Louisiana Land Trust Resettlement Projects

Executive Summary

In Louisiana, a state-created land trust is supporting floodplain buyouts and helping families relocate out of vulnerable flood-prone areas. The Louisiana Land Trust (LLT) was created in 2005 to support buyouts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. After more recent flood events, LLT expanded its role to help communities relocate to safer, higher ground areas. The land trust is helping to facilitate the resettlement of residents of the Pecan Acres subdivision in Pointe Coupee Parish and the Isle de Jean Charles community in Terrebonne Parish. The Pecan Acres subdivision is located in a lower-income neighborhood north of the City of New Roads, and has experienced repeated flooding 17 times over the past 20 years. LLT is working to help resettle approximately 40 households within the subdivision by acquiring their flood-prone properties, and supporting a development on higher ground where they can relocate. Isle de Jean Charles is a narrow island in South Terrebonne parish and is the home of the Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees and United Houma Nation tribes. The island has lost 98% of its land mass since 1955 and many residents have left as a result of increasing flooding, where encroaching seas often flood the only roadway connecting the island to the mainland. With funding from the National Disaster Resilience Competition, the state is working to support implementation of a tribal resettlement plan. LLT acquired the resettlement site, about 40 miles north of the island that will be redeveloped. Eligible and participating families and individuals will be offered properties on the site with a five-year forgivable mortgage. Both the Pecan Acres and Isle de Jean Charles resettlement developments will incorporate resilient and green design features (including elevation about FEMA minimum standards, LEED certified construction, green infrastructure, and community amenities like parks) and will enable the residents to relocate together, maintaining social bonds and cohesion. This example demonstrates how land trusts can support efforts to relocate whole communities, and support development of sustainable and resilient receiving communities.

 

Background 

Over the last several decades, the state of Louisiana has experienced numerous devastating flood events from extreme storms like hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 to an unnamed heavy rainfall event in 2016 that caused “historic and unprecedented flooding” in parishes around Baton Rouge that experienced 20 inches of rain over the course of three days.1 Coastal Louisiana is one of the regions of the U.S. that faces the greatest risk from climate change due to compounding threats from sea-level rise, extreme storms, land loss, and subsidence. Between 1932 and 2010, the region lost more than 1,800 square miles of land and more than 300 square miles of wetlands between 2004 to 2008 as a result of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, and Ike.2 If nothing is done, the state is projecting up to 2.72 feet of additional sea-level rise over the next 50 years and the potential loss of an additional 4,000 square miles of land.3

To help the state address the threats of flooding, The Louisiana Land Trust (LLT) was originally established to support floodplain buyouts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 through the state’s Road Home Program.4 LLT was established by the Louisiana Road Home Corporation Act, Senate Bill 445 (Jun. 29, 2006), which created a nonprofit corporation to “finance, own, lease as lessee or lessor, sell, exchange, donate or otherwise hold or transfer a property interest in housing stock damaged by Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Rita.” LLT has powers to hold and dispose of land, to take in funds from any source, to borrow against properties that it holds, and to enter into agreements to implement its mission. Since 2005, LLT has expanded its role to support buyouts and resettlement of communities to address more recent storm events, including the historic heavy rainfall event in 2016 that caused widespread flood impacts throughout the state.5 

State agencies, like the Louisiana Office of Community Development (OCD), have coordinated with LLT after major disaster declarations and have leveraged state disaster recovery funding to support buyouts and relocation projects in coordination with LLT. 

 

Managed Retreat Examples

Pecan Acres Resettlement Project 

LLT is supporting the construction of a new community to help residents of the Pecan Acres subdivision in Pointe Coupee Parish move out of harm’s way. The Pecan Acres subdivision is a lower-income neighborhood just north of the City of New Roads, which experienced significant flooding in 2016 and suffered repetitive flood damages 17 times over the previous 20 years.6 LLT has agreed to buy out all 40 of the flood-prone properties in the Pecan Acres subdivision and will support relocation of the households by developing new housing on a 23-acre plot two miles north of New Roads. Construction began on the new development in May 2020, which will be called “Audubon Estates.” It will incorporate resilient and green design features (including, elevation above FEMA minimum standards, LEED certified construction,7 green infrastructure) and other community amenities (playgrounds, outdoor recreation, and walkability).8 The bought-out Pecan Acres site will be restored to wetlands, which will help to alleviate flood risks for neighboring communities.9 The resettlement project faced many obstacles along the way, including challenges in finding a community that would take in the predominantly Black residents of the Pecan Acres subdivision; initial relocation sites faced opposition from residents that many felt were driven by racial bias.10 

Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project

LLT is also supporting the Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Project, which was advanced as part of the state’s winning National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) grant award.11 Isle de Jean Charles is an island in Terrebonne Parish that has suffered from dramatic land loss and repeated flood events. The island’s approximately 100 residents, who are predominantly members of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees and United Houma Nation tribes, have been dubbed the nation’s first “climate refugees” as a result of loss of their home to sea-level rise and erosion.12 In 2016, the State of Louisiana was awarded $48.3 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery funding through the NDRC to facilitate the resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles residents. 

LLT helped to acquire an upland 550-acre site, 40 miles north of the island in Schriever, LA, which was selected through a community engagement process with residents.13 LLT will also facilitate the construction of a new village that will incorporate resilient and sustainable design features and seek to preserve the culture and traditions of the Isle de Jean Charles residents.14 For example, the development will include the creation of a freshwater lake, so residents can maintain fishing practices. Isle de Jean Charles residents will be offered new homes with a five-year forgivable mortgage.15 After living on a property as their primary residence and maintaining insurance for five years, residents will receive full-title to the property.16 Because the island has historical and cultural significance for the tribe, residents will continue to enjoy access to it for non-residential, cultural, and recreational purposes. 

The Isle de Jean Charles resettlement project also faced significant obstacles along the way, with tribal leaders at points objecting to the process and resettlement plans.17 After Hurricane Barry inundated the island with eight feet of water for several days, most residents have opted to relocate to the new site and tribal leaders have renewed support for the relocation efforts.18 However, there remains some concern that lower-income residents may not be able to afford the increased housing costs in the new community as a result of property taxes and insurance costs, especially as COVID-19 has economically devastated many residents.19

 

Funding

LLT has primarily leveraged CDBG–DR funding, administered by OCD, to support buyouts and acquisitions to facilitate community resettlement. OCD provides funding to LLT through an agreement, which enables the acquisition, renovation, and improvement of housing stock in compliance with CDBG–DR requirements.20  

 

Considerations and Lessons Learned 

The Pecan Acres and Isle de Jean Charles resettlement projects demonstrate how land trusts can play supportive roles in both helping to buy out affected landowners and also acquire and redevelop sites to help residents relocate as a community. Although these projects have faced significant delays and obstacles, they show how transformative resettlement projects can be advanced at the community scale in ways that preserve cultural and social bonds and keep communities intact, in contrast to traditional buyout programs that do not always provide clear or easy opportunities for neighbors to relocate together. 

Communities must drive resettlement projects and state and local policymakers and partners like land trusts must plan for, fund, and implement extensive and inclusive community engagement processes. Affected residents should be included in all aspects of decisionmaking, including everything from choosing a relocation site to the design of the homes and supporting amenities. This requires governments to provide or help land trusts raise sufficient funding to facilitate and design processes that foster deep, inclusive, and full community engagement - including hosting meetings at night, providing food, childcare, and translation services, among other practices. Often government funding sources restrict expenditures like this and, therefore, land trusts can be constructive partners in helping to raise philanthropic and other funds to ensure equitable and inclusive community engagement.

These projects also demonstrate the significant costs that will be incurred in moving people out of harm’s way as a result of sea-level rise. Combined, the Pecan Acres and Isle de Jean Charles projects will cost more than $67 million to implement. To deliver similar options for communities that want to relocate together, significant funding, financing and other options will be needed to support the millions of homeowners and renters that will become increasingly threatened by sea-level rise. And policymakers will need to learn from and improve upon the early models, identify funding and financing options to support buyouts and develop receiving communities, leverage market-based incentives (like Transfer of Development Rights programs), and develop public-private partnerships, like partnerships with land trusts. 

 

Related Organizations:

  • Louisiana Office of Community Development - Disaster Recovery Unit (OCD-DRU)
  • Louisiana Land Trust

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