Gary McCormick, Tulsa’s senior special projects engineer, said most people remain resistant to a buyout unless they actually experience a flood.
Yet the city still informs homeowners of their flood risk and offers buyouts. New federal funding will help them do more. McCormick walks homeowners through flood and hazard maps, detailing damage costs. Some take the city on the offer. Most don’t.
“They’re still just resilient,” McCormick said. ” It’s frustrating. Just being someone who wants to help people, keep them out of harm’s way, keep them from being inundated, and live with whatever comes with it.
“The optimal solution is simply to get people out of harm’s way,” he added.
No clear signal
But there is a major divide between experts like McCormick and elected leaders. In Florida, elected officials pledge to rebuild. Many want to restore communities directly into Ian’s footprint. It’s natural: people have to live somewhere, and those somewhere were people’s houses.
Given the number of people who have chosen to stay in Sand Springs, many people will likely choose to return to Florida’s Gulf Coast – even as the feds become increasingly assertive about the dangers people face while staying put.
“The signal from the federal government is that we take resilience seriously,” said Natalie Enclade, executive director of BuildStrong Coalition.
But the view of the field from places like Tulsa reveals major flaws in the execution, which Enclade says boils down to: “Throw some money at it, hold your nose and close your eyes – and hope it will get better.
The Federal Grant that Joe Kralicek is using for buyouts in Graham’s old Town and Country neighborhood is oversubscribed — 180 people in the county have signed up, but Kralicek only has funding for 60.
It is a grant from the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism. That means it comes with income restrictions: At least 70 percent of the state’s $36.4 million HUD Community Development Block Grant must benefit people with low or middle incomes. Many of those who are interested, whose homes are decimated, are ineligible for income reasons. The HUD program is so complicated that most governments don’t spend the money it offers.
So Kralicek, who is the emergency manager for Tulsa and Tulsa County, is considering another program through FEMA. But the county is struggling to find the money to cover the 25% federal match required by FEMA. Instead, Kralicek is using a portion of the HUD grant as consideration for the FEMA award.
It means people like Barb Jackson are left in limbo as local officials juggle the complicated takeover process.
Jackson, 79, officially retired from teaching at Tulsa public schools in 2016 after earning enough to redo the kitchen and pay for other home renovations. But the floods ravaged it – and contaminated the land, dirtying the air.
The county said she would have to raise the house to prevent future flooding. Jackson moved instead. Living on a fixed income, she is making mortgage payments for the first time in her life. She said she constantly worried about money and mourned the loss of her home. The result has been anxiety, depression and three hospital visits since the flood.
The buyout would bring peace of mind and stability, even if it won’t bring Jackson home. “It gave me hope,” she said. But she is still waiting.
“I’m devastated. And even though people say you have to get over it, you can’t get over it. It’s like losing a family member,” she said. was paid. And at my age, starting over again, I feel like I’m in an abyss and I can’t get out of it.
make people pay
One way to get people to make rational decisions is to force them to pay more if they don’t.
In October 2021, FEMA rolled out its long-awaited overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, known as Risk Rating 2.0. The effort aims to align the pricing of insurance premiums with the actual flood risk homes face. FEMA hopes this will limit losses to the chronically indebted, taxpayer-funded federal flood insurance program, and also signal to future homeowners that certain locations face significant danger.
“There is no better risk communication tool than a price signal. When we distort the price, we distort their understanding of risk,” said Wright, the former head of flood insurance. from FEMA.
FEMA is also evaluating new regulations that would expand the federal floodplain, which could include increased minimum requirements for house elevation to reduce flood risk. These rules could be a game-changer requiring stricter building standards to reduce flood risk for hundreds of local governments, said Berginnis of the Association of State Flood Plain Managers. The rules have remained largely unchanged since 1976, before the general public even heard of global warming.
The White House also convened an interagency effort to update building codes. The Biden administration hopes it can spur local and state governments to adopt the kinds of measures that have prevented many Ian straightened out buildings in Florida.
Meanwhile, Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Count Blumenauer (D-Ore.) have sponsored legislation that would buy up severe repeat loss properties more quickly to ease the burden on taxpayers to bail out those homeowners. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act also gave FEMA the power to launch a new pilot program in flood-ravaged states that connects flood victims to federal dollars more quickly.
But such modest measures are not enough to overcome the many pitfalls.
Although the federal government encourages new building codes, they are merely voluntary. In the United States, about 30% of construction today takes place in places where building codes are outdated, said Gabriel Maser, vice president of government relations with the International Code Council, which develops model codes. . Only one federal agency — FEMA — includes minimum standards for building codes, though a federal government-wide standard “is definitely something we’ve raised” with the administration, Maser said.