facing coastal and stormwater flooding. The Toolkit includes model subdivision codes that can be used to build more resilient coastal communities that are adaptive to these climate impacts and others, by adopting sustainable development and Smart Growth principles. The model ordinances can be used individually and tailored for the needs of each parish or municipality, or may be combined to create a complete development code. The Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit is a companion guide for coastal communities to use along with the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0. The coastal Toolkit offers additional ordinances for coastal areas and waterfront development, and addresses community and parcel-level flooding concerns through model stormwater regulations and nature-based solutions. Parishes and municipalities in Louisiana may reference the Land Use Toolkit as a resource to inform potential planning, land-use, and/or zoning strategies to increase coastal resilience at the household and community level, among other topics.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Norfolk, Virginia: PlaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk Vision 2100, and Resilience Zoning Updates

The City of Norfolk, Virginia is facing new challenges of increased flooding and sea-level rise due to climate change. In response, the city has developed a host of planning and other initiatives that are informed by these heightened risks and designed to increase the city’s resilience against these physical threats. For example, the Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project Weatherization Program provides assistance with insulating and air sealing for lower-income homeowners. Additionally, programs such as Equity Secure and Norfolk Home Rehabilitation help residents modernize their homes by helping fund repairs and the replacement of heating, plumbing, and other systems. For new construction, Norfolk’s Green Home Choice Program offers expedited permitting for construction that meets certain energy-efficient design standards. Norfolk is also a participant in the Community Rating System (CRS) program, a voluntary incentive program under the National Flood Insurance Program. Even though Norfolk has a local comprehensive plan and resilient zoning ordinance, the city is pursuing a multi-pronged approach that addresses housing resilience at different scales — from weatherization programs to participating as a CRS community — that can serve an example to localities that are at various stages of the planning and zoning process.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Baton Rouge–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development

The Imagine Plank Road: Plan for Equitable Development (plan) is an equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) plan developed to guide the revitalization of the Plank Road corridor, an area in north Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish (parish). Released in November 2019, the plan is a response to historical disinvestment in the Plank Road corridor and addresses issues of infrastructure decay, jobs and commerce, and health and safety. The plan is anchored by a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that will run along the corridor and connect it to other parts of Baton Rouge. There are seven new developments proposed along the corridor, each designed to provide quality of life amenities and generate tax revenue while preserving local neighborhoods’ history and culture. The Plank Road plan is notable for its goals, metrics, and recommendations for equity-focused community revitalization. At the project level, local policymakers can look to the plan for specific efforts related to urban affordable housing, community-driven development, green infrastructure, and community engagement. More broadly, the plan demonstrates how parishes and municipalities can integrate equity across various development initiatives in order to lay a foundation for long-term stability and growth.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Richmond, Virginia: Maggie Walker Community Land Trust and Richmond Land Bank

The Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT) in Richmond, Virginia, is the first community land trust (CLT) in the nation to be also designated a land bank, the Richmond Land Bank. In creating the Richmond Land Bank in 2018 — via a formal Memorandum of Agreement with MWCLT —  the City of Richmond merged two separate yet complementary mechanisms for expanding affordable homeownership opportunities for low-and-moderate income (LMI) residents: a land bank, which acquires and sells vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties; and a CLT, which conveys permanently affordable housing to residents in need. As of spring 2022, the Richmond Land Bank is the only formalized land bank and CLT partnership in the country. The land bank, which operates as a program under MWCLT, is one of three MWCLT initiatives working to produce permanently affordable housing in the Richmond metropolitan area. The Richmond Land Bank demonstrates an emerging approach for how urban localities could create more housing and homeownership opportunities for LMI residents. This strategy merges two existing and complementary mechanisms to preserve community control over developable land, and enable the integration of environmental and adaptation benefits in affordable housing development.

Objective 3.3:

Streamline permitting processes for new home development for increased consistency and access across all levels of government.

The Need

Across the lifecycle of affordable housing development, the initial stages of concept and pre-development can be unpredictable and come with administrative and financial delays. Prior to breaking ground on construction, affordable housing developers can spend months — if not years — on pre-development activities, which include consolidating financing commitments, conducting site analysis with architects and engineers, and completing due diligence on the land or property, such as conducting environmental reviews and other physical risk assessments. In total, the pre-development phase can consume up to 20 percent of the total development cost for a project.See footnote 303 

During this period, the process of acquiring permits and securing pre-development approvals may require significant time and administrative and financial resources. Meanwhile, local governments can vary widely in staff capacity and financial resources to help guide developers through these processes. Administratively, developers may find themselves navigating unclear and even conflicting guidance across and within agencies, particularly when seeking special-use permits or variances that exempt projects from zoning requirements. For developers that work in multiple jurisdictions, the challenges may be compounded by differences in regulatory and procedural requirements across parishes and incorporated municipalities, even within Region Seven alone.See footnote 304 Similarly, the financial cost for obtaining permits may pose additional obstacles that could discourage investors and donors from supporting affordable housing projects, including nonprofit developers or philanthropists who may want to maximize the use of their money for construction or acquisition instead of on permits and other soft costs — which are frequently higher in affordable housing due to the complexity of the financing and the need to assemble different funding packages.

Obtaining approval for new construction can be time-consuming and costly, and the lack of consistency in the review and approval processes can cause unexpected delays and cost increases, which may be passed on to homeowners and tenants. Individually and collectively, these factors can slow the volume and speed of new affordable housing construction. By contrast, increasing efficiencies in the permitting process could make parishes and municipalities more attractive to nonprofit and for-profit developers of affordable housing. 

This objective suggests a few tools and other ideas that parishes and municipalities in Region Seven could consider to help alleviate barriers and increase opportunities for producing more affordable housing in their jurisdictions.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

In order to create more efficiency in permitting practices, local governments could consider amending regulatory and administrative practices. For example, localities could make zoning changes to allow multi-family homes to be built as-of-right, removing the need for discretionary approval from the government. In jurisdictions where amending zoning ordinances is not feasible — or for those that do not use zoning — policymakers could consider adopting administrative changes that could create more predictability and clarity in the process for permitting review. Specifically, options for increasing administrative capacity could include:

  • Conducting an assessment of the permitting process to identify obstacles and barriers;
  • Centralizing information using dedicated staff or information pathways to help affordable housing developers better understand and navigate the permitting process; and/or
  • Providing expedited review, waiving impacts fees, and/or providing other incentives.

An Assessment of the Permitting Process 

In order to maximize the efficiency of the permitting process, local jurisdictions may consider first conducting a comprehensive review of the development process to identify any obstacles that may slow or impede residential construction or redevelopment. Obstacles may include delays in approval, duplicate or conflicting procedures and requirements, and other bottlenecks in the system that can slow down the permitting process for permitting staff, developers, and other stakeholders. 

Importantly, local jurisdictions should collect stakeholder input via meetings and public forums to gather information from a diverse array of affordable housing participants and to better identify gaps and opportunities for adding efficiency. Local leadership should also consider collecting feedback from multiple forums — including public meetings, online surveys, and anonymous questionnaires — and capture public comments from developers and input from permitting staff at different levels of experience to more accurately capture the range of interactions between developers and staff.

Centralize Information

Parishes and municipalities at different scales will vary in staff capacity and other administrative resources to review permits. Moreover, different jurisdictions may have distinct regulatory requirements for development or permitting processes. In order to help alleviate some of the burdens on developers to navigate multiple and different permitting processes, local jurisdictions could consider creating staff positions specifically dedicated to providing technical assistance to affordable housing developers. For example, the Atlanta Office of Buildings created two positions to serve as a liaison between city agencies and affordable housing developers. Additionally, the City of Atlanta launched a Housing Innovation Lab that provides technical assistance to nonprofit developers, such as providing master planning and design services, researching innovative approaches to affordable housing development, and providing educational materials to developers, their banks, and residents.See footnote 305 Additionally, jurisdictions could consider creating a “one-stop-shop” of government agency representatives, which can help answer questions from developers and other stakeholders, as well as to enable more consistency in protocols and coordinating responses to developers. Regional-support entities like Metropolitan Planning Organizations or regional watershed entities can potentially facilitate the development and/or staffing of this type of entity within Region Seven or across other watersheds in Louisiana.

Procedural and Financial Incentives 

To encourage developers to build more housing that is affordable and/or includes resilient design elements, local jurisdictions could consider creating incentives for affordable housing creation in the permitting process, such as providing expedited review or offsetting or waiving impact fees. For example, in Pinellas County, Florida, the Board of County Commissioners — which administers the certification process for affordable housing development and processes requests for the modification of development standards — provides developers with relief from county review fees and expedited permit processes. In order to qualify, the planned development (either for-sale homes or rental units for income-eligible households) is required to first be certified as an Affordable Housing Development (AHD). The AHD is then given priority during the permit review process, with the goal of completing the permit review within a two-week window. 

Similarly, in Austin, Texas, the S.M.A.R.T. Housing Policy Initiative is a municipal program that offers developers of affordable housing expedited review of up to half the normal time for conventional projects. The program is intended specifically for development projects that match the letters of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym: safe, mixed-income, accessible, reasonably priced, and transit-oriented. In addition to expedited review times, developers that meet the S.M.A.R.T. Housing certification standards may receive waivers at an average of $600 per unit for multi-family homes and $2,000 for single-family homes. Fee waivers may be applied to certain construction inspection fees, development review and inspection fees, as well as the city’s capital recovery fee (or private transfer fees) for water and wastewater – the costs of which may otherwise be transferred to buyers or renters. 

Additionally, local jurisdictions could also consider offering incentives for resilient design while also increasing the availability of more diverse housing choices for residents. In Norfolk, Virginia, the city’s Green Home Choice Program offers expedited permitting for construction that meets certain energy-efficient design standards. In 2021, Norfolk’s city council approved a “Missing Middle Pattern Book” (Pattern Book) to use more streamlined permitting processes to encourage the construction of a more diverse housing stock — or more “missing middle” housing that provides residents with options somewhere between large, multi-story buildings and single-family detached homes. The Pattern Book was adopted as an appendix to the city’s local comprehensive plan, plaNorfolk 2030. As the creator of the term describes it, “missing middle” housing refers to “a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types, compatible in scale with single-family homes, that help meet the growing demand for walkable, urban living, respond to household demographics, and meet the need for more housing choices at different prices points.” Norfolk’s Pattern Book addresses multiple complementary goals — increasing missing middle housing, increasing resilience, and alleviating barriers to permitting practices — by providing a detailed, step-by-step guide that developers, architects, and other housing stakeholders can use to build more missing middle housing in the city. In order to encourage more missing middle construction, the Pattern Book provides blueprints that are accompanied by pre-approved site plans that can be developed “by right” in certain districts in the city, reducing the timeline for a permitting process that can otherwise take from six months to a year. 

Similarly, Norfolk has also built resilient design standards and incentives for developers into its land-use and zoning ordinance (see information about the city’s Resilience Quotient Points System). This is another example of how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven and beyond can evaluate regulatory, incentive-based approaches to enhance housing stock and make it safer. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When considering strategies to streamline permitting processes, decisionmakers may consider the following considerations and practice tips that apply to one or more of the strategies described above: 

  • Increase transparency and uniformity
  • Create regional resources and capacity to identify and pursue opportunities for streamlining and coordinating procedural and regulatory requirements
  • Increase administrative efficiency

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips for implementation.

  • Increase transparency and uniformity: In housing development, time is money, and affordable housing development can be particularly time and resource-intensive. The permitting process and other administrative procedures in the pre-development phase serve a vital function in ensuring construction and building safety, as well as compliance with land-use and zoning regulations. However, when the process for affordable housing may already be resource and time-intensive, mission-driven private and nonprofit developers may be discouraged from making new investments in resilient, affordable housing. Therefore, local jurisdictions should consider promoting transparency and uniformity across the permitting process wherever possible in order to help alleviate the level of unpredictability and mitigate risk in the pre-development stages. For example, local jurisdictions could create an online electronic filing process and permit tracking systems or dashboards so that developers and staff can readily receive updates on the status of the permit review process. Similarly, the adoption of a uniform timeline and permit appeals process could also insert greater predictability to the process for developers.

  • Create regional resources and capacity to identify and pursue opportunities for streamlining and coordinating procedural and regulatory requirements: By identifying opportunities to consolidate and synthesize permitting requirements, parishes and municipalities can both increase their administrative efficiency as well as create more consistent expectations for developers that pursue projects across multiple, neighboring localities.

  • Increase administrative efficiency: Parishes and municipalities can increase the administrative capacity of its permitting staff to conduct reviews more quickly and uniformly through better delegation. For example, permitting agencies could delegate minor decisions to staff, who could make decisions based on predetermined criteria set by governing bodies or approval granting boards. This would free up those same bodies to focus on more complex projects. Additionally, assigning dedicated staff to provide technical assistance would help ensure a more uniform and standardized approach to permit review, rather than increasing the risk of providing different treatment to permit review across different staff members. 

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Norfolk, Virginia: PlaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk Vision 2100, and Resilience Zoning Updates

Norfolk, Virginia is a coastal city whose history, economy, and culture are deeply tied to its location on the water. Facing new challenges of increased flooding and sea-level rise due to climate change, Norfolk has responded by developing a host of planning and zoning initiatives that are informed by these new risks and designed to increase the city’s resilience against them. Norfolk has several programs to encourage resilient homes at the building level. 

For example, for new construction, Norfolk’s Green Home Choice Program offers expedited permitting for construction that meets certain energy-efficient design standards. In 2021, Norfolk’s city council approved a “Middle Middle Pattern Book” (Pattern Book) to use more streamlined permitting processes to encourage the construction of more diverse housing stock — or more “missing middle” housing that provides residents with options somewhere between large, multi-story buildings and single-family detached homes. Adopted as an appendix to the city’s local comprehensive plan, plaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk’s Pattern Book addresses multiple complementary goals — increasing missing middle housing, increasing resilience, and alleviating barriers to permitting practices — by providing a detailed, step-by-step guide that developers, architects, and other housing stakeholders can use to build more missing middle housing in the city. In order to encourage more missing middle construction, the Pattern Book provides blueprints that are accompanied by pre-approved site plans that can be developed “by right” in certain districts in the city, reducing the timeline for a permitting process that can otherwise take from six months to a year. 

Similarly, Norfolk has built resilient design standards and incentives for developers into its land-use and zoning ordinance (see information about the city’s Resilience Quotient Points System). This is another example of how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven and beyond can evaluate regulatory, incentive-based approaches to enhance housing stock and make it safer.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

Austin’s SMART Housing is a development incentive program aimed specifically at producing housing that is “SMART”: safe, mixed-income, accessible for disabled residents, reasonably priced, and transit-oriented. Participating developers can qualify for fee waivers in exchange for meeting a set of minimum requirements pertaining to SMART qualities. In part, qualifying developments must include a portion of units as affordable, be within half a mile walking distance from a local public transit route, and meet certain green building standards. The requirement for SMART Housing to be built close to transit reflects the city’s comprehensive approach to reducing housing-related costs. 

During the city’s engagement process to draft the Housing Blueprint, residential developers expressed a desire for more efficient permitting processes to minimize administrative and financial barriers to development. As developers suggested to the Housing Blueprint’s authors, a more efficient permitting process could help minimize barriers to affordable housing development while ensuring development standards are met. For example, the authors of the plan suggest that expedited review could be used for developments that include income-restricted affordable units. Another permitting recommendation in Austin’s housing plan involves creating pre-approved, standardized building plans for infill development. These template or standardized plans would include a range of pre-approved housing designs that already meet site conditions. While the city would have to make an initial investment toward developing a set of high-quality designs, the availability and use of standardized plans can result in greater efficiency for both the city and developers alike. Austin’s experience demonstrates how parishes and municipalities could similarly explore opportunities to increase affordable housing construction by abbreviating the permitting process and enabling affordable housing options to be brought to market more quickly.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Atlanta, Georgia: Prioritizing Affordable Housing and Nature in the Face of New Growth

In 2017, the Department of City Planning released Atlanta City Design (ACD), “a concept for the design of Atlanta that provides a framework for policies and plans including” the city’s comprehensive development plan, capital improvement program, and budget. Atlanta City Design Housing (ACD Housing) is a more detailed sub-framework of the ACD framework focused specifically on changing land use and zoning regulations to achieve goals set forth in the One Atlanta affordable housing plan. Released in 2020, ACD Housing includes recommendations for specific amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance to expand affordable housing options and incentivize housing development near transit.

At the implementation stage, Atlanta has focused on streamlining development permitting processes and boosting capacity for developers and nonprofit partners engaged in housing-related work. For example, the Atlanta Office of Buildings created two new liaison positions to help affordable housing developers better navigate the permitting process for new housing. The city is also launching a Housing Innovation Lab to provide technical assistance for nonprofit developers, provide master planning and design services, research new affordable housing approaches, and educate residents, banks, and developers on implementation. As of fall 2021, the city has already started interviewing staff to fill these roles. ACD Housing demonstrates how, as a part of planning processes and zoning updates, policymakers in parishes and municipalities can help mitigate the administrative and financial barriers around permitting processes for new affordable housing.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Asheville, North Carolina: Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Climate Resiliency Initiatives

In 2018, the City Council of Asheville adopted Living Asheville: A Comprehensive Plan for Our Future. Living Asheville states that the city will increase and diversify housing supply by removing administrative barriers to housing development; increasing density; expanding areas allowing high-density, mixed-use development; modifying permitted lot dimensions to facilitate additional housing; and studying potential dwelling types to identify which types should be permitted in the future. The city created a Hotel Overlay District. Within the district, the city is allowing development proposals to earn a minimum number of public benefits points to be eligible for a permit without having to go through City Council review. According to the public benefits table codified in the city’s code, developers can earn points for actions like building energy-efficient structures, creating new affordable housing units, donating money to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, and creating public outdoor spaces. Alternatively, developers can lose points for demolishing historic buildings or causing the displacement of existing businesses or housing. Here, only the former set of actions increase resilience and are therefore rewarded with points. Living Asheville provides examples of how localities can leverage the permitting process as an incentive to address a range of environmental, housing, and anti-displacement priorities.

City of Charleston, South Carolina Comprehensive Plan 2021

In the Charleston City Plan 2021, the City of Charleston presents a roadmap to guide land-use planning, policy, and investment through 2030 with a focus on creating a more resilient and equitable future. This state-mandated comprehensive plan can serve as a resource and tool for a variety of users including city staff, residents, and community organizations. In the plan, the city focuses its recommendations on areas within Charleston’s Urban Growth Boundary and more specifically, addresses the unique characteristics of the five areas of the city that are separated by waterways. The City of Charleston weaves resilience throughout the Plan and also treats resilience and equity as an independent plan element.

In addition, the plan addresses elements for Affordable Housing, Land-Use, and Natural Resources, among others, to accommodate population growth in the face of increasing flood risk. To reduce regulatory obstacles that hinder the construction of affordable housing and disproportionately burden low-income communities, the plan recommends that the city implement policies, such as expedited review and permitting, reduced fees, and affordable materials standards. To increase affordable housing, the plan also suggests that housing increases in maximum residential densities should be conditional on the basis that a certain percentage of new units be reserved for affordable housing. The Charleston City Plan 2021 is one example of how localities can amplify expedited review and permitting processes as a priority under more comprehensive planning processes.

Objective 3.4:

Incorporate resilience strategies in local plans and housing programs.

The Need

The need for resilient housing that is also affordable is critical to people of all income levels, but especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and lower-income residents across Region Seven as they recover from and prepare for flooding and extreme weather events. Housing stability is integral to individual resilience. Households with lower housing cost burdens have more adaptive capacity to bounce back and stay in place after floods and extreme weather. Meanwhile, cost-burdened households are more likely to face poor health outcomes, and are less likely than other households to access educational or employment opportunities. Housing stability is also critical to community resilience, helping to enhance social cohesion, build community ties, and enable residents to stay better connected — particularly during extreme weather or other emergencies when neighbors often become each others’ first responders.

As the need for resilient, affordable housing becomes more pressing, parishes and municipalities will need to consider a multi-pronged strategy with solutions that address the full scope of environmental and housing threats facing their communities — physical, economic, and social. Indeed, some communities in Region Seven have already begun to heavily feature environmental and climate resilience measures in local plans. In 2022, the community of Scotlandville in north Baton Rouge, developed a plan to help shape long-term development among public and private stakeholders. The plan, which was developed through a robust public participation process, not only centered the preservation and creation of affordable housing as a priority objective, but also incorporated themes around environmental improvements to enhance overall community resilience.

This objective provides strategies that parishes and municipalities could incorporate into their local planning processes and/or housing programs as part of a more comprehensive approach to addressing housing and community resilience. 


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are a variety of approaches that can be adopted by parishes and municipalities to more holistically center environmental risks and resiliency at the neighborhood level. The examples discussed below illustrate strategies that other jurisdictions have adopted to increase housing and overall community resilience. A few key approaches include: 

  • Developing risks assessments and vulnerability studies; 
  • Adopting resilient design guidelines
  • Incorporating resilient design in local plans; and/or
  • Building community resilience hubs to support neighborhood resilience. 

Risk Assessments and Vulnerability Studies 

Local governments could dedicate resources or partner with local universities to conduct risk assessments and vulnerability studies that map a community’s specific hazards and related impacts on the housing stock, in addition to evaluating the ability of its residents to adapt to and recover from those very hazards. 

Risk assessments, which measure the probability of specific hazards under future climate scenarios, identify both primary hazards (e.g., coastal or inland flooding, stormwater, extreme temperatures, major thunderstorms) and secondary hazards that accompany them (e.g., disease, toxin exposure, power and water outage). The assessments can also be used strategically to redirect resources to better support the growth and preservation of affordable housing, especially in the face of population and environmental changes. For example, studies can help identify the number of affordable housing developments in the floodplains, as designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the specific properties that are more flood-prone. Identifying flood-prone properties can help local jurisdictions be more competitive when applying for flood mitigation funding. Parishes and municipalities can also partner with their local housing authority or agency — or seek assistance from local universities or other non-governmental organizations that can provide technical assistance — to integrate different flooding scenarios into their facility assessments to identify properties at greatest risk for flooding. For more information, see Objectives 5.2 and 5.3

Parishes and municipalities that conduct risk assessments can also integrate the results in vulnerability studies, which evaluate a community’s sensitivity to identified risks, for example, its ability to adapt to and recover from hazards like extreme heat or inland flooding. Vulnerability studies may include analyses of the building type, function, and population; interviews with owners and property managers; and individual site visits and assessments. For example, to determine the vulnerability of a multifamily unit to stormwater flooding, questions may include whether:

  • the building is located in a flood zone;
  • the property has a history of sewer or stormwater backups during heavy rain or flooding; and
  • there is an emergency management plan for both residents and building staff.

The outcome of vulnerability studies can help local decisionmakers better deploy scarce resources to neighborhoods and communities that are most in need.

Resilient Design Guidelines 

Parishes and municipalities can partner with nonprofits and/or technical experts to develop and promote resilient design guidelines, like those developed by the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. in Strategies for Multifamily Building Resilience, to provide strategies for retrofitting affordable housing buildings to protect them against different hazards.See footnote 306 Likewise, the cities of Norfolk, Miami, and Washington, D.C., are just a few additional examples of localities that have adopted and promoted design guidelines that can help protect homes and other structures from the impacts of flooding and extreme weather.See footnote 307 

Generally, design guidelines or standards can be used by government agencies, planners, architects, and engineers to incorporate features during the renovation or construction processes that enhance the resilience of a structure and the built environment. Resilience strategies vary from improvements like floodproofing buildings and installing pumps to measures that can increase energy efficiency and stormwater management. Guideline manuals can also provide strategies to enhance backup measures that provide critical services like access to potable water and emergency lighting when a building loses power. Guidelines could also provide strategies for building community resilience, such as measures to strengthen community ties and expand community spaces.

Planning

Parishes and municipalities that conduct risk assessments, conduct vulnerability studies, and promote resilient design guidelines can incorporate the information in local planning processes, for example in local comprehensive plans, neighborhood-level plans, or adaptation and resilience plans. Importantly, the information harvested from the studies described above can help guide local policymakers toward more informed planning and land-use decisions, and build political support for adopting local ordinances that include enhanced design guidelines. 

Community Resilience Hubs

Just as increasing resilience at the individual or household level can translate to enhanced resilience of the community at large, by the same token, dedicating resources to “greaux” or grow neighborhood-level resilience can direct resources to underserved households. In parishes and municipalities where increasing the resilience of individual homes is not structurally or financially feasible, local governments could dedicate resources to supporting hyperlocal institutions that focus on providing a range of services to residents. Specifically, several cities across the country have adopted or begun to explore the idea of creating a community resilience hub, which is another form of community amenity that can serve low-income residents and increase their resilience to flooding impacts and other external stressors. 

Generally, a resilience hub is a trusted community center that can provide essential services and amenities to neighborhood residents, before, during, and after a disaster event or other emergency (e.g., pandemic, public safety incident).See footnote 308 Resilience hubs are intended to support residents who will require the most resources during times of emergency, such as low-income households, the elderly, and people with disabilities. During emergencies, resilience hubs can operate as a central meeting space where residents can access critical resources, such as refrigeration for medication, charging stations, medical supplies, food, and water, as well as other supplies and services. To provide these functions, many resilience hubs have been designed to be equipped with off-grid and alternative energy and storage systems. 

Importantly, resilience hubs are designed to be a resource not only during times of a disaster or emergency, but also before and after disruptions. Accordingly, resilience hubs are typically housed in existing locations that are trusted community spaces and buildings, such as a church, library, or community recreation center. During non-emergency periods, resilience hubs can offer resources and services that enhance neighborhood connectivity, such as hosting after-school programs, providing access to basic health services (e.g., flu shots), conducting workforce development and job training initiatives, and helping residents prepare for hazards through education and awareness-building workshops. 

While resilience hubs are a fairly new concept, multiple cities have launched or are in the process of developing pilot resilience hub programs — from Orlando, Florida to Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, D.C., to Portland, Oregon. Each hub is tailored to the specific needs of the local community; many, however, are designed to be scaled across cities in order to increase their accessibility for all residents. 

Local governments can help support the creation of resilience hubs by convening community members to guide a vision for the hubs (including the range of services and resources that the hubs should provide), sharing information about existing models of resilience hubs and connecting residents with experienced communities, and/or helping identify or apply for funding opportunities to build a potential hub. For example, in Washington, D.C., the District’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) convened a group of community residents in Far Northeast Ward 7, a neighborhood the city had identified as being the most flood vulnerable.See footnote 309 The residents met regularly for five years, during which the residents — with the support of DOEE and other project partners — identified a local community organization to site the hub and a list of services and amenities that should be offered by the hub. In addition to providing rooftop solar, DOEE also helped the selected community organization, the Fauntleroy Community Enrichment Center, to apply for external funding to support build out of its resilience hub infrastructure and programming. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When evaluating strategies to increase the resilience of existing and future housing, decisionmakers may consider the following considerations and practice tips that apply to one or more of the strategies described above: 

  • Incorporate both quantitative and qualitative data to make informed decisions
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships
  • Work at multiple, complementary scales

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips for implementation

  • Incorporate both quantitative and qualitative data to make informed decisions: Local governments should ground decisions about prioritizing resources for existing and future housing and development by using a mix of quantitative and qualitative data points. Quantitative data can be helpful for detecting patterns and predicting trends about future precipitation, population shifts, and land use. Local decisionmakers should also consult qualitative data, such as anecdotal evidence and other lived experiences, to layer on another critical perspective and help ground-truth the quantitative data sets. The process of gathering quantitative and qualitative data are complementary and reinforcing elements to understanding how communities change over time and the environmental stressors they face, leading to more inclusive and better informed legal and policy decisions. For more information, see Objectives 5.2 and 5.3.
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: Community-based organizations (CBO), universities, and other organizations can help increase the capacity of local governments to assess, prioritize, and implement resilience strategies. Some jurisdictions may lack technical expertise, administrative capacity, and/or financial resources to conduct risk assessments or develop resilient design guidelines. This work may be delegated to university researchers, nonprofit partners, or even state agency partners. In Washington, D.C., the District’s Department of Energy and Environment collaborated with multiple partners at Georgetown University to conduct risk assessments and facilitate community meetings in Ward 7. Universities and academic institutions can help bring a neutral voice to the table when discussing challenging topics, while relying on CBO can help local government staff bridge the trust deficit that may exist between community residents and their government. Importantly, residents who have experienced first-hand flooding and other housing stressors will be able to provide critical perspectives. They should be consulted early and often about the solutions to help address them.

  • Work at multiple, complementary scales: Local parishes and municipalities should consider tailoring resilience strategies not merely at the community level, but also at the neighborhood level, where possible. Whether assessing the flood risk of individual properties, encouraging building retrofits to meet resilient design guidelines, or supporting the creation of a network of resilience hubs within walking distance of all neighborhoods, local governments should adopt a telescoping approach to creating strategies for increased resilience. Just as local comprehensive plans and jurisdiction-wide programs are helpful to prioritize and plan for strategic development, adopting a narrower geographic lens that recognizes the unique needs of neighborhoods and even households can help ensure more targeted distribution of resources to increase individual and community resilience.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Baton Rouge–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan

Between 2019 and 2022, Southern University worked with community partners in Scotlandville, located in north Baton Rouge, to develop a blueprint for improving housing and other socioeconomic outcomes for Scotlandville’s residents. The Scotlandville Community Strategic Plan (Community Plan) is an example of how one Louisiana community has used public participation and community planning to address housing shortages and other challenges in a chronically disinvested community. The Community Plan also helps to highlight the role that universities and other non-government institutions can play to develop and implement comprehensive community visions for housing and other services to help increase local resilience. One of the most prominent themes in the Community Plan is the focus on creating and preserving affordable housing for all of Scotlandville’s residents. Unlike many planning documents in which proposed housing initiatives are contained within a discrete section, the Community Plan elevates affordable housing as a priority by incorporating goals and recommendations across all but one of the key issue areas. In doing so, the residents and project team recognize the centrality of housing to successful outcomes in all community goals, including neighborhood beautification and reducing food insecurity. Parishes and municipalities can look to nongovernment-led planning processes like the Scotlandville Community Plan as an example of how local government staff can lend technical assistance to the creation of community plans, particularly those that integrate housing and other concepts to build both individual and community resilience.

Keep Safe Miami

In February 2021, Enterprise Community Partners and the City of Miami, Florida released Keep Safe Miami, a set of tools aimed at owners and operators of affordable multifamily housing properties in Miami-Dade County. The tools can help property owners identify potential adaptation actions to increase the resilience of existing affordable housing to local climate change hazards, including sea-level rise and extreme weather events. Owners and operators of affordable housing units can use Keep Safe Miami’s resources to compare climate-related risks, prioritize adaptation strategies, and access local, state, and federal funding sources. As part of the program, the City of Miami also set aside $500,000 in deferred loans for owners and operators participating in the Keep Safe Miami program. Keep Safe Miami provides an example of how parishes and municipalities can collaborate with nonprofit stakeholders to develop technical guidance to help existing properties withstand the impacts of flooding and other climate hazards.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Asheville, North Carolina: Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Climate Resiliency Initiatives

Over the last two decades, Asheville, North Carolina has released a comprehensive plan and housing plan, a housing assessment, and policies related to growing the city’s climate and environmental resilience and ensuring an adequate affordable housing stock in the face of an increasing population. Accordingly, the city has pursued — and aims to continue pursuing — strategies that preserve the city’s culture and character while making the area a safer, more affordable place. Urban, more suburban, as well as rural municipalities may be able to learn from Asheville’s various housing plans, assessments, and strategies, especially by leading with a resilience lens.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Boulder, Colorado: Affordable Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Environmental Plans and Initiatives

The city of Boulder, Colorado is experiencing the joint pressures of rapid regional population growth and climate change. Although a large municipality, the city consists of a varied landscape that cuts across urban, suburban, and rural areas. As such, the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is a strong example of a municipal comprehensive plan that incorporates affordable housing, manufactured housing communities, and anti-displacement provisions, as well as environmental and land-use considerations across the urban-rural spectrum. This plan can serve as an example of how a local government can holistically approach all of these different sectors in a diverse jurisdiction with a range of housing and environmental needs. 

Notably, the city acknowledges the need for residents to be able to afford to live in their homes across different income levels through its low-, moderate-, and middle-income designations. Other local governments could similarly think about examining the demographics and economic makeup of their communities to support the development of an affordable housing approach that aims to address housing affordability for all.



City of Charleston, South Carolina Comprehensive Plan 2021

In the Charleston City Plan 2021, the City of Charleston presents a roadmap to guide land-use planning, policy, and investment through 2030 with a focus on creating a more resilient and equitable future. This state-mandated comprehensive plan can serve as a resource and tool for a variety of users including city staff, residents, and community organizations. In the plan, the city focuses its recommendations on areas within Charleston’s Urban Growth Boundary and more specifically, addresses the unique characteristics of the five areas of the city that are separated by waterways. Charleston demonstrates how parishes and municipalities can weave resilience into their local comprehensive plan or other planning processes, prioritizing resilience and equity as an independent Plan element, and/or incorporating housing and land-use strategies to manage population growth and affordability in the face of increasing flood risk.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Gonzales, Louisiana: Gonzales Comprehensive Plan

The City of Gonzales, Louisiana is located in the eastern part of Ascension Parish and centrally located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Facing increasing retail and commercial development, the city updated its local comprehensive plan to accommodate rapid growth. The plan’s affordable housing considerations include diversifying the options and affordability of the housing stock in Gonzales. One relevant guiding principle in the plan is to “[p]rovide a range of housing types for people of all income levels from high-end to affordable. Building on this guiding principle in the plan’s Land Use and Community Character section, the city also details more discrete action items for affordable housing like: “Provide more housing choices, such as townhomes, smaller units, and affordable housing for youth, retail workers, and the aging population . . . .” In the plan, the city presents a clear strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales, including a housing framework that other local governments with comprehensive plans can consider emulating.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Norfolk, Virginia: PlaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk Vision 2100, and Resilience Zoning Updates

The City of Norfolk, Virginia is a mature, developed municipality where only 3.1 percent of the city’s land remains vacant. As such, Norfolk’s planning to increase affordable housing development acknowledges that new development will be limited to primarily redevelopment or infill. The city nevertheless recognizes a need for more affordable housing and has developed some approaches to increasing local housing stock under this context. To this end, plaNorfolk 2030, the city’s local comprehensive plan, contains some actions, including ensuring that the zoning ordinance permits a variety of residential densities and housing types and encouraging compatible infill housing on vacant and underutilized parcels to minimize land costs. The city has also added different housing-related appendices to plaNorfolk that include free design plans for property owners and builders who want to develop or redevelop their parcels or vacant lots. The design books are specific to different neighborhoods and aim to promote resilient, higher-density, and more diverse housing options like the: Traditional Neighborhoods Plan Book: Chapter One — Olde Huntersville, the Design Principles for Multifamily Development, Missing Middle Pattern Book, and Narrow Lot House Plan Catalog. Other urban localities could seek to adapt their zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans and create design books that support a range of locally appropriate affordable housing options.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Austin, Texas: Affordable Housing and Green Infrastructure Efforts

The Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint is a ten-year affordable housing plan adopted in 2017 by the city to guide its affordable housing efforts. The planning effort was led by the Austin Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development (NHCD) and was informed by the 2017 Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequalities. The task force officially recognized that the city’s historic policies have contributed to racial segregation at the regional level and limited people of color from opportunities for upward mobility. Austin is planning and implementing several strategies to increase its housing stock for all income levels. Efforts to increase affordable housing stock focus on planning, creating development incentives, streamlining permitting processes, and updating the city’s land development code. Other policymakers in receiving areas gaining population can look to Austin’s Housing Blueprint as one example of a growing jurisdiction identifying affordable housing needs and proposing strategies to meet housing goals.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Columbia, South Carolina: Columbia Compass: Envision 2036 and Affordable Housing Task Force

In recent years, the City of Columbia, South Carolina has made several strides to address its affordable housing challenges. In 2020, the city updated its comprehensive plan, which includes 12 discrete recommendations for preserving and producing affordable housing in the region. Simultaneously, in 2020 the city convened a new Affordable Housing Task Force to provide housing experts and stakeholders an opportunity to help shape local housing initiatives, as well as to rethink traditional notions of “affordable housing.” Columbia serves as an example of how cities can deploy an arsenal of resources — comprehensive plans, community Task Force groups, and even examples from other cities — to address ongoing affordable housing challenges. By creating opportunities for collaborative and locally informed approaches to housing, municipalities can better understand the housing needs of their residents, as well as provide more holistic solutions for long-term housing security by bringing to the table stakeholders with diverse resources and expertise.

City of New York, New York: New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan

In December 2021, the New York City Department of City Planning (NYCDCP) released its third Comprehensive Waterfront Plan (the Plan) which outlines a ten-year vision for the creation of a more equitable, more resilient, and healthier waterfront. The NYCDP developed the Plan in accordance with its climate justice principle to equitably distribute climate resources and construct resilient and sustainable environments citywide. Among other parts of the Plan, it presents opportunities for the city to proactively incorporate climate resiliency and adaptation into its processes for everyday decisionmaking and long-term planning. One of the Plan’s five adaptation goals also focuses on housing solutions for residents of flood-prone neighborhoods. NYCDP presents an example of how cities can lead with climate and environmental justice priorities to develop resilience plans to support residents who live on the frontlines of flooding and other extreme weather events.

Virginia Beach Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy

The City of Virginia Beach, Virginia Sea Level Wise Adaptation Strategy is designed to help guide the city’s steps to become more resilient and adapt to sea-level rise and flooding by gradually implementing actions through a watershed-based approach. Virginia Beach consists of four watersheds, both inland and coastal, that are characterized by unique physical properties and land-use patterns and affected by five distinct types of flooding - high tide, wind tide, storm surge, rainfall/compounding, and groundwater flooding. To accommodate these differences, four watershed-specific plans were developed with a suite of adaptation tools and projects for each watershed. The city applied a general “Adaptation Framework” that includes four primary categories of adaptation tools or responses - natural mitigations, engineered defenses, adapted structures, and prepared communities - to address the diverse needs of each of the city’s watersheds. The strategy is the result of a five-year, city-led effort to engage the community and study sea-level rise and flooding in Virginia Beach. The strategy is noteworthy for identifying adaptation tools and projects based on the different types of flooding that occur in each of the city’s watersheds. Other local governments may consider this example to similarly craft watershed- or neighborhood-scale adaptation plans in jurisdictions with diverse flooding risks, geographies, and land-use patterns.

Objective 3.5:

Identify opportunities to expand and scale up community-led housing and development initiatives, such as community land trusts and community benefits agreements.

The Need

The aim of this goal is to provide policymakers and other housing stakeholders with a survey of options to address what has been referred to as the three “Ps” of affordable housing: preservation, production, and protection.See footnote 310 Together, the three “Ps” refers to a holistic approach to making housing available and affordable, placing emphasis on not only building new affordable housing, but also on maintaining current housing stock and keeping the cost of rent or homeownership affordable. Importantly, the final prong of “protection” highlights the importance of creating and maintaining community stability and addressing the factors that may lead to displacement, such as rising housing costs and/or physical risks.   

This objective provides recommendations for how parishes and municipalities in Region Seven and beyond can facilitate or support community-led housing and development initiatives, for example by passing enabling legislation to create community land trusts, or by providing technical assistance to residents negotiating community benefits agreements. The options offered in this part should be tailored to the unique characteristics of each community. Preserving and developing housing that is affordable to those who are most in need are complex and challenging processes that require significant investments in time, money, political will, and community support.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

There are many examples of grassroots and community-based initiatives that center individuals and communities in setting a region’s housing priorities. The two examples below illustrate opportunities for local planners and policymakers to help facilitate grassroots initiatives while still ensuring that the processes are truly community-centered and -led:

  • Providing technical assistance to residents negotiating community benefits agreements (CBAs); and/or
  • Enabling the development of community land trusts (CLTs).

Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) 

A community benefits agreement (CBA) refers to a legally binding contract between a private developer and members of a community, in which the developer promises to provide certain benefits and amenities beyond those already required by law. In exchange, the community commits to publicly supporting — or at the very least not opposing — the proposed development projects.See footnote 311 While CBAs do not replace existing government requirements that developers must meet to obtain approval for new projects, they are often used by developers in order to gain additional community and political support. In some jurisdictions, the terms of a CBA can also be incorporated into an agreement between the local government and the developer, e.g., via a zoning commission order, so that local governments can help community members enforce the terms of the CBA.

While there is no standard definition for a CBA, most CBAs include several key features:

  • Legally enforceable, either as a contract or as part of a regulatory action (e.g., zoning approval);
  • Relates to a specific, planned development project;
  • Derives from advocacy by community stakeholders who directly negotiate the agreement, and/or apply pressure through public hearings or a media campaign;
  • Memorialized in a written document;
  • Engages the developer as a party to the negotiations; and
  • Secures community benefits from the developer of a proposed development project in exchange for community support for the project’s governmental approval.

CBAs may vary based on the political, social, and economic conditions present in a particular community. For example, in parishes or municipalities that struggle to attract new development, developers may be less incentivized to directly negotiate benefits with the community, given a higher likelihood that the local government will approve the project even in the absence of substantial community support.

CBAs can be used to secure resources to support community resilience in the face of rapid urban growth and/or declining federal and state aid to state and local governments, particularly for housing and community development. Importantly, CBAs can mitigate negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of planned developments on surrounding communities.  Successful CBA can secure targeted benefits to prevent or minimize the unwanted effects of developments, such as gentrification and displacement. Communities have developed CBAs to secure investments by developers in programs that support affordable housing, local businesses, and tenant organizing, as well as requiring the developer to meet certain environmental or local hiring standards for new construction. In exchange, communities may pledge to provide public support of the development projects, such as through testimony to city council or appearing at public events.

While the development of CBAs are, by design, community-led, local governments can play an important supporting role, as described further below under Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips. 

Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

An increasingly popular shared equity model is the use of community land trusts (CLTs). A CLT is a nonprofit organization that acquires and stewards land that is held in trust for the benefit of low-income communities, and which can be put toward a variety of uses, including homeownership or rental housing. CLTs are structured to enable greater community control over creating and maintaining the affordability of homes for low-income renters and homeowners. 

CLTs secure permanent affordability by separating ownership of the land from the buildings on top of the land, reducing the overall price of the property.See footnote 312 Low-income buyers are then able to purchase the homes built on the land at below-market rate. In turn, residents pay a nominal annual fee under a 99-year ground lease, and agree to formula-based resale restrictions that keep the property affordable in perpetuity. 

As part of a CLT’s operations, staff members commonly provide technical assistance that include workshops and other training about homeownership and different forms of housing assistance, maintenance, and other stewardship services to support its low-to-moderate income residents. For example, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in Richmond, Virginia provides ongoing assistance to residents after their purchase of a home, such as through education workshops on homeownership and maintenance and other services that help residents thrive and stay in the community.See footnote 313 

Under traditional models, CLTs are also intentionally structured to represent a diversity of community voices and perspectives. CLTs are commonly governed by a tripartite board of directors who represent: (1) the residents of the leased housing; (2) community members who live or work in the surrounding area; and (3) representatives from local government and/or technical experts who work in the housing industry. The geographic focus of CLTs, its mission-driven approach to developing affordable housing, and a governance structure that harnesses social capital all help to ensure great connectivity between affordable housing decisions and the communities they are intended to serve.

Parishes and municipalities can support the development of CLTs by adopting enabling legislation. Local enabling legislation could including establishing: 

  • Definition of eligible properties; 
  • Governance structures;
  • Funding sources; 
  • Tax exemptions; and
  • Procedures for the disposition and acquisition of properties.

Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When supporting the creation of mechanisms or institutions that help center and elevate the priorities of residents and communities, decisionmakers in local government may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:

  • Provide opportunities to share information and knowledge with the community
  • Create incentives to enable or encourage the development of grassroots, community initiatives
  • Provide technical assistance to community initiatives
  • Create hybrid land banks and community land trusts

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective, and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships.

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.

  • Provide opportunities to share information and knowledge within communities: Parishes and municipalities that have existing opportunities for public participation for the development of a local comprehensive plan, or other types of community plans, can leverage those processes to work with community members to create a targeted and geographically specific list of their housing and related priorities. That way, affected residents are well prepared to start the negotiating process with developers, when appropriate, rather than create a public participation process from scratch that will take more time and resources. Local planners could encourage people to take advantage of existing planning opportunities to identify priorities that build toward a collective community vision. This could be done before developers start talking about developing a CBA. Building on top of existing priorities can avoid the need to create community consensus or critical mass around objectives later on when a project is already underway, and when there may be less time and resources to harvest ideas for community benefits and amenities. As with many community participation opportunities, the very act of convening for discussions can help build consensus — to the best extent possible —  within community groups. Similarly, CLTs provide training, technical assistance, and other forms of ongoing support to its resident members, including on topics like home maintenance and repair, homeownership, and financial education.  
  • Create incentives to enable or encourage the development of grassroots, community-centered initiatives: CBAs and CLTs are two examples of how communities can create opportunities to build affordable housing and tackle related issues like gentrification and displacement to increase overall resilience. However, local governments can play an important role to create the momentum necessary to operationalize these tools. In many jurisdictions, CLTs are facilitated through local enabling legislation, which can help define eligible properties, governance structures, source of funds, tax exemptions, and the procedures for the acquisition and disposition of property.

  • Provide technical assistance to community initiatives: CBAs are private contracts between a developer and community representatives. However, local housing and planning agencies can provide critical expertise to support frequently underresourced and volunteer community members to better understand the fiscal impacts of a development project, or the nuances of housing finance. With more accurate information, community members are able to maximize their credibility and negotiating power with developers. Additionally, by providing specific and measurable terms in the contract (for example, a specific number of units that should be set aside as affordable housing), community members can increase the likelihood that the CBA terms will be implemented and enforced.
  • Create hybrid land banks and community land trusts: With the growing popularity of land banks and community land trusts, several jurisdictions across the country — including in Region Seven (see Plank Road case study) — are creating partnerships between land banks and community land trusts to leverage the strengths of each type of organization to achieve the complementary goals of land disposition and acquisition and create affordable housing. As public entities that hold government powers, land banks are able to more efficiently acquire and convey VAD properties than government or nonprofit entities alone (for more information on land banks, see Objective 3.2). While the development of these types of properties is not always prioritized around affordable housing developments, CLTs provide an available — and affordable-housing-focused — market for the disposition of land bank property. For example, in the case of the Richmond Land Bank, the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT) plans to set aside at least 25 percent of acquired properties to be developed by MWCLT, with the remaining property to be developed by other nonprofit affordable housing developers. For more information, see Objective 3.2

Description: An infographic from Build Baton Rouge illustrating the benefits and ownership structure of a hybrid community land bank propsed for the Plank Road corridor.

Credit: Build Baton Rouge, Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development 93 (Nov. 2019), available at https://buildbatonrouge.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Imagine-Plank-Road_Final-Report_2019.11.06_web.pdf.


The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Richmond, Virginia: Maggie Walker Community Land Trust and Richmond Land Bank

The Maggie Walker Community Land Trust (MWCLT) in Richmond, Virginia, is the first community land trust (CLT) in the nation to be also designated a land bank, the Richmond Land Bank. In creating the Richmond Land Bank in 2018 — via a formal Memorandum of Agreement with MWCLT —  the City of Richmond merged two separate yet complementary mechanisms for expanding affordable homeownership opportunities for low-and-moderate income (LMI) residents: a land bank, which acquires and sells vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties; and a CLT, which conveys permanently affordable housing to residents in need. As of spring 2022, the Richmond Land Bank is the only formalized land bank and CLT partnership in the country. The land bank, which operates as a program under MWCLT, is one of three MWCLT initiatives working to produce permanently affordable housing in the Richmond metropolitan area. The Richmond Land Bank demonstrates an emerging approach to how urban localities could create more housing and homeownership opportunities for LMI residents. This strategy merges two existing and complementary mechanisms to preserve community control over developable land, and enables the integration of environmental and adaptation benefits in affordable housing development.

Community Land = Community Resilience: How Community Land Trusts Can Support Urban Affordable Housing and Climate Initiatives

Housing insecurity and the impacts of climate change are two interrelated issues increasingly affecting cities across the United States. This report by the Georgetown Climate Center provides an overview of how community land trusts (CLTs) can present a solution to help cities mitigate both of these challenges by promoting community ownership and decisionmaking and providing permanently affordable and resilient housing. CLTs are nonprofit organizations with community-led governing structures that hold land in trust for the benefit of the community, often providing and preserving affordable housing, stewarding community amenities like parks and greenspace, and providing low-cost commercial properties that can support small businesses and economic resilience. Drawing from nine detailed case studies and other examples, the report presents legal and policy recommendations for how cities and states can better enable CLTs while integrating features like green infrastructure and renewable energy that promote urban resilience and sustainability initiatives. As new investments reach cities, including funding related to COVID-19 relief and recovery, there will be new opportunities for local governments to advance CLTs and other community-centered approaches to help the individuals most heavily impacted by housing insecurity and climate change.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Baton Rouge–Parish of East Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Imagine Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development

The Imagine Plank Road: Plan for Equitable Development (plan) is an equitable transit-oriented development (TOD) plan developed to guide the revitalization of the Plank Road corridor, an area in north Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish (parish). The Plank Road Plan for Equitable Development establishes five equity objectives, or “Equity Benchmarks”: Cultural Expression, Commerce and Jobs, Community Wealth, Enhanced Connectivity, and Health and Safety. In the Plank Road Plan, Benchmark 3: Community Wealth, the plan focuses on affordable housing solutions and provides two primary strategies to increase community leadership in local housing and development: establishing a community land trust (CLT) and land banking. In the climate adaptation context, CLTs and land banks in receiving areas can help prevent residential displacement, provide affordable housing options for incoming residents, preserve local cooperative control over developable land, and streamline processes to convert underutilized land into community-serving uses. 

The Plank Road plan is notable for its goals, metrics, and recommendations for equity-focused community revitalization. At the project level, local policymakers can look to the plan for specific efforts related to urban affordable housing, community-driven development, green infrastructure, and community engagement. More broadly, the plan demonstrates how parishes and municipalities can integrate equity and community goals across various development initiatives in order to lay a foundation for long-term stability and growth.



Goal Four: Greaux resilient, rural affordable housing options.


Introduction

As coastal, riverine, and precipitation-based flooding occurs with a greater frequency and intensity throughout Region Seven, people will increasingly require safe places to call home that they can afford — and are not just “affordable” according to the traditional usage of the term (See the Introduction). In addition, areas in lower-flood-risk and higher-ground areas that are already increasing or may increase in population size are important places to provide adequate housing options to support a diversity of needs. Flooding and population changes may exacerbate or compound the housing challenges already facing these areas due to other contributing factors (For background on the affordable housing crisis, see the Introduction to Goal Three). Many of these questions will uniquely play out in places Louisianans consider to be “rural.” 

The aim of this goal is to highlight some of the priority considerations and actions that regional and local governments in Region Seven could evaluate to increase housing and broader community resilience in a rural context. These priorities, which emerged throughout the process to develop the Regional Vision, are reflected in the five objectives detailed below. These five objectives, however, are not  an exhaustive list of all the challenges and complexities necessary to address housing and build resilience in communities that identify themselves as rural.

There are many commonalities and shared needs around housing in communities across Louisiana. However, urban and rural housing issues present some unique challenges and characteristics that merit independent coverage in two separate goals — Goals Three and Four, respectively. For example, different types of housing are often found in urban compared to rural locations with varying density and minimum acreage requirements. Furthermore, urban and rural jurisdictions may be starting from different points to have these conversations, which necessitates a separate space to examine these topics. By having two goals for urban and rural housing, the hope is that Region Seven can better provide alignment around and support solutions for discrete issues facing each type of jurisdiction — and ultimately provide a better platform for individual community interests to be represented. 

This decision to divide housing into two goals was driven by interviews and engagement with stakeholders and residents throughout the process to develop the Regional Vision. This resulted in largely different, but some overlapping objectives for each goal. 

The next part provides background on the distinction between “urban” and “rural,” as defined in the Regional Vision. Note that the Regional Vision is not intended to be applied in a prescriptive way that identifies which areas within and outside Region Seven fall into either land-use category. Rather, it is up to regional and local governments and communities to decide where they fall on the urban-rural spectrum by evaluating a host of factors and determining priority community needs. This distinction merely provides a space for policymakers and communities to see themselves in a strategy document that is more nuanced, but admittedly not 100-percent comprehensive across the urban-rural divide. For example, Goals Three and Four only call out urban and rural areas without generally focusing on suburban or suburbanizing locations that would fall in the middle of the spectrum. The authors of the Regional Vision acknowledge that land-use and other considerations must be evaluated independently by regional and local policymakers and communities. 


Background: Affordable Housing in a Rural Context

Rural areas can be defined by various factors like total geographic size, population size and density, land use, tax revenues, and government capacity. In addition, rural boundaries are not static and can change over time, for example, as population transitions occur because of climate and non-climate drivers. 

The most common definitions for rural areas come from federal government agencies including the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Census Bureau defines rural areas as “any housing, population, or territory NOT in urban areas.”See footnote 314 The USDA and OMB build on this base definition by adding factors like population density and county and municipal boundaries in determining what is rural.See footnote 315 At the regional and local levels, other descriptions for urban and rural areas come from Metropolitan Planning Organizations in planning for transportation assets. 

These distinctions and definitions are important because they are used as a data-driven foundation to support many federal, state, and local policy decisions, including the distribution of federal funding and resources. However, these widely used definitions are often limiting because they rely on a narrow set of factors to identify rural areas that may not fully encompass the character of and challenges facing rural communities. As such, the definition of rural areas applied in the Regional Vision attempts to be more comprehensive and inclusive of the non-exhaustive list of factors that can be used to describe rural communities. 

In general, rural landscapes are characterized by:

  • “[S]parsely settled lands in natural, open or cultivated states [and l]ot sizes are typically large, but may be small if . . . developable land is scarce”;See footnote 316 
  • They can be located a distance further away from critical infrastructure, public transportation, and community services and amenities; 
  • They tend to have less population compared to urban areas; and 
  • They can be more limited in government staffing and capacity and have fewer per capita financial resources based on lower total populations and fewer property tax revenues. 

Credit: Rachelle Sanderson, Region Seven Watershed Coordinator, Capital Region Planning Commission.

This broad understanding of how rural areas are described in the Regional Vision is integral background to reviewing and evaluating the applicability of this goal to “greaux” or grow resilient, rural affordable housing in a proper context. 

The parts that follow introduce the five objectives that were identified as priorities through the process to develop the Regional Vision. These objectives are only intended to serve as a starting point for many but likely not all parishes, municipalities, and communities in Region Seven and Louisiana that are already taking some affordable housing actions. As such, policymakers may consider and see all or parts of their community in one, all, or some of the objectives. The objectives are also informed by informational interviews, case studies, and other resources to suggest how policymakers may evaluate and use them in practice. 

Objective 4.1:

Elevate resilient, rural affordable housing priorities and considerations in planning at the regional, parish, and municipal levels.

The Need

Plans go by many names and take a variety of forms. They are developed at different and multiple levels of government and are prepared on multiple geographic scales. Some are legally required and others are out-of-cycle or discretionary. While this objective does not present an exhaustive list of the variations among different regional and local plans, certain trends are worth noting. 

Plans are critical pieces of housing and resilience strategies because they set the framework that guides how future housing laws, policies, and projects are implemented. Further, plans offer several benefits including promoting coordination up-and-down and across different levels of government (i.e., vertical and horizontal integration) that reduces silos to provide a platform for community engagement. By starting with planning, governments can seek opportunities to maximize the various administrative, fiscal, environmental, and social benefits of leading with planning. 

Nationally, including in Louisiana, there is an absence of plans that meaningfully tie together housing availability and affordability goals with flood risk and population transitions. In Region Seven alone, there is a dearth of regional, parish, or municipal government plans or assessments solely or specifically focused on housing, let alone at the intersection of houisng and flooding.See footnote 317 While some plans in Region Seven meaningfully include or integrate housing considerations or goals (see below), more work can be done. This is especially apparent in a rural context where affordable housing is often misperceived as only or primarily being an urban issue. 

This objective asks regional and local governments in Region Seven and beyond to evaluate opportunities to “greaux” or grow resilient, rural affordable housing. This should ideally begin with elevating rural affordable housing priorities and considerations in plans across all levels of government. This will entail making explicit references and linkages to mitigating flood risk and accommodating population changes where they exist. This can illustrate a more complete and accurate picture of how rural communities should approach housing and increase affordability for all. 


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

Given the number and types of plans that can be used to further housing and resilience goals, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for rural communities. With that said, there are some common ideas that other jurisdictions inside and outside Louisiana are pursuing or have implemented. 

In general, there are at least three primary ways planners and policymakers can approach housing by developing:

  • A housing element or appendix in a local comprehensive plan;
  • A jurisdiction-wide or neighborhood-level housing-specific plan; and/or
  • A housing section in another type of local plan that has indirect implications for or affects housing. 

While local comprehensive plans are only relevant for parishes and incorporated municipalities, the other types of plans can be applied at parish, municipal, and regional scales. Aside from that, however, jurisdictions can evaluate any of these approaches individually or in combination with one another. Asheville, North Carolina is one example of a city using all three. 

In 2018, the City Council of Asheville adopted Living Asheville: A Comprehensive Plan for Our Future. Living Asheville presents a vision for the city for the subsequent ten to 20 years with long-range goals and strategies.See footnote 318 Living Asheville is organized around six themes to help guide decisionmaking with respect to the key ongoing challenges and opportunities for: fostering a livable and affordable built environment; to ensure harmony with the natural environment; to grow a resilient economy; to promote interwoven equity; to ensure a healthy community; and to bolster responsible thinking at the regional scale.See footnote 319 

A key feature of Living Asheville is a Preferred Growth Scenario to guide those “inevitable” changes already occurring in the city.See footnote 320 As part of the Preferred Growth Scenario, Asheville also identified five different geographies in the city to inform future planning, development, and land-use decisions in ways that are further reflective of local identity.See footnote 321  The plan states:

Living Asheville recognizes that effective growth cannot be successfully implemented exclusively, through a citywide lens. Consequently, the plan includes a concept referred to as ‘“five geographies” that should be used for deeper consideration at a finer grain scale to inform small area planning after Living Asheville is implemented.See footnote 322  

In addition to Living Asheville, the city has also published complementary plans including: the 2008 Affordable Housing Plan, the Asheville 2020 Housing Needs Assessment, and the 2018 Asheville Climate Resilience Report.

Regardless of the type of plan or plans, all of this can and should be done in a way that is consistent with rural housing needs and also preserves local character and open space landscapes. Notably, this is especially where there will be divergent ideas of what affordable housing means and looks like in rural and suburban or suburbanizing areas compared to more urban parishes and municipalities. The key is that rural, community-driven local comprehensive and other related plans can help guide this vision in a way that is compatible with — and more explicit — about building rural resilience and affordable housing in the face of population growth and transitions due to flooding and other drivers.

Local Comprehensive Plans and Housing Elements and Appendices

There are many reasons why jurisdictions and regions would pursue different planning approaches for housing. However, one overall takeaway is especially noteworthy. Of all the different types of plans, local comprehensive plans can play a significant role in defining and attaining housing goals. In Louisiana, a local comprehensive plan — referred to as a “master plan” in state statute — is “a statement of public policy for the physical development of a parish or municipality” that is adopted by that parish or municipality.See footnote 323 Parishes and municipalities that adopt these plans are required to consider them when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 324 As such, local governments are legally mandated to consider decisions before they make them if they are inconsistent with their comprehensive plans. This “look before you leap” procedural requirement encourages local governments to take actions that are consistent with their local comprehensive plans. In turn, this statutory provision provides some legal weight and adds importance to local decisions that come from comprehensive plans compared to other types of plans — including for housing. Accordingly, if parishes and municipalities meaningfully include housing in their local comprehensive plans, these plans can serve as a guiding and coordinating force among “local laws, ordinances, and regulations” and ideally other supplemental and related plans and policies to build better housing. 

Jurisdictions that have or are interested in developing a comprehensive plan could start by updating or including a housing element or appendix. This housing element or appendix can provide insights into the types and conditions of local housing stock and community housing needs and priorities. Further, local governments should aim to integrate other related comprehensive plan elements into the housing parts including projected demographics changes and flood risk over different time horizons, social vulnerabilities, economic development, the environment, and parks and open spaces. This can help to bring a more holistic picture of the housing and resiliency challenges a parish or municipality is experiencing — which could be exacerbated or altered by population growth and transitions — compared to if housing is viewed as an isolated element. Moreover, by explicitly calling out these linkages in a comprehensive plan, governments can call more attention to and better address these interrelated housing issues. 

Housing-Specific Plans

In addition to or in the absence of a comprehensive plan, local governments can also pursue housing-specific plans on a jurisdiction-wide or neighborhood scale. Where housing-specific plans supplement a comprehensive plan, they essentially provide a deeper-dive look at housing within parameters that are set by a comprehensive plan. 

These types of plans focus on the housing and affordability challenges facing an area. Generally, they include or build off of a separate housing data and vulnerability assessment and identify a community’s primary housing goals and needs and propose tools and strategies that governments and nongovernmental actors can take to achieve those goals. Often, the plans also contain implementation metrics or tracking commitments to work with residents and nongovernmental partners. Similarly, local comprehensive plans can also include implementation and tracking tools. Metrics and tracking mechanisms can help local governments and other partners evaluate progress after a plan is released and increase public transparency. 

Other Types of Plans

Third and finally, other types of plans can supplement or inform updates to local comprehensive and housing-specific plans. Housing plays a key role in many different sectoral plans including:

Where a non-housing plan concerns or affects housing — even in an indirect way — governments should ensure that all related plans are coordinated with one another and further a community’s overall goals. This is especially critical where plans are used to or are a prerequisite for local governments to go after potential funding sources. For example, hazard mitigation plans and action plans must be approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, respectively, before a local government can apply for disaster-related sources of funding from those agencies. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When developing new or updating existing plans to address affordable housing, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips that apply to each of the above types of plans:

  • Lead with data
  • Develop a preferred growth or future land-use strategy
  • Promote missing middle housing
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation
  • Plan at multiple and complementary geographic and temporal scales
  • Plan with an eye towards implementation
  • Learn from urban areas

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective.  

  • Lead with data: Housing, land-use, flooding, open space, and social vulnerability data are critical components of any effective plan. A housing plan or planning element without at least one of these data layers will reinforce government silos and narrowed decisionmaking. This approach will fail to adequately guide governments and communities towards holistic approaches to resilience. 

    While data needs and tools are discussed in more detail in Objectives 5.2 and 5.3, plans are more credible and effective when they are driven by the best available data. Governments should evaluate “hard” quantitative data sources (e.g., floodplain maps, climate models). In addition, residents can provide important qualitative data points based on their local knowledge and lived experiences to inform vulnerability assessments and identify priority goals and needs. As such, governments should take a comprehensive approach to collecting data. 
  • Develop a preferred growth or future land-use strategy: Preferred growth or future land-use strategies — whichever is relevant for a jurisdiction — can direct new housing away from high-flood-risk areas and towards lower-flood-risk areas, which are ideally supported by infrastructure investments and critical services and amenities that can promote community and economic growth. All of this can and should be done in a way that is consistent with rural housing needs and also preserves local character and open space landscapes particularly in vulnerable floodplains and coastal areas. These types of strategies are usually included and adopted as part of a local comprehensive plan update and guide subsequent land-use and zoning decisions. 
  • Promote missing middle housing: Missing middle housing refers to the idea of encouraging a range of locally specific types of housing, such as townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes, in addition to single-family housing and apartment complexes. Policymakers should evaluate the potential to encourage missing middle housing options in appropriate zones or neighborhoods to provide a range of housing options available to people at different income levels and with different housing needs. 
  • Engage communities throughout planning and implementation: The life cycle of planning processes should begin with the community and continue beyond the point when a physical planning document is finalized. Plans set the stage for future legal and policy actions and projects. In Louisiana, the state even requires that parishes and municipalities consider their local comprehensive when “adopting, approving, or promulgating any local laws, ordinances, or regulations which are inconsistent with that adopted elements of [said plan].”See footnote 325 As such, at least with comprehensive plans, local governments are legally required to consider “inconsistent” decisions before making them. Ideally, this commitment to consistency in local actions could be replicated with regard to all housing and resilience plans. 

    Even in the absence of legal mandates, governments charged with serving the public interest should aim to view planning and implementation processes as iterative rather than finite and work collaboratively with their communities. In this way, governments can create established channels with residents to improve and guide future planning and other updates. In turn, communities can benefit from more transparent processes that increase accountability to carry out plans in a way that builds and maintains affordable housing opportunities and promotes local resilience.  
  • Plan at multiple and complementary geographic and temporal scales: Regional and local governments should evaluate opportunities to plan at different geographic and temporal scales. 

    In thinking about the appropriate geographic scale to support housing laws, plans, and policies, examples from across the country suggest that the most successful approaches will be a “both” and not an “either or” decision. Local comprehensive and affordable housing plans can provide a parish- or municipal-wide view to guide overall development patterns and growth away from areas with the greatest physical risk and support jurisdiction-wide housing goals. However, these two types of plans are generally written at a higher level and are unable to provide the more detailed and nuanced look required to adequately address more complex and discrete housing issues. As such, many governments have also undertaken neighborhood-specific planning efforts that either inform the development of or build on comprehensive plans and jurisdiction-wide affordable housing plans to apply a larger housing strategy in a way that is more effective and locally driven. Work in the Fauquier County and Rappahannock-Rapidan region in Virginia provides one example of how this is occurring in a predominantly rural area experiencing population growth and affordable housing pressures. By planning at both scales, governments can balance the need to create an overall vision for community resilience and development with the fact that housing solutions and flood risk are not a “one-size-fits-all” approach, even within smaller rural jurisdictions. 

    On a temporal scale, housing is an evergreen challenge that will require long-term monitoring and adaptive management to address changes in community needs, population changes, and flood and disaster risks over time. Short-term planning horizons measuring between 10–20 years can help governments, private and nongovernmental partners, and communities make progress on immediate needs and projects. However, a longer-range lens will also be critical to ensure that parishes and municipalities invest in and plan to support housing goals that increase community resilience in ways that are aligned with other long-term investments in economic development and transportation and water infrastructure. 
  • Plan with an eye towards implementation: Governments should avoid “planning for planning’s sake” or overplanning. This can result in several administrative and social consequences. First, this can lead to wasted time and resources, especially in funding and capacity-constrained rural areas. On the community side, too much planning may confuse or frustrate people trying to understand how different plans further a government’s overall housing and resilience goals. In addition, governments can risk burning out residents overtapped to contribute their time and expertise again and again. Moreover, planning processes leading to nowhere can erode faith or trust in government with community members that expect and need plans to lead to action.

    Instead, plans should be developed with the intention that they will be implemented in ways that support community-driven housing laws, policies, and projects. The City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana provides an example of how a community-led and implementation-focused strategic plan is already helping the city make progress on economic development, housing, and other initiatives.
  • Learn from urban areas: For a number of reasons, including larger population numbers and funding resources, urban municipalities are often looked to as vanguards or exemplars in planning for housing and adaptation and resilience. At a glance, discussions around these subjects can make it appear that affordable housing and flooding challenges, for example, are only urban problems or that suburban and rural jurisdictions are not taking any actions to address these issues. In reality, both of these are inaccurate perceptions. As seen by the sample of resources from suburban and rural jurisdictions below, parishes and municipalities both inside and outside Louisiana are facing these challenges and actively taking steps to address them. 

    Despite these differences, urban areas like Asheville, North Carolina and Boulder, Colorado may nonetheless have examples and lessons learned that suburban and rural jurisdictions can borrow, especially in the planning context. In other words, there is a certain level of commonality in planning that transcends jurisdictions and can be shared across the urban-rural spectrum. For more information on urban affordable housing plans, see Objective 3.1. However, more urban-focused plans, like all regional and local tools, must be adapted to meet community context and needs. 

    Planning examples and ideas that cut across the urban-rural spectrum can also be elevated through regional plans and platforms, as seen through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments Regional Adaptation Strategy and the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Housing Study in Virginia. At its core, the eight regional watersheds a part of the statewide Louisiana Watershed Initiative can serve as a coordinating and peer-learning platform to support Objective 4.1.

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons.

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana: Donaldsonville Strategic Plan 2020–2025

The City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana has developed a strategic plan for 2020–2025, which identifies eight strategic priorities including Economic Development and Housing, RV Parks, Campgrounds, Mobile or Manufactured Homes to revitalize the city by fostering business development and increasing the city’s standard of living. Strategic Priority 7 on Housing includes 18 specific objectives to review appropriate zoning and ordinances for mobile and manufactured housing and to implement regulations for affordable, subsidized, and rental housing. These recommended housing initiatives can strive to increase housing security, overall structural safety, economic activity, and mechanisms to foster resilience without displacing current residents. 

The plan was developed through a robust community engagement process that leveraged external support to supplement and expand limited government staff and resources. This plan can serve as an example of how regional and local planners and policymakers in smaller or rural jurisdictions can set and then implement an overarching vision for housing and increase overall social resilience by working across multiple sectors and grounding growth in economic development opportunities.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Gonzales, Louisiana: Gonzales Comprehensive Plan

The City of Gonzales, Louisiana centrally located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Facing increasing retail and commercial development, the city updated its local comprehensive plan to accommodate rapid growth. In the plan, the city presents a clear strategic framework for the future of Gonzales. Among other foci, the city addresses Gonzales’s land use and urban design, housing, and the environment. The plan’s affordable housing considerations include diversifying the options and affordability of the housing stock in Gonzales. The plan’s environmental considerations include emphasizing the city’s green spaces and community amenities and benefits, and reducing future flood risk/building overall community resilience. The plan is an example of a local comprehensive plan that addresses growth, while also balancing community needs and environmental conservation in an increasingly suburban area that is experiencing high demands for new development.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish is one of Louisiana’s oldest settled areas. The parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural.The parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, in 2014, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan. In 2019, the parish partnered with the state and nonprofit philanthropy Foundation for Louisiana through the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) capital improvement process to create an Adaptation Strategy, which was adopted by the parish in that same year. Collectively, the two plans offer a variety of principles, goals, and policies related to the parish’s growth and development. In general, the parish seeks to preserve low-density and conservation-oriented development trends across most of the parish, much of which is flood-prone. Other local planners and policymakers can look to St. John’s layered planning approach to discourage floodplain and open space development by directing population growth and affordable housing investments toward drier, denser areas of the parish.

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) is a community-based planning and capital investment process that will help the state fund and implement several projects, including for managed retreat or relocation, to make its coast more resilient. In May 2019, the state released a regional adaptation strategy and six parish-level strategies to support long-term adaptation planning. Each strategy follows LA SAFE’s framework for identifying projects to meet different adaptation and development goals based on flood risk to ensure that future regional and local projects are similarly designed to advance comprehensive approaches. Among other sectors, the strategies’ goals include water management and  housing and development. Notably, to support parishes in reaching their housing and development goals, the strategies identify projects that direct growth to low-risk areas and prepare receiving communities. By contemplating both regional and parish-specific approaches to addressing coastal risk, LA SAFE provides a model that other regional and local governments may consider when making long-term adaptation and resilience investments, including to handle population growth and transitions.

 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — Town of Warrenton, Virginia: Fauquier Habitat for Humanity Haiti Street Neighborhood Revitalization

Fauquier County is a rural county located in the northern area of Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fauquier County is close to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where many residents commute for work. Given its location, the county is dealing with an increasing population and a lack of single-family housing options to meet needs in the community. The Fauquier County comprehensive plan seeks to address this housing incompatibility disconnect by increasing the number of and diversifying the types of affordable housing in the county across all income levels. 

In addition to Fauquier County’s comprehensive plan, the county is also involved in examining housing on a regional scale. In 2019, the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Commission conducted a regional housing study for five counties and two incorporated towns in Virginia. The goals of the study were to: (1) provide data to understand housing challenges in the region; (2) analyze regional land use practices and zoning ordinances; and (3) provide recommendations. The housing study balances the need to advance a regional housing strategy, while also understanding the specific challenges, needs, and history in each county and municipality. Other regions and local governments experiencing regional population shifts can similarly seek to emulate a multi-layered planning approach, as shown in Fauquier County and the Rappahannock-Rapidan area.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Denham Springs, Louisiana: Denham Strong Long-Term Community Recovery Plan

In August 2016, a historic flooding event severely impacted the infrastructure and people in the suburban city of Denham Springs in Louisiana. In response to the flooding, the city worked with its residents to create a long-term recovery plan called Denham Strong. The goal of the plan to increase community resilience in the aftermath of the disaster. The plan lists various affordable housing and mitigation recovery projects under three main categories: (1) Flood Recovery; (2) Disaster Resilience; and (3) Community Development. Denham Strong is a noteworthy example of a recovery plan that encompasses community input, provides examples of projects for stormwater management, includes resilient affordable housing considerations, and keeps the community updated as projects are implemented. Other local governments impacted by disaster events can consider similar opportunities to supplement local comprehensive plans with housing and other considerations and engage residents with proactive thinking about building long-term resilience in the aftermath of hurricanes and other flooding events.

Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 3.0

The Louisiana Land Use Toolkit was created by the Center of Planning Excellence (CPEX), as a model development code to support economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable development for communities of Louisiana. The Toolkit applies “Smart Growth” principles to future development planning, aiming to create resilient communities, revitalized neighborhoods, increased land value, affordable housing, and protected rural, natural, and open space areas. The Toolkit is a free, online resource designed for Louisiana parishes and municipalities to tailor to local needs by adopting a zoning code, a subdivision code, or an individual ordinance — or to be customized into a complete development code. The Toolkit was drafted to serve as a flexible planning and zoning framework that can be adapted in diverse Louisiana jurisdictions, including suburban and rural communities, to a variety of different environments or neighborhood characteristics. The model codes take into account the unique culture, traditional development patterns, and building types in Louisiana, as well as the requirements of Louisiana law. Relevant to this objective, CPEX provides resources on developing a growth management strategy and future land-use map. Local governments throughout Louisiana can read the Land Use Toolkit to inform potential planning, land-use, and zoning updates related to housing and connectivity, among other topics.

Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit 2.1

Developed by the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), the Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit contains development standards that are designed to support hazard mitigation and natural resource protection in Louisiana’s coastal areas. The Toolkit offers a customizable regulatory framework for land use and development, in particular for those communities facing coastal and stormwater flooding. The Toolkit includes model zoning and subdivision codes that can be used to build more resilient coastal communities that are adaptive to these climate impacts and others, by adopting sustainable development and Smart Growth principles like planning for future population and land-use changes. The model ordinances can be used individually and tailored for the needs of each parish or municipality, or may be combined to create a complete development code. The Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit is a companion guide for coastal communities to use along with the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit 2.1

Greauxing Resilience at Home — Town of Washington, Virginia: Rush River Commons Mixed-Use Development

The Town of Washington, Virginia is a small rural town. Rush River Commons is a privately funded, proposed mixed-use development project for the Town of Washington. The proposed plan includes building a community center, office space for nonprofits, and affordable rental housing on a nine-acre property located in the town. The project also includes a plan for restoring the land’s natural wetlands and amenities. The Rush River Commons project shows how mixed-use development can be designed in a way that is compatible with rural communities. It is also a good example of how local policymakers can create comprehensive plans and ordinances that support both public and private affordable housing ventures.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Asheville, North Carolina: Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Climate Resiliency Initiatives

Over the last two decades, Asheville, North Carolina has released a comprehensive plan and housing plan, a housing assessment, and policies related to growing the city’s climate and environmental resilience and ensuring an adequate affordable housing stock in the face of an increasing population. Accordingly, the city has pursued — and plans to continue pursuing — strategies that preserve the city’s culture and character while making the area a safer, more affordable place.

Although a larger city with a population around 90,000, Asheville could be said to have a “small-town feel” to it. This is evidenced by Asheville’s unique local sense of place, mountainous landscapes, and the resource constraints confronting the city to provide critical services and amenities in a large geographic area that exceeds Asheville’s property tax revenues. As such, more suburban and rural municipalities might be able to learn from Asheville’s various housing plans, assessments, and strategies, especially by leading with a resilience lens.

 

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Boulder, Colorado: Affordable Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Environmental Plans and Initiatives

The city of Boulder, Colorado is experiencing the joint pressures of rapid regional population growth and climate change. Although a large municipality, the city consists of a varied landscape that cuts across urban, suburban, and rural areas. As such, the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan is a strong example of a municipal comprehensive plan that incorporates affordable housing, manufactured housing communities, and anti-displacement provisions, as well as environmental and land-use considerations across the urban-rural spectrum. This plan can serve as an example of how a local government can holistically approach all of these different sectors in a diverse jurisdiction with a range of housing and environmental needs. 

Notably, the city acknowledges the need for residents to be able to afford to live in their homes across different income levels through its low-, moderate-, and middle-income designations. Other local governments could similarly think about examining the demographics and economic makeup of their communities to support the development of an affordable housing approach that aims to address housing affordability for all.

 

Objective 4.2:

Promote the awareness and acceptance of diversified types of affordable housing to minimize public opposition to planned and resilient residential growth in rural areas.

The Need

Planning, land-use, and zoning updates that integrate housing, flooding, and nature-based solutions are only part of the equation to build resilience in Region Seven. While these actions are critical elements of comprehensive resilience strategies, they are less effective and meaningful without the support of communities. Specifically, housing and flood mitigation priorities will not be reflected in community-driven plans and local ordinances if rural governments or communities are opposed to the idea of affordable housing — or what they perceive it to be. Therefore, this objective is an important foundation to developing and implementing resilient, housing-forward plans and ordinances. 

The term “affordable housing” is often charged with strong reactions and perceptions that can create barriers to preserving existing and constructing new housing opportunities. Whether these views are accurate or based on lived experiences is beyond the scope of the Regional Vision. Instead, the purpose of the Regional Vision is to enable more and deeper conversations about how regional and local policymakers can move closer towards a future that better enables an outcome of affordable housing for all, regardless of income level. At the outset, this work will often involve walking back from a narrow view of how affordable housing has traditionally been conceived and who it benefits to have open and honest discussions in communities about who lives or wants to live there; what are people’s current and forecasted income levels and housing needs; and what type of housing people can afford compared to what are the current and future types, numbers, conditions, and prices of homes in a jurisdiction. This drive to move beyond a narrow idea or view of what affordable housing is — or could be — is particularly acute in rural areas. 

Affordable housing is not only an urban challenge. Rural and suburbanizing areas experiencing growth pressures from urban centers will increasingly face questions about how to meet current and future housing demands while maintaining local character and culture and avoiding the displacement of existing residents. This can have a disproportionate impact on population segments like the elderly, owners of working lands (e.g., farms), and heirs to generational properties. Many of these people especially may have significant portions of their net worth and parts of their identities inextricably tied to the land. 

Furthermore, housing and rental markets may become more expensive due to new growth. A rise in rents and property values can more broadly affect people of all income levels who want to live and work in the same suburban or rural locations. This can encompass everyone from low-to-moderate income families and individuals to the teachers, firefighters, policemen and women, and other public servants that benefit from living and working in the same communities. 

In addition to the unique circumstances surrounding growth in many suburban and rural areas, affordable housing is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach where what works or is necessary in urban areas will fit everywhere. Moreover, what affordable housing looks like in suburbanizing and rural areas can look different than in urban ones. There is a spectrum of diverse housing needs. Along that spectrum, there are many gradations that can be adapted to meet local context and needs. This is an important distinction in rural communities where certain types of homes like duplexes and low-rise, garden apartments, for example, will likely be more compatible with preserving large-lot, single-family homes and rolling landscapes. This middle part of the housing spectrum between single-family homes and mid- and high-rise apartments is referred to as “missing middle” housing.

 

Credit: City of Norfolk, Virginia, plaNorfolk 2030, Missing Middle Pattern Book, available at https://www.norfolk.gov/DocumentCenter/View/66555/MissingMiddlePatternBook (citing Opticos Design, Inc. and the "missing middle" housing term created by David Parolek). 

Also, the scale of affordable housing needs will be different in smaller, more rural municipalities compared to larger urban cities.  

Generally in Region Seven and nationally, nuanced, locally situated discussions around housing are not happening enough. This dearth of meaningful discussions could be attributed to a lack of information, peer-learning and educational opportunities, and/or local examples, among other factors. In many places, this can result in community bias — often referred to as “Not in My Backyard” or “NIMBYism” — that keeps affordable housing out of the places where it is needed most, including in rural areas. 

As such, regional and local policymakers should work with rural communities to present them with housing options and opportunities that match residents’ needs and priorities. Ideally, this will result in resilience strategies that are shaped by those affected and lead to the greater availability of safe rental units and homes that people can afford. Much of that can start with making progress on this objective to promote the awareness and acceptance of diversified types of affordable housing to minimize public opposition to planned and resilient residential growth in rural areas — in tandem with legal, planning, policy, and project interventions.


How to Make Progress on This Objective 

In “greauxing” or growing resilience, one of the foundational purposes of the Regional Vision is to promote a more inclusive and realistic idea of what is affordable housing. Here, the aim is to support a move away from a narrow, one-size-fits-all approach to the idea that everyone can have a safe home that they can afford. In other words, working towards affordable housing for all in Region Seven and beyond. 

At a minimum, there are three types of actions that regional and especially local governments with planning, land-use, and zoning authority can consider to build community support for diversified types of housing. Those three actions are:  

  • Planning;
  • Land use and zoning; and
  • Resilient housing pilots and prototypes.  

Policymakers can pursue these three actions either separately or together, depending on local context. However, stacked approaches can be the strongest. There are planning and land-use components to breaking down barriers to promote the awareness and acceptance of diversified types of affordable housing. Progress on this objective will also necessitate public education and outreach campaigns and literally building resilient homes. In this way, each action can mutually reinforce the others.

Regional and local policymakers can look to seed these ideas before and/or during planning and land-use processes. Among other factors, this will depend on the entry point that is most appropriate and enables maximum engagement opportunities for residents. At a minimum, people should first be provided with sufficient time and resources to learn about and inform potential housing futures and projects in their jurisdictions. Then, they can decide whether and how to support the work proposed in their neighborhoods and communities. 

Planning

First, regional and local governments should provide a medium via planning to consider and prioritize multiple types of resilient housing that are affordable to people across all income levels. Plans can serve as a visioning opportunity for stakeholders to contribute their housing needs and priorities. Plans can also serve as a chance for policymakers to brainstorm and provide resources on what missing middle housing options are, for example, to share mockups of what affordable housing can look like in rural areas. This can help to support the ideas coming from communities while managing opposition or NIMBYISM. Through this approach, policymakers can learn from but also educate residents about resilient affordable housing options in ways that are locally appropriate and relevant. 

Land Use and Zoning

Second, but closely tied to planning, policymakers should align housing goals and objectives with land-use and zoning ordinances. Land-use and zoning ordinances can serve as a bridge — or be an obstacle — between planning and implementing projects to enable diverse types of housing to be proposed, approved, sited, and constructed in accordance with local legal requirements. For example, new duplexes could draw interest and support from community members and prospective home builders alike and be prioritized as a preferred housing option in a neighborhood’s housing plan. However, this will make no difference if the residential portions of a parish’s or incorporated municipality’s local regulations are only zoned for single-family homes. Accordingly, local ordinances should be updated or flexible enough to align community needs and priorities articulated in planning documents with on-the-ground housing opportunities. 

The City of Asheville, North Carolina’s local comprehensive plan, Living Asheville, was guided by neighborhood-specific plans that fed into the city-wide comprehensive plan to account for different housing and other needs that vary across the city. In coordinating planning and land-use actions, Asheville is looking at ways to require future development and growth standards that are in accordance with these housing priorities and design standards. 

Where plans and ordinances are not already aligned, planning processes can also identify the need for potential legal updates that must occur before policy changes can be implemented or homes can be constructed. By identifying these potential changes early, policymakers can initiate additional decisionmaking processes sooner rather than later. This will allow for more lead time before home builders and developers, for example, submit permit applications. This can save governments and private and nonprofit home builders and developers both time and money. 

For example, Rush River Commons is a proposed mixed-use development in the small Town of Washington, Virginia. The project is expected to have several different rural-appropriate housing groupings that will include townhouses, referred to as village homes, and stacked housing, referred to as villas, and will include three main structures situated around a central green park space. 

The proponents of the Rush River Commons project cited the town’s current Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance as a time and cost saver while designing their project. Specifically, the town’s PUD ordinance already allowed the project proponents “to increase residential population in the Town . . . [by permitting] zoning flexibility and flexibility in the design of new residential uses and mixed uses . . . .” in a way that was “not [previously] available” before 2019.See footnote 326 This enabled the Rush River Commons project to proceed without having to go through additional processes to amend the town’s local comprehensive plan and ordinance. 

Resilient Pilots and Prototypes

Building on plans and ordinances, the third high-level way policymakers can promote multiple types of affordable housing is to support the development of resilient homes and subdivisions that can function as pilots and prototypes. Here, governments could prioritize a range of missing middle homes that are built to resilient design standards and use quality materials. In addition to serving as actual residences, pilot homes have the potential to serve as demonstration sites that can educate residents about the benefits of resilient housing prototypes. 

By acting on this idea, regional and local governments can contribute to efforts to socialize and mainstream the awareness and acceptance of diverse housing options in their communities inside or outside of planning and land-use and zoning processes. One aim of these types of builds would be to increase community awareness and acceptance of diverse types of resilient, affordable housing and breakdown opposition to these individual homes and/or larger-scale subdivisions or developments. Another purpose of these builds would be to provide proofs of concept prior to investing significant resources at scale to meet housing needs. 

Physical examples of affordable housing in suburban and rural locations give people tangible opportunities to realize what they look like on the ground. With the right demonstration projects, this can help people see the quality of well-built homes first hand and assess whether they are compatible with rural living. This can be especially important for manufactured and modular homes (also known as trailers or mobile homes) communities. Manufactured homes are one of the most common types of affordable housing in the United States and Louisiana.See footnote 327 However, they are more often subject to NIMBYism and predatory land-use practices that either prevent them from even becoming an affordable housing option or displace existing residents from their communities.

Governments can support this objective in many ways. First, regional and local governments can promote examples of resilient and missing middle housing in their community by initiating or supporting educational and outreach campaigns. There may also be chances for governments to convene or, alternatively, participate in externally led meetings between residents, home builders, and other experts during planning and land-use and zoning processes and project implementation. 

On the regulatory side, local policymakers can also update comprehensive plans and ordinances to incentivize or require resilient, missing middle homes through permitting processes (e.g., Norfolk, Virginia Resilient Quotient Points System and housing design books). In addition, policymakers can work with homeowners, developers, landlords, and renters to encourage or create opportunities for people to visit and learn about these homes and what it is like to live in them. It is important to note that this approach would have to be done in ways that are respectful of and do not appropriate the people living in these places.

For example, in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward, a local project team led by J.B. Holton and Associates is planning to construct a resilient housing prototype that can adapt to changing conditions in a flood-prone neighborhood. The prototype will create two affordable housing units in a duplex for low- to moderate-income individuals or families. The two single-family homes will be elevated above base flood heights and use hemp-based materials for insulation as a sustainable building material that is more resistant to moisture and pests than traditional insulation. The project team will use a “work and learn” approach for engagement with the surrounding community. The team will allow community members to be on site during construction and see the housing as it is being built. Then, the team will invite those residents to come back to the housing site after construction has finished to see the property in its completed state. 

Once the duplex is built and the units are rented, the project team also intends to monitor the hemp and other investments in the home to evaluate their long-term costs and efficacy. The team will aim to share this information with other community organizations and home developers to inspire future resilient construction in New Orleans and beyond.  

In some instances, governments can even evaluate the potential to fund pilot and demonstration sites for new resilient homes. For example, this could occur on parish- or municipal-owned vacant, abandoned, and/or deteriorated lots. Governments could pursue this path either alone (e.g., Resilient Edgemere in Queens, New York) or in partnership with socially conscious private and nonprofit developers (e.g., New Orleans, Louisiana: Resilient Housing Prototype in the Seventh Ward) and other organizations like philanthropies or Habitats for Humanity (e.g., Rush River Commons in Virginia; Fauquier Habitat for Humanity Haiti Street Neighborhood Revitalization in Virginia) (For more information about vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated or "VAD" properties and community resilience, see Objective 1.3). 

Alternatively, governments can purchase a range of existing types of homes, even if only temporarily, to implement retrofits and infrastructure upgrades. The City of Boulder, Colorado, purchased two manufactured housing communities as a way to address failing infrastructure and safety issues. The city does not intend to become the permanent owner of either community. Instead, Boulder is using city resources to preserve and improve the home sites before eventually selling or transferring them to new, long-term owners liks nonprofits or housing authorities.

These types of projects can occur on different scales. However, if built and used strategically, the benefits and awareness of even a single home or subdivision could be significant and encourage more governments, neighborhoods, and developers to follow suit. 


Crosscutting Considerations and Practice Tips

When creating and implementing strategies that promote diverse affordable housing options in rural areas, decisionmakers may consider the following crosscutting considerations and practice tips:

  • Promote missing middle housing
  • Integrate diverse housing options throughout a jurisdiction’s residential and mixed-use areas
  • Proceed with an open mind
  • Promote awareness and acceptance among regional and local government colleagues
  • Engage communities in public information and educational campaigns
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships 

These tips are based on priority implementation best practices and considerations most relevant to this specific objective and do not present an exhaustive list for regional and local planners and policymakers. In addition to this objective, decisionmakers should, at a minimum, also refer to Goal Five for crosscutting considerations and practice tips including structuring equitable and inclusive community engagement processes and evaluating opportunities to build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships. 

It is important to acknowledge that every jurisdiction will be starting from a different place and have a unique local context and needs, among other factors. Therefore, these considerations and practice tips could be adopted individually, collectively, or not at all. It will be up to policymakers to work directly with their communities and other key stakeholders and partners to assess and determine potential tools and approaches to implement this goal and objective. 

  • Promote missing middle housing: As stated above, missing middle housing refers to a range of locally specific types of housing, such as townhomes, duplexes, and triplexes, in addition to single-family housing and apartment complexes. Policymakers should evaluate the potential to encourage missing middle housing options in appropriate rural zones or neighborhoods to provide a range of housing options available to people at different income levels and with different housing needs. 

    Missing middle housing can factor into each of the “How to” entry points above for this objective. Missing middle housing should be prioritized in plans and aligned with updates to local ordinances to enable their construction. Further, different types of missing middle housing built according to resilient design standards could serve as pilots or prototypes to socialize these concepts.
  • Integrate diverse housing options throughout a jurisdiction's residential and mixed-use areas: In addition to prioritizing, designing, and constructing diverse, resilient housing options, there is also a spatial component to implementing this objective that cuts across planning, land use and zoning, and individual home builds. Specifically, plans and local ordinances should promote the equitable integration of diverse housing types throughout flood-safe, residential and mixed-use areas of a rural community. This is in contrast to relegating affordable and missing middle housing options to select areas of a parish or municipality. Spatial segregation of housing can reinforce affordable housing stigmas and stereotypes and detract from increasing their acceptance and visibility. This can come into play with items like future growth or land-use maps included in local comprehensive plans to minimum lot and setback requirements in local ordinances that could either promote or preclude missing middle housing options from being sited, approved, and developed throughout a parish’s or municipality’s residential and mixed-use areas. As many jurisdictions balance housing needs with population growth and transitions and environmental threats like flooding, this spatial component of housing plans and strategies should be front and center.

    The one exception to this recommendation is that sometimes, overlay zones may serve a protective function for preserving existing homes and housing diversity, like mobile homes or manufactured housing communities (compare the use of such a zone in Living Cully in Portland, Oregon). Planners and policymakers should carefully examine when and where overlay zones and development regulations will support or reinforce rather than prevent or eliminate diverse affordable housing opportunities. 
  • Proceed with an open mind: Many of the ideas underscoring this objective may be new, or stigmatized, to individuals and rural communities at-large because they have yet to be piloted or mainstreamed. Therefore, it will take time and patience to brainstorm ways to integrate different types of housing into plans and local ordinances, let alone on-the-ground projects. However, to effectively socialize and hopefully mainstream the awareness and acceptance of a diverse range of housing types that are compatible with rural communities, regional and local policymakers can initiate these longer-term processes by serving as thought leaders and listeners to learn from developers and communities about housing innovations and residential needs. Listening to and learning about new affordable and resilient design concepts can be just the start that this objective needs. 

    Certainly, there are no guarantees that these types of listening and learning opportunities will dictate any particular outcome. However, they can potentially contribute to more thoughtful and comprehensive decisionmaking processes that are better aligned with community interests and needs. 
  • Promote awareness and acceptance among regional and local government colleagues: Community engagement around missing middle and resilient housing can serve the dual benefit of breaking down a lack of awareness of or opposition to affordable housing that may exist inside the government itself. Planners and policymakers should evaluate strategies to work with community members, nongovernmental housing organizations and experts, and peer jurisdictions to learn more about people’s housing needs and priorities, stay up-to-date on new information and resources, and educate colleagues and elected officials on these important issues. Planners and elected officials have the authority to draft and adopt official plans and local regulations. As such, they have to be equally familiar with and convinced of a diverse and resilient housing future. 

    One positive example for how communities can work successfully with local governments comes from Portland, Oregon. In 2016, the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park in the Cully neighborhood of Portland was threatened with closure and sale to a residential developer that planned to evict all residents.See footnote 328 This project to develop new residences on the property would have displaced almost 30 households.See footnote 329 The threat to the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park mobilized the Cully neighborhood to act to protect all the manufactured housing communities (MHC) (also locally called mobile home parks) in Portland. 

    As a result of this campaign to protect MHC, in 2018, Portland amended the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning code to adopt a new base zoning district, called the Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone.See footnote 330 This zone applies to all 57 MHC in Portland and requires that this land only be used for these types of communities and cannot be used for any other type of residential or commercial purpose.See footnote 331 

    Community mobilization, organizing, and activism were integral to amending Portland’s comprehensive plan and zoning code and protecting MHC in the city. One of the primary driving forces behind these changes was Living Cully, a coalition of four community development organizations with the goal of improving the quality of life for people of color and low-income people in Portland’s Cully neighborhood.See footnote 332 When the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park was originally threatened, Living Cully subsequently sprung into action to protect the park and its residents, developing a campaign to change Portland’s comprehensive plan and zoning laws. 

    As part of this campaign, MHC residents from Cully conducted outreach to other MHC around the city to inform the people who would be impacted by the zoning changes and garner support across the city. Living Cully also organized direct interactions between MHC residents and Portland political officials. Residents from the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park and other MHC around Portland gave testimony in front of the city’s Planning Commission. The aim of this testimony was to educate Planning Commissioners about these communities and personally combat negative stereotypes of MHC and their residents.

    One common misconception held by city officials broadly was that MHC are simply an undesirable housing option of last resort for most people. Public testimonies from MHC residents worked to show the city otherwise. Specifically, many residents spoke about how they choose to and enjoy living in MHC, as they are an affordable housing option that offers strong community ties, autonomy over personal space and property, and options for aging in place. Finally, members of Living Cully and MHC invited city staff and officials to visit Portland’s MHC and interact with the residents one-on-one in an effort to underscore the importance of these communities and this type of affordable housing.

    This example illustrates the value of working with political officials and local government staff to provide them with tangible opportunities to directly engage with MHC residents. Here, local officials and staff heard from residents at public hearings and visited MHC sites in-person. Collectively, these community-driven efforts worked to overcome the negative stigmas often associated with MHC to successfully pass inclusive and equitable legal updates. 
  • Engage communities in public information and educational campaigns: Although housing will require collaborative brainstorming and action among policymakers, elected officials, and developers alike, communities are similarly a critical part of this engagement. Parish and municipal residents know about and experience housing affordability and availability challenges first hand. As such, housing solutions should be community driven. 

    However, to actively participate in these decisionmaking processes, people need to be aware of all of the potential housing options on the table. As such, policymakers should not start housing discussions with a predetermined outcome. Instead, regional and local policymakers should listen to community needs around housing and then objectively present a range of housing options tailored to meet those needs that residents can consider. This educational and awareness-building aspect of planning, land-use and zoning, and projects is important to adapt to changing housing needs and futures in the face of flooding and population growth.

    Through the construction of new resilient homes and developments, policymakers can also use pilot or test sites to educate community members about the potential for and benefits of missing middle housing and how they can be cohesive with single-family homes and rural landscapes.

    Ideally, government-supported actions like these for creating transparent decisionmaking processes, providing information to enable more people to have a meaningful seat at the decisionmaking table, and increasing housing diversity can all mutually reinforce opportunities to both greaux and increase local acceptance of housing types that are relevant to and compatible with different rural communities. 
  • Build public-private-nonprofit-community partnerships: As evidenced throughout this part, governments, developers, and communities each play a different, but critical role from land-use regulation to construction and funding and financing in making progress on this objective. That is in addition to other stakeholders like environmental and conservation advocates, historic preservationists, and others who will factor into these decisionmaking processes. Accordingly, it will be critical to form broad-based coalitions and partnerships to set up and facilitate the successful implementation of housing solutions in rural communities.   

The summaries below highlight resources and case studies available in Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse that are relevant to this objective. They illustrate how many of the above benefits, practice tips, and planning, legal, and policy tools were or are being evaluated and used in practice in different jurisdictions. To learn more and navigate to the Adaptation Clearinghouse, click on the “View Resource” buttons. 

Related Resources

 
Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Portland, Oregon: Planning and Zoning for Manufactured Housing Communities

In recent years, Portland, Oregon has experienced rapid population growth and demographic shifts, resulting in changing housing dynamics — most notably, a decrease in affordable housing. Manufactured Housing Communities (MHC) or manufactured homes, known also as “mobile homes” or “trailers” are a valuable source of unsubsidized affordable housing for thousands of households in Portland. This form of housing is, however, threatened by the effects of climate change and development pressures.

In order to preserve MHC across the city, a campaign to change Portland’s comprehensive plan and zoning laws, led by the community-based organization Living Cully, resulted in amendments to the City of Portland’s comprehensive plan and the creation of the Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone in 2018. The Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone is a new base district that covers all existing MHC in Portland, precluding any other commercial or residential use on the properties and effectively protecting these communities and their residents from park closures. These amendments were the result of direct engagement between city officials and staff and MHC residents at public hearings and in-person visits to MHC. Collectively, these community-driven efforts provide instructive lessons for how local governments and communities can work together to overcome the negative stigmas often associated with MHC to pass inclusive and equitable legal updates.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — Town of Washington, Virginia: Rush River Commons Mixed-Use Development

Town of Washington, Virginia is a small rural town with a need for affordable housing in the face of a decreasing and aging population in a larger region experiencing growth. Rush River Commons is a privately funded, proposed mixed-use development project for the Town of Washington. The proposed plan includes building a community center, office space for nonprofits, and affordable rental housing on a nine-acre property located in the town. The Rush River Commons project is grounded in the notion that part of what makes a resilient community is providing diverse housing options. The residential cluster of Rush River Commons is designed to “provide attractive and affordable housing options for the community” that will support population growth in Washington. There will potentially be between 18 and 20 diverse types of housing units, the majority of which are guaranteed to be affordable housing units. Through the Rush River Commons project, the hope is that these affordable housing units will help residents to think more broadly and positively about what affordable housing means and looks like in their community. A goal of the project, which others can learn from, is to provide tangible housing options residents can see and visit themselves to break down negative stereotypes about affordable housing.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Boulder, Colorado: Affordable Housing, Manufactured Housing, and Environmental Plans and Initiatives

The city of Boulder, Colorado is experiencing the joint pressures of rapid regional population growth and climate change. Boulder has addressed these challenges in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, a plan jointly adopted by the City and County of Boulder to direct decisions on land use, natural and built environments, and climate. Notably, the city acknowledges the need for residents to be able to afford to live in their homes across different income levels through its low-, moderate-, and middle-income designations. Within this broader context, the city has applied focused attention to its Manufactured Housing Communities (MHC) as one, but not the only affordable housing option. With its Manufactured Housing Strategy and Action Plan, Boulder developed a specific approach to address some of the priority issues facing one type of affordable housing in its jurisdiction. Similarly, the city followed suit with its Middle-Income Housing Strategy. Other local governments could similarly think about examining the demographics and economic makeup of their communities to support the development of an inclusive affordable housing approach that aims to address housing affordability for all.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana: Donaldsonville Strategic Plan 2020–2025

The rural City of Donaldsonville, Louisiana has developed a strategic plan for 2020–2025, which identifies eight strategic priorities to revitalize the city by fostering business development and increasing the city’s standard of living. To implement Strategic Priority 7 on Housing, the city is evaluating several new affordable housing complexes that are being planned and developed in Donaldsonville to provide units for low-, moderate-, and middle-income households. One example is the reuse of the B. Lemann & Brothers Inc. building in downtown Donaldsonville. This building was constructed in the 1870s and designated as a historic building by the National Parks Service in the 1980s. This building is being redeveloped to include 42 units of artist-preferred housing and 7,600 square feet of commercial space. Construction is expected to be completed in early summer 2022. The city is also making an effort to increase the amount of housing available to middle-income households, senior living, and promoting more duplex communities. Other local rural governments can consider Donaldsonville’s ongoing progress to secure adequate, affordable, and safe housing for all residents as one step towards building greater community resilience.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Gonzales, Louisiana: Gonzales Comprehensive Plan

The City of Gonzales, Louisiana is located in the eastern part of Ascension Parish and centrally located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Facing increasing retail and commercial development, the city updated its local comprehensive plan to accommodate rapid growth. In the plan, the city presents a clear strategic framework for the future growth of Gonzales including housing that other local governments with comprehensive plans can consider emulating. The plan’s affordable housing considerations include diversifying the options and affordability of the housing stock in Gonzales. One relevant guiding principle in the plan is to “[p]rovide a range of housing types for people of all income levels from high-end to affordable. Building on this guiding principle in the plan’s Land Use and Community Character section, the city also details more discrete action items for affordable housing like: “Provide more housing choices, such as townhomes, smaller units, and affordable housing for youth, retail workers, and the aging population . . . .”

Greauxing Resilience at Home — St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: Resilient Planning, Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Funding Initiatives

St. John the Baptist Parish is water-adjacent and predominantly rural. The parish has undertaken several initiatives to adopt development trends and patterns that will guide population growth in ways that make the parish and its communities more resilient to future rainfall and flooding risks. Namely, in 2014, the parish developed a Comprehensive Land Use Plan. In general, the parish seeks to preserve low-density and conservation-oriented development trends across most of the parish, much of which is flood-prone. Through the Land Use Plan, the parish will aim to avoid concentrating low-income residents and families in certain parts of the parish, instead promoting mixed-income communities with improved access to transportation, job centers, education, and recreation. Other local planners and policymakers can look to St. John’s as one example of how to use a local comprehensive plan to support integrating affordable housing options throughout a region or municipality.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of New Orleans, Louisiana: Resilient Housing Prototype in the Seventh Ward

In the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, a local project team is planning to construct a resilient housing prototype that can adapt to changing conditions in a flood-prone neighborhood. Spearheaded by J.B. Holton and Associates and in partnership with Healthy Community Services and others, the prototype will create two affordable housing units in a duplex specifically dedicated for low- to moderate-income community members. The two single-family homes will be elevated above base flood heights and use hemp-based materials for insulation as a sustainable building material that is more resistant to moisture and pests than traditional insulation. The site will also be landscaped with green stormwater infrastructure features. Despite the urban location for this prototype, this rural-compatible pilot project can be a model for other home developers and communities of what homes in Louisiana can look like to overcome negative stigmas around affordable housing and inspire future actions to increase local resilience in the face of flooding and economic challenges.

Annexing and Preparing Higher Ground Receiving Areas in Princeville, North Carolina Through Post-Disaster Recovery Processes

In 2017, the Town of Princeville, North Carolina engaged experts and communities in a long-term, comprehensive planning process to annex a 53-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain to develop a safer, higher ground area where residents, structures, and infrastructure can be relocated. After experiencing flooding impacts from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Princeville received technical and funding support from the state through the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI). In Princeville, efforts through HMDRRI resulted in the production of multiple outputs to make the town more resilient, including Homeplace, a “conversation guide” for Princeville residents to enable them to learn about and inform affordable residential design and construction options and strategies on the annexed property that can be integrated with long-term disaster recovery plans (e.g., greenspace and mixed-use development). Design books like Homeplace can serve as a proactive way that governments can work with communities and architects and landscape architects to guide resilient affordable housing construction in less flood-prone areas.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Asheville, North Carolina: Affordable Housing, Environmental, and Climate Resiliency Initiatives

Over the last two decades, Asheville, North Carolina has released a comprehensive plan and housing plan, a housing assessment, and policies related to growing the city’s climate and environmental resilience and ensuring an adequate affordable housing stock in the face of an increasing population. For example, in the local comprehensive plan, Living Asheville, the city seeks to elevate and preserve the character and culture of five distinct area-based geographies as Asheville accommodates new development and growth. Asheville is also considering creating design handbooks for neighborhoods that focus on major character defining elements of the city’s various neighborhoods and allowing residents to select appropriate elements for their community. Notably, the future development and maintenance of affordable housing will be required to blend with the character of the area.

Living Asheville also states that the city will increase and diversify housing supply in ways that are aligned with the city’s historic charm and character. The city seeks to foster a building environment that combines quality architecture, historic preservation, and smart urban planning. To that end, the City Council implemented form-based codes in various parts of the city and has approved zoning amendments and the use of conditional zoning to facilitate compatible infill housing on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. The city has also formed a committee to review Downtown design processes and bring them into alignment with historic preservation goals. Similar to Asheville, it is important for policymakers facing similar types of population transitions to think about planning and zoning on both city and neighborhood scales to accommodate different housing types and needs.

Greauxing Resilience at Home — City of Norfolk, Virginia: PlaNorfolk 2030, Norfolk Vision 2100, and Resilience Zoning Updates

The City of Norfolk, Virginia is a mature, developed municipality where only 3.1 percent of the city’s land remains vacant. As such, Norfolk’s planning to increase affordable housing development acknowledges that new development will be limited to primarily redevelopment or infill. The city nevertheless recognizes a need for more affordable housing and has developed some approaches to increasing local housing stock under this context. To this end, plaNorfolk 2030, the city’s local comprehensive plan, contains some actions, including ensuring that the zoning ordinance permits a variety of residential densities and housing types and encouraging compatible infill housing on vacant and underutilized parcels to minimize land costs. The city has also added different housing-related appendices to plaNorfolk that include free design plans for property owners and builders who want to develop or redevelop their parcels or vacant lots. The design books are specific to different neighborhoods and aim to promote resilient, higher-density, and more diverse housing options like the: Traditional Neighborhoods Plan Book: Chapter One — Olde Huntersville, the Design Principles for Multifamily Development, Missing Middle Pattern Book, and Narrow Lot House Plan Catalog. Although Norfolk is an urban locality, rural areas could seek to adapt their zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans and create design books that support a range of locally appropriate affordable housing options.

Objective 4.3:

Develop strategies to preserve existing affordable housing in rural areas.

The Need

Discussions around affordable housing often emphasize the need for new homes and rental units. This is especially common in jurisdictions actively accommodating population growth due to climate and non-climate drivers. However, these discussions cannot be siloed to focus on the “new” at the expense of the “existing.” Regional and local governments must simultaneously think about the impacts of population increases on the price of homes and the ability for residents to stay in place. Accordingly, resilient affordable housing strategies must be an “and” and not an “either or” approach. 

Certainly, preserving housing affordability is a complicated problem. However, this objective concentrates on this issue within the scope of the Regional Vision and on rural preservation more specifically. For more information on housing preservation broadly, see the Introduction to Goal Three and Objective 3.1.

When communities are unable to preserve their current affordable housing stock, the displacement of existing residents can be a direct and negative consequence. At a high level, population increases in a desirable parish, municipality, or neighborhood can simultaneously increase the market value of homes and rental units, as well as property taxes. In turn, this can drive up the total housing costs for the people already living in these communities. If and when residents cannot adapt to these rising costs, they may have no choice but to move away. Displacement can be a significant equity issue disproportionately impacting lower-income individuals and families, in addition to people on fixed incomes, like the elderly, that may be less able to absorb these costs.

Displacement can also occur where the physical condition of people’s homes is uninhabitable due to health, safety, and/or structural reasons. Hurricanes, severe winds, and flooding can lead to immediate and long-term damages to homes. This can encompass anything from holes in structures to unstable or collapsed foundations to mold. For many, options for home repairs, renovations, refurbishments, and retrofits like floodproofing or elevations can make homes livable again and/or adaptable to future threats. However, these options can be cost prohibitive. According to a research article from Louisiana State University, “Elevating an existing home can be a significant investment. On average, it costs $180,000.”See footnote 333 Another 2021 data point from Livingston Parish states the cost of a home elevation in Louisiana averages $125,000.See footnote 334 For perspective, the average cost of a home in Louisiana is $168,100.See footnote 335 Figures like this can force some people to abandon their homes or leave due to formal government processes like condemnation. 

Governments should create and then support holistic strategies that both supplement and maintain existing affordable housing options. This will involve working with communities and other external stakeholders to protect both the present and long-term affordability of homes. Overall, this type of work is not occurring enough in Region Seven, particularly in rural areas experiencing pressures from suburbanization. Proactive actions can help to avoid or mitigate the social, environmental, and fiscal costs associated with unplanned development and displacement.


How to Make Progress on This Objective

Parish and municipal governments in Region Seven can make progress on this objective by pursuing different types of strategies for: 

  • Planning, land use, and zoning;
  • Acquiring land; and/or
  • Identifying ways to help make existing homes more resilient

Policymakers can consider pursuing any of these strategies independently or together. Despite the focus of this objective, many of the examples and considerations that follow can be applied to both creating new and preserving existing affordable homes. As stated in The Need part above, a “both and” approach is required to “greaux” or grow the resilience of housing in rural areas. 

Planning, Land Use, and Zoning

Local comprehensive and housing-specific plans can incorporate priority goals and policies around preserving diverse types of affordable housing across all income levels (e.g., Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, Colorado; City of Portland, Oregon’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan) (for more information about planning, see Objective 4.1). Local governments should aim to align these plans with updates to land-use and zoning ordinances so that these priority actions can be implemented. For example, in Portland, Oregon, manufactured home communities advocated for planning and zoning changes to guard against a residential developer that planned to purchase and close the Oak Leaf Mobile Home Park and evict all of its residents. As a result of these efforts, the city amended its comprehensive plan and zoning code to adopt a new base zoning district, called the Manufactured Dwelling Park Zone. This zone applies to all of Portland’s 57 manufactured housing communities and prohibits any other land uses. Only manufactured housing communities are permitted within that zone, which covers all of Portland 57 manufactured housing communities.

Acquire Land

Land acquisitions can also help keep homes affordable. Here, properties can be owned by local governments (e.g., Boulder, Colorado) or private (e.g.,