LA - This Neighborhood Flooded 17 Times Over the Last 30 Years—Now It’s Moving
As climate change makes some places unlivable, how can we help the people who live there?
In a Louisiana neighborhood that residents call Flood City, homes have flooded 17 times over the last 30 years. Officially named Pecan Acres, the majority Black subdivision in New Roads, Louisiana—a city of 4,000 outside of Baton Rouge—was built in the 1970s on low-lying swampland, with the houses sold to buyers who moved from sharecropping land. Most of the residents can’t afford flood insurance. They also can’t afford to move and lose money on homes that no one else wants to buy. But in a government-funded program, the entire neighborhood will be relocated to a new development now under construction nearby on higher ground. The old neighborhood will become a restored wetland.
“What we’re going to do is get these folks moved to a new, safer place where they can have that opportunity to build their family’s wealth that they were robbed of when they bought into this neighborhood,” says Pat Forbes, executive director of the disaster recovery unit at the Louisiana Office of Community Development. The agency is using a combination of disaster recovery funding and funding from a USDA program that supports wetland restoration.
It’s one example of a type of program that might become more common. As climate change makes storms more powerful so they dump more rain—such as the estimated 33 trillion gallons of water that fell in the U.S. during Hurricane Harvey in 2017—flooding is getting worse (though Pecan Acres did not flood during Hurricane Laura). Communities near coasts simultaneously have to deal with storm surges or regular flooding from high tides. One 2018 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that more than 300,000 homes in the lower 48 states are at risk of repeated, chronic flooding in the next 30 years; by the end of the century, as many as 2.4 million homes could be at risk.
Right now, the type of mass relocation that’s happening in Pecan Acres is unusual. “Funding for projects that move many households all at once is very rare,” says Anna Weber, a policy analyst at the environmental nonprofit NRDC. “It’s not the norm for these kinds of projects. But it seems to be something that people are talking more and more about, and taking more seriously as a potential option, as we see increased risk from all sorts of natural hazards.”