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Risk of Flood For Residential Buildings Likely to Grow

According to recent research conducted by the University of North Carolina, new housing construction in flood-prone areas has contributed to increased risk across the NC despite community and government initiatives to minimize flood damage.

Image Credit: Valery Zotev/

The study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association on February 7th, 2023, reveals that more than ten new residences have been built in the state’s 100-year floodplains for every residence removed through government buyouts (programs that buy a flood-prone property and restore it to open space).

We’ve been putting more and more people in harm’s way, and we see that pattern across the state—in coastal and inland communities, in urban and rural areas. Communities across the state are working to reduce their flood risk through buyouts, elevating homes, and upgrading infrastructure, but it’s harder to see those benefits when we’re adding more houses and people to floodplains at the same time.

Miyuki Hino, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Miyuki Hino is also a Faculty Fellow at the Carolina Population Center.

Hino and colleagues examined new construction across five million parcels in North Carolina (USA) to create standardized steps of floodplain development and to assess the connections between flood risk management attempts and development outcomes.

We find that community effort towards flood risk management doesn’t always correspond to limiting floodplain development. Rather, communities rewarded by FEMA for high effort were continuing to allow more housing to be developed in the floodplain.

Antonia Sebastian, Study Co-Author and Assistant Professor, Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Local governments are crucial in flood risk management. Understanding where communities are being built in floodplains—and what initiatives can promote growth in less hazardous areas—is essential to minimize damages and risks.

Strategic planning and zoning can encourage growth in safer areas and maximize open space in floodplains. As we see heavier downpours and wetter hurricanes, managing development is critical to reducing flood damages in the long term.

Miyuki Hino, Assistant Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Todd BenDor, the Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Community Design in the Department of City and Regional Planning and the UNC Institute for the Environment—also a member of the team—added, “we have long assumed that communities across the state have continued building in floodplains, at least to some extent. But, the sheer scale of this construction is really surprising, especially in that it dwarfs the large-scale efforts to move homes out floodplains and out of harm’s way.

Todd BenDor concludes, “The enormous public costs of buyouts are also shared by local governments—in many cases, the same local governments encouraging new building in floodplains. Today’s new floodplain construction may be tomorrow’s buyouts.”

Journal Reference:

Hino, M., et al. (2023) Growing Safely or Building Risk? Journal of the American Planning Association.

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