Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — City of Austin, Texas: Flood Risk Reduction Buyout Projects

The City of Austin, Texas has adopted a model to provide consistent relocation benefits for voluntary home buyouts in the city’s floodplains as a part of its “flood risk reduction projects.” In addition to the cost of a person’s original home, the city will provide homeowners with moving and closing costs, and a replacement housing payment if the cost of a new comparable home (located outside of the city’s 100-year floodplain) is more than the original home. Floodplains cover nearly ten percent of Austin’s land area. This policy encourages owner participation in the buyout program and helps to minimize the economic and social costs of relocation. Since the 1980s, the city has implemented ten buyout projects, with each project encompassing anywhere from a handful to more than 800 properties. The city’s Watershed Protection Department prioritizes buyouts in accordance with a Watershed Protection Master Plan that strategically guides related city actions, including potential buyouts, to reduce the risks associated with erosion, flooding, and poor water quality. A mix of municipal bonds, federal grants, and local funds (primarily through a drainage fee paid by owners of properties based upon impervious surface cover) have been used to fund the buyouts. Austin’s example is noteworthy for its emphasis on implementing buyouts in accordance with a comprehensive flood mitigation program and facilitating transitions for people located in floodplains through relocation assistance. Other jurisdictions considering managed retreat could implement an interdisciplinary buyout approach across different sectors and government agencies (e.g., floodplain and emergency management and housing and community development). An integrated local response can reduce flood risk in a riverine or coastal context and also minimize the social and economic costs of buyouts.


This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies. Each case study tells a different story about how states, local governments, and communities across the country are approaching questions about managed retreat. Together, the case studies highlight how different types of legal and policy tools are being considered and implemented across a range of jurisdictions — from urban, suburban, and rural to riverine and coastal — to help support new and ongoing discussions on the subject. These case studies are intended to provide transferable lessons and potential management practices for coastal state and local policymakers evaluating managed retreat as one part of a strategy to adapt to climate change on the coast. 

For additional case studies and more information about managed retreat, also see Georgetown Climate Center's Managed Retreat Toolkit

Publication Date: July 15, 2020

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