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The Sociodemographic Landscape of Three Decades of FEMA Buyouts

Authors: Katherine Nelson*, Kansas State University, Michael Molloy, Kansas State University
Topics: Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: buyouts, FEMA, hazards, inequality
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Voluntary home buyout programs have gained increasing popularity as a natural hazard mitigation tool over the past couple decades. One of the primary mechanisms for conducting buyouts is via the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). With its focus on buying out the most severely, and often repeatedly, damaged structures the FEMA HMGP funded buyouts provide a picture of where many of the most severe natural disasters have intersected with at-risk populations in the U.S. since the 1980s. The strong focus on the monetary value of disaster mitigation in this program leaves open the possibility of inequity in the distribution of the benefits offered by the program. Using a complete dataset of FEMA funded buyout properties and U.S. Census data we describe the sociodemographic landscape of neighborhoods and communities that have participated in the buyout program since its inception with the goal of identifying potential inequality in who has been at risk and who has benefitted from federal buyout funding. While recently published work by Mach et al. (2019) examines some socioeconomic patterns found in the FEMA buyout data, in this study we provide a higher spatiotemporal resolution analysis of socio-economic and demographic profiles based on theories of social vulnerability and social justice. Preliminary results suggest that minority populations, while overall less likely to be located in neighborhoods that have received buyouts, are often disproportionately clustered in high-risk buyout neighborhoods. In addition, we find that the communities that have received buyouts are increasingly urban in character.

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