A RainReady Nation: Protecting American Homes and Businesses in a Changing Climate

With more intense storm and rain events putting stress on inadequate drainage systems in the U.S., this report assesses urban flooding risks and describes why current efforts to respond are inadequate. It also outlines a climate change resilience strategy for addressing flood risks designed by The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) called RainReady. Urban flooding is defined as “the inundation of property in a built environment, particularly in more densely populated areas, caused by rain overwhelming the capacity of drainage systems, such as storm sewers."

Over the years, CNT has found that urban flooding is widespread in the United States, even in cities struggling with the impacts of drought, such as Los Angeles and Houston. Flooding comes at significant economic, health, safety and environmental costs – lowering housing values, shuttering businesses, and leading to a rise in respiratory problems.

Despite the pervasiveness of the issue, CNT has found that the responses in most cities are inadequate. This is partially because there is a responsibility gap. The Federal government is mostly focused on water quality concerns and events within floodplains (which account for a small percentage of floods).  Because state and local agencies receive much of their funding from federal programs, they also tend to focus on the same narrow set of flood-concerns. While some homeowners try to solve problems on their own, addressing urban flooding requires coordination and community-scale solutions.

 

While wealthy and lower-income residents are equally likely to be impacted by flooding, CNT found that funding for flood mitigation tends to disproportionately benefit residents with above-average median household incomes. Additionally, ZIP codes with the highest number of insurance damage payouts had median incomes below the county average.

Low- and moderate-income homeowners may face challenges paying for home upgrades that will protect against future flooding. 


The RainReady model can potentially fill the market opportunity for better solution.  The report describes CNT’s program and reports initial learnings. 

RainReady Home is a program that guides property owners through upgrades that will reduce future flood risks. Homeowners receive a property assessment and a customized list of recommended investments. They are also connected to contractors who can perform the work. As of 2015, RainReady had upgraded 30 homes and their findings include:

  • Having a single point of contact who can be trusted to provide independent advice makes the program unique.
  • Green infrastructure and landscaping can provide additional benefits and are relevant to most upgrades.
  • The assessment service requires a skilled service provider knowledgeable of landscaping, plumbing, and building solutions; additionally, finding a pool of high-quality contractors can be a challenge.
  • Homeowners, especially those with financial constraints, are juggling multiple concerns (such as need for efficient heating systems). If upgrades for flooding can be coordinated with other needs, the program can offer property owners efficiency savings.

RainReady Community is a process in which neighborhoods produce community-wide flood management plans that integrate home upgrades as flood prevention measures in streets, parkways, and public spaces. As of 2015, RainReady had experience working in two Illinois communities and found:

  • Homeowners are more likely to share their knowledge about risks if they believe immediate help is accessible.
  • It is important to bring the relevant public agencies in the room.
  • Homeowners can drive demand for solutions and forming a Resident Action Group that can channel resident’s concerns.

RainReady Alert is a real-time flood warning system for homeowners using micro-sensors in basements. At the time of this report, CNT was developing partnerships with private-sector companies to develop the pilot.

In addition to the program specific finding, RainReady projects can bring additional benefits, including jobs and improved neighborhood aesthetic and property values.

Publication Date: January 2015

Related Organizations:

  • Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • RainReady

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Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Policy analysis/recommendations

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