Managed Retreat Toolkit


Social/Equity: Receiving Communities


A group of women and girls stand on a trail in the woods, smiling at the camera. They are wearing athletic pants and sweatshirts, ready for a day of hiking. There is a sign that says "King County: Cedar River Trail."Source: King County Parks.

Working with communities to facilitate voluntary transitions is only one side of the managed retreat coin. “Receiving communities” — or “receiving areas” — is the broad term used to refer to locations where people may be relocating in response to coastal hazards and climate impacts. Receiving areas can be located within the same municipality as a “sending” area or in a different municipal, county, state, or national jurisdiction. While the geographic characteristics and land-use patterns of individual receiving communities will vary, they will ideally be located at a higher elevation and/or further inland away from coastal sending areas experiencing sea-level rise, flooding, and/or erosion. This will better ensure that people are safer and better off, at least from a reduced risk standpoint. Receiving communities can apply in both a pre- and post-disaster context where people seek refuge in response to either episodic (e.g., hurricanes) or chronic (e.g., high tide flooding) threats. People may choose to stay there temporarily or indefinitely. Given the focus on proactive managed retreat strategies, this toolkit section primarily discusses and proposes legal and policy recommendations for receiving communities where people permanently choose to relocate in a non-disaster-related context.

To adequately prepare receiving areas, state and especially local governments should aim to plan for and make proactive investments in affordable housing, infrastructure, and critical services (e.g., schools). These actions are necessary to support anticipated population increases unless particular regions or municipalities already possess sufficient but underutilized capacity. The growth of receiving communities will present governments with important fiscal and social questions. Fiscally, governments will have to evaluate how to fund the implementation of potential policies and projects and assess the impacts of population changes and these investments on state and local budgets and tax bases. Socially, governments must work with both current and new residents to guide and inform the future development of these areas.

Where governments implement hazard mitigation buyouts (e.g., Minot, North Dakota), land swaps (e.g., Resilient Edgemere and New Orleans, Louisiana), or Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs (e.g., King County, Washington), policymakers will be directly confronted by some or all of these considerations; however, some areas will indirectly receive people from outside their jurisdiction and not as a direct result of their managed retreat policies. For example, some places that will serve as receiving communities will choose to adapt through non-retreat strategies or will not experience significant sea-level rise or coastal erosion. These locations would include urban cities with seawalls that protect shorelines; and non-coastal cities like Buffalo, New York or Cincinnati, Ohio that are anticipating future population growth as people leave the coast. Regardless of the cause or impetus, governments should be aware of the potential ways they could become receiving communities. Governments can use demographic and other types of data to track or monitor these shifts.

In elevating and prioritizing considerations about receiving communities, it is important for governments to simultaneously recognize that not everyone will choose or be able to move away from vulnerable coastal areas (e.g., people who desire to stay in place and/or lack the financial resources to leave). Different adaptation strategies are needed for low risk receiving areas with growing populations and high and moderate risk areas that may be losing population; therefore, measures are also needed to help residents and businesses that will continue to occupy higher risk areas. Policies and programs can be designed to help communities transition and mitigate impacts from population losses and reduced tax bases — for example, by making investments to sustain communities by enhancing the resilience of homes and infrastructure (e.g., through floodproofing or elevation). 


Practice Tips

State and local governments that anticipate becoming receiving communities may consider the following practice tips:

  • Invest in data: Before governments can evaluate whether to plan for and make investments in receiving communities, they will need the best available data to identify these areas. In most cases, this will be a threshold or dispositive question before governments take any actions to avoid wasting limited resources. Through one approach advanced by the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments, or “LA SAFE” program, governments can overlay demographic and economic data with physical risk data (i.e., rate of sea-level rise and erosion, flooding) to identify low-risk areas receiving people migrating away from the coast. Specifically, demographic and economic data can indicate places experiencing population gains (compared to losses) over specific time periods to inform where receiving regions and municipalities may be located. While receiving areas are not geographically homogenous and will likely face varying degrees of physical risk, they will ideally possess a lower risk profile as compared to coastal sending areas that supports or justifies an increased number of people. With LA SAFE, the state used this model to help guide community discussions with six coastal parishes experiencing significant rates of sea-level rise and land loss. Based on demographic, economic, and physical risk data, the state identified three levels of flood risk — high, moderate, and low — that correspond with different development principles to adapt to that flood risk. Notably, the state characterized low-risk areas as having relatively favorable future flood risk projections for 0–3 feet in a 100-year or one-percent-chance flood event over a 50-year planning horizon. In general, the state recommended that, based on this low risk, these areas could present new development opportunities, and could receive populations and businesses supporting economic activities that are relocating away from moderate and high-risk areas.

    It is important to recognize that data will largely serve a predictive function with varying degrees of accuracy. One of the greatest challenges demographers and other experts will encounter is how to account for personal preferences and choices when building predictive models to show future population patterns.See footnote 1 Additionally, models may not account for legal and policy decisions around climate adaptation that may otherwise enable people to stay in their homes longer.See footnote 2 Data collected on a regional or local scale over a statistically reasonable time period will likely have more predictive accuracy compared to population shifts examined on a cross-state or national scale presumably because, among other factors: (1) there are likely fewer variables to control for on a smaller spatial scale; and (2) people may be more inclined to stay closer to home when relocating to remain near family, friends, and jobs.See footnote 3 One exception, however, could be in states and municipalities where governments can, at least to some degree, anticipate that they will receive an influx of people in a post-disaster context because their residents have well-established cultural, historical, familial, or other connections with those affected by a disaster event. For example, Holyoke, Massachusetts has a large Puerto Rican population. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the city prepared to receive a large number of family members and friends who were either temporarily or permanently displaced by the storm due to their familial or kinship ties and relationships with Holyoke’s residents. In the end, policymakers will have to determine what level of statistical risk they are comfortable with before planning for or making investments in receiving communities.

    As a starting point, governments can engage in partnerships with universities and nonprofits to collect and analyze this data and develop predictive models to inform planning and policy decisions and use publicly available sources of data, like the U.S. Census Bureau. Other experts have used forwarding mailing addresses to show where those who can afford to move are moving and information on which cities received displaced people after disaster events.See footnote 4 Residents in both sending and receiving areas can also provide important information, namely to help policymakers better understand relocation trends (e.g., why are people leaving the coast, what factors influence where they are moving) and how population increases and decreases are affecting communities. Governments implementing hazard mitigation buyouts can also seek to collect information from willing participants to learn where people are moving. This data — which should be collected voluntarily and protect personally identifiable information — can be shared between buyout sending and receiving areas to increase community-level awareness of these population shifts.
  • Plan for receiving areas: Where receiving communities can be reasonably identified, different types of plans can help state and local governments prioritize considerations about receiving communities. Notably, local comprehensive plans and post-disaster recovery plans could play key roles here given their purpose in guiding future land-use and zoning at the local level (for more information about plans, see the Planning Tools section of this toolkit). Plans can also guide policymaking decisions that inform legal and investment decisions in areas that are likely to receive people leaving the coast; and phase and distribute anticipated costs over a longer time period to minimize present economic impacts. For example, plans can help local policymakers proactively identify parts of a municipality that may have to be upzoned or where to allocate funding for road, stormwater, or other infrastructure upgrades to accommodate an increased number of residents. Additionally, plans can serve as a medium to engage existing residents in receiving locations to reflect community priorities and needs in the design and implementation of potential projects. States can also support and coordinate land-use and other types of planning across local jurisdictional boundaries. 
  • Seek new funding sources — or use existing funding sources in new ways: Overall, current examples of federal, state, and local funding programs do not contemplate or prioritize funding for receiving communities. As the concept of managed retreat and receiving communities becomes increasingly mainstream, policy reform and innovation will be required to sufficiently support investments in receiving communities. For example, eligible state and local governments look to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery program to fund disaster recovery in their jurisdictions; however, state and local governments generally prioritize funding for areas that are covered by a presidential disaster declaration.See footnote 5 Additionally, for funding sources like FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) grants, agency policy can prohibit grantees from directing funds to receiving communities that fall outside of disaster-designated areas.See footnote 6 While it is important that governments prioritize funding to meet the needs of those hit hardest, the current system does not provide governments in receiving areas with adequate funding to support any new costs associated with a temporary or permanent influx of residents. In the month after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, several nearby urban centers, including Houston, served as receiving areas that took in large numbers of residents displaced from Louisiana. Houston was the largest receiving point outside of the State of Louisiana with approximately 240,000 people.See footnote 7 This sudden population increase tested the capacity of Houston’s schools, hospitals, social welfare organizations, and communications and local infrastructure systems.See footnote 8 As these examples illustrate, governments at all levels should seek opportunities to either create new sources of funding or use existing funding sources in new ways so that policymakers can support all areas necessitating financial assistance whether they are covered by a disaster declaration or not.See footnote 9

    Washington State presents one example of a unique funding program for receiving communities. King County operates a regional Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program to achieve long-term planning goals and incentivize development in strategic growth areas. Municipalities and unincorporated areas across the county can voluntarily choose to participate in a TDR Program. The State of Washington created the regional Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program (LCLIP) to support TDR Programs like King County’s by financing infrastructure development and other improvements in receiving communities to ensure these areas can keep pace with population growth.See footnote 10 By adopting a TDR Program and agreeing to accept a specified amount of regional (as opposed to only municipal) development rights, municipalities within three counties in the state are eligible to receive a bonus portion of their county’s property tax revenues to finance investments in receiving areas, such as transportation, water, and sewer system repairs and upgrades, construction of public transit, community amenities like parks and trails, and electric, gas, or other utility infrastructure.See footnote 11 LCLIP only reallocates a portion of the incremental property taxes that result from new development and does not impose any new tax burden on residents or businesses. LCLIP is a novel, but rare funding example which has not yet gained a lot of traction: As of 2019, Seattle is the only city that has created a “Local Infrastructure Project Area” tax financing district.See footnote 12 In short, more state and local experimentation is needed. 
  • Anticipate the need for potential new laws or legal amendments: Governments with oversight of receiving communities may need to adopt new laws or draft amendments to existing laws to align local land-use and zoning provisions with managed retreat policies or projects (e.g., upzoning). Governments should anticipate these types of potential changes and seek to make them in advance of when policies or projects will be implemented to avoid social and economic costs associated with delays (e.g., affordable housing shortages due to zoning density restrictions). 
  • Actively and meaningfully engage community members: Residents in receiving areas should guide and inform the development and implementation of plans and projects that will affect their lives and livelihoods. Governments need to ensure that any investments in or decisions affecting receiving areas are compatible with a community’s character, needs, and priorities, and, most important, do not displace current residents from their homes or businesses. For example,  black communities and other low-income communities of color are being forced out of their neighborhoods in Miami due to “climate gentrification.” As sea levels rise, developers and homeowners are looking to higher ground areas in the Liberty City, Little Haiti, and West Coconut Grove neighborhoods to shift development away from the coast.See footnote 13 As a result, these communities are being displaced from their homes and businesses. In response, the Mayor of Miami passed a resolution in 2018 directing city staff to research the effects of climate gentrification on these and other low-income communities to explore ways to stabilize property taxes to reduce displacement. Threats of displacement like the ones in Miami may increasingly require local government responses to better understand these issues and protect current residents. In protecting current residents from displacement, however, receiving communities should not exclude people moving away from the coast. Instead, receiving communities should, at a minimum, provide them with a comparable home and necessary infrastructure and services in a safer location. To the greatest extent practicable, local policymakers should aim to balance the needs of both current and future residents; although achieving a balance may be especially challenging where the interests of the two groups significantly diverge from one another. 
  • Build bridges between sending and receiving areas: Although it is an emerging and evolving concept, governments can seek opportunities to create or support partnerships that build individual- and community-level bridges and connections between coastal sending and higher ground receiving areas. These bridges can potentially encourage people to get out of harm’s way sooner and help to minimize the social and psychological impacts of relocation. If people feel welcome and more at home in their new locations, they will have a better chance of thriving. For example, religious institutions and organizations, and other groups located in receiving areas can be encouraged to establish and grow relationships with people living in vulnerable coastal areas who may consider moving in the future.See footnote 14

Related Resources

Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision

Greauxing Resilience at Home: A Regional Vision (Regional Vision) is an innovative legal, planning, and policy resource to promote community resilience through housing and nature-based solutions in "receiving" areas 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. Regional and local governments can use the Regional Vision to identify potential legal, planning, and policy tools and projects to increase the affordability and availability of housing and the use of nature-based solutions.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — State of Louisiana: Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE)

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 in higher ground, low flood risk receiving areas. LA SAFE was primarily funded by a $40-million federal grant to support the design and implementation of resilience projects to address climate impacts in six coastal parishes that were affected by Hurricane Isaac in 2012. LA SAFE adopts a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk over a 50-year time horizon; projects are designed to address risk and resilience across multiple sectors (e.g., housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic development), and to advance adaptation projects to achieve different risk-based goals (e.g., reshape development in low risk areas that will receive populations migrating from coastal areas, retrofit development in moderate risk areas to accommodate increasing flood risk, and resettle people in high flood risk areas losing land and population). Based on physical risk, demographic, and economic data, the state identified the three aforementioned levels of flood risk that correspond with different development principles to adapt to that flood risk. Low risk areas have relatively favorable future flood risk projections for 0–3 feet in a 100-year or one-percent-chance flood event in 2067. Low risk areas present new development opportunities, and have the capacity to receive populations and businesses supporting economic activities that are relocating away from moderate and high risk areas.

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies

Through LA SAFE, the state and other partners are taking a regional approach to align adaptation strategies or plans across six vulnerable coastal parishes. Among other factors, the state and parishes are aiming to make proactive investments in higher ground receiving areas to facilitate more equitable relocations for people who choose to move away from the coast. These strategies can serve as an example for other state, regional, and local jurisdictions considering long-term, comprehensive planning for adaptation and managed retreat.

Minot, North Dakota Floodplain Buyouts and Affordable, Resilient Housing “Buy-In” Program

In January 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the City of Minot, North Dakota $74.3 million through its National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) to implement several projects to improve the city’s resilience to flooding from the Souris River. Through one project, the city will implement a voluntary buyout program for homes most vulnerable to flooding and make resilient, affordable housing investments in higher, upland “Resilient Neighborhoods” located outside of the city’s floodplain to relocate homeowners and renters. Minot’s unique “buyouts for buy-in” model will help to preserve the city’s tax base and community cohesion.

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 that will serve as a receiving area. Princeville is currently evaluating plans to relocate the Princeville Town Hall, elementary school and fire, police, and medical services to higher ground while maintaining connections to the existing town’s heritage and character and connections to Princeville’s Historic Downtown.

Annexing Higher Ground and Preparing Receiving Areas in Hamilton, Washington

In 2019, after decades of repetitive flooding, the town of Hamilton in Skagit County, Washington partnered with Forterra, a local land conservancy nonprofit, to annex a 48-acre parcel of land located outside of the town’s 100-year floodplain. Annexing this land will provide Hamilton with a higher, drier ground area where town residents could voluntarily relocate to new homes. Forterra is developing plans for the annexed parcel to build affordable, environmentally conscious homes for Hamilton residents. Hamilton provides an example for other local governments either in a pre- or post-disaster context for revitalizing a community challenged by frequent flooding through adaptation actions. As done in Hamilton, local governments may consider possibilities for providing relocation options to residents within a floodplain, including by annexing new land, particularly where sufficient higher ground land within existing municipal boundaries is not available. Annexation of the parcel will allow Hamilton to create a receiving community for Hamilton residents within the same community. This can potentially help Hamilton maintain its local community, tax base, and economy. 


2018 Green Cincinnati Plan, Ohio: Leveraging Resilience to Become a Climate Haven

In the Green Cincinnati Plan, Cincinnati, Ohio assesses opportunities for local investments in housing and critical services for people relocating in response to climate change. In April 2018, Cincinnati released its Green Cincinnati Plan, a strategic document to guide the city’s goals and objectives to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and become more resilient. In one part of the plan, Cincinnati identifies itself as a future “climate haven” that may receive people relocating from more vulnerable coastal areas. Cincinnati uses the Green Plan to set a roadmap for making preparations to accommodate people moving to the city as a result of this domestic climate “in-migration.” In the plan, Cincinnati assesses the potential number of people that may relocate there in the future and conducts a cost-benefit analyses to estimate the fiscal costs for this in-migration. As a result of this analysis, the city proposes how it could move forward with preparing for a population, including by identifying: future and existing opportunities and programs for supplemental and long-term housing and funding sources to support housing and economic investments, and other “peer” climate haven cities. The plan also includes a section on how Cincinnati can incorporate equity into its actions. Long-term proactive planning, like in Cincinnati, can help address equity concerns and minimize the economic and social costs of population transitions.

Anticipated Vulnerabilities: Displacement and Migration in the Age of Climate Change

The purpose of the report from September 2019 is to assess the City of Holyoke, Massachusetts’s capacity to serve as a receiving community when it responded to the displacement of climate migrants from Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria. The city and partners at Hunter College and The University of Connecticut surveyed families, intending to learn what aspects worked in response to their displacement and resettlement in the city. Officials also hoped to assess how other cities could duplicate the incorporation of Puerto Rican climate migrants into Holyoke as more frequent climate events displace additional people in the coming years. The resulting report includes an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the city’s responses in a post-disaster context. The report also provides recommendations on how Holyoke and similar cities can better support climate migrants relocating after future disaster events.

City of Miami, Florida Resolution on Climate Gentrification

On November 5, 2018, the Mayor of Miami signed a resolution directing city staff to research the effects of “climate gentrification” on low-income communities that are inland at higher elevations, and to explore ways to stabilize property taxes to reduce displacement. The City of Miami, Florida is seeing high rates of sea-level rise and increasing incidence of high tie flooding in low-lying parts of the city. As a result, higher elevation areas of the city, which house many of the city’s lower- and moderate-income communities, are seeing greater development pressures that are affecting property values and taxes. Higher tax rates and real estate speculation result in higher housing costs that have the potential to displace lower-income homeowners and renters. The resolution acknowledges these threats causing “climate gentrification” and directs city staff to identify policy solutions to lessen its negative impact.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Quinault Indian Nation, Washington: Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan

Quinault Indian Nation (QIN), a federally recognized tribe located in Washington state, is currently implementing a phased relocation plan as part of a comprehensive managed retreat strategy. In 2017, QIN adopted the Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan that outlines a vision and development plan for relocating a portion of QIN living in the Lower Village of Taholah to a higher ground receiving location in the Upper Village Relocation Area.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — King County, Washington: Transfer of Development Rights Program

In Washington State, King County operates a regional Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program to achieve long-term planning goals and incentivize development in strategic growth areas. Municipalities and unincorporated areas across the county can voluntarily choose to participate in a TDR program. Washington State also created the regional Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program (LCLIP)  to support TDR Programs like King County’s by financing infrastructure development and other improvements in receiving communities to ensure these areas can keep pace with population growth. By adopting a TDR Program and agreeing to accept a specified amount of regional (as opposed to only municipal) development rights, municipalities within these three counties are eligible to receive a bonus portion of their county’s property tax revenues to finance investments in receiving areas, such as transportation and water and sewer system repairs and upgrades, construction of public transit, community amenities like parks and trails, and electric, gas, and other utility infrastructure. LCLIP only reallocates a portion of the incremental property taxes that result from new development and does not impose any new tax burden on residents or businesses.

Post-Disaster Community Investments in Lumberton Through the North Carolina State Acquisition and Relocation Fund for Buyout Relocation Assistance

Lumberton, North Carolina provides one example of how state funding for relocation assistance can help support local buyouts and community investments in underserved areas. After suffering significant damage from two hurricanes over a three-year span, Lumberton is seeking to leverage several grants and funding programs, including North Carolina’s State Acquisition and Relocation Fund (SARF), to rebuild the community and provide residents with relocation assistance to obtain new homes in receiving areas in Lumberton through a state-local partnership. Specifically, with funding from SARF, the local government is considering opportunities to invest in new homes in one existing, but underserved neighborhood of Lumberton that can offer safer homes for bought-out residents. As SARF and the ongoing work in Lumberton demonstrate, state and local governments can support voluntary, post-disaster transitions of people and minimize negative impacts to individuals, communities, and local tax bases from buyouts by reinvesting in underserved areas within their municipalities.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — Queens, New York: Resilient Edgemere Community Plan

After Hurricane Sandy, New York City (NYC) engaged in a community-driven planning process and implemented a “land swap” to help some residents relocate to an existing receiving area in the Edgemere neighborhood of Queens. The Resilient Edgemere Community Plan lays out a long-term vision for achieving a more resilient neighborhood with improved housing, transportation access, and neighborhood amenities. One of the 65 distinct projects included in the plan was a “land swap” pilot project to exchange privately owned land within a “Hazard Mitigation Zone” (HMZ), an area of Edgemere at risk of destructive wave action during storms, with city-owned land further inland. NYC owns a significant amount of the land in Edgemere — much of which has been identified for potential investments in affordable housing and economic development opportunities that can support the development of local receiving areas.

Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — New York City, New York: Land Acquisition and Flood Buyout Programs

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) offers flood mitigation buyouts within the NYC watershed, in cooperation with the state, through a Flood Buyout Program. NYC’s work is also supported by the Catskill Watershed Corporation (CWC), a locally based nongovernmental organization, that helps municipalities make proactive investments in receiving areas. These buyouts are part of a comprehensive flood hazard mitigation program that relies on scientific studies termed Local Flood Analyses (LFA). LFA enable NYC DEP to identify solutions to reduce flooding that may involve buyouts, and then to fund and implement recommended projects. Communities completing a LFA can apply to CWC for planning grants to help identify receiving areas in local plans, codes, and maps where bought-out residents may relocate to minimize the social and economic costs of buyouts, including loss of local tax bases.