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 1 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 2 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 3
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.
Acquisition programs that governments can utilize include both the direct purchase of properties in fee simple agreements, or through conservation easements.See footnote 4
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 5
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 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 10 “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 11 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 12 Additionally, municipalities can focus on tax foreclosure on vacant properties as a way to acquire properties.See footnote 13
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 14
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.
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 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.
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.
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 15 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.
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 16
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 17 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 18 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.
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 19 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).
Buyouts and open space acquisitions can be expensive. In Louisiana, the median residential assessed property value runs upwards of $210,000.See footnote 20 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 21 Other ways to offset some of these costs include:
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:
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.
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.
11. Id. Back to contentBack to content
13. Id. Back to contentBack to content
16. Id. Back to contentBack to content
18. Katie Spidalieri, et al., Voluntary Buyout Programs, in Managed Retreat Toolkit (2020). Back to contentBack to content
21. Id. Back to contentBack to content
22. Katie Spidalieri, et al., Acquisition Tools, in Managed Retreat Toolkit (2020). Back to contentBack to content
24. Id. Back to contentBack to content
25. Id. Back to contentBack to content
26. Katie Spidalieri, et al., Voluntary Buyouts, in Managed Retreat Toolkit (2020). Back to contentBack to content