For owners of repeatedly flooded properties, a government buyout can be the best option to get out of the stressful and costly cycle of repairing after every flood.
It's also more cost-effective for the federal government, which has spent more than $350 billion over the past decade to help communities rebuild after flooding disasters. About $2.8 billion has been spent on home buyouts.
That's why the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League is hoping to get a sense of how many Charleston County residents would want to participate in a buyout program, if given the opportunity.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers buyout grants to communities as a way to lessen future flood damages. Typically, the local government provides part of the money and takes over the buyout process. Once properties are purchased, the homes are demolished and turned into greenspace so nobody else will have to live there again.
The league is conducting an anonymous online survey to identify lesser-known flooding spots in the region and what types of solutions the residents there would want to explore.
"The survey is helping us connect with diverse communities across Charleston County to better understand the varying needs and experiences people are having with flooding," said Betsy La Force, the league's Communities and Transportation Project Manager.
The Charleston-based nonprofit has become more focused over the past year on local policy decisions that affect future flooding. It helped form the Fix Flooding First coalition this summer to unite various organizations and residential groups that were also calling for drainage solutions.
Residents already can upload photos of flooding in their neighborhoods to an interactive map on the Fix Flooding First Website, a model that's helping the nonprofit and elected officials gauge where the problems are.
The new survey is more directly targeted at finding out what residents would be willing to do to mitigate those flooding problems, especially if they're regularly dealing with water in their homes.
Jason Crowley, a program director at the nonprofit, said the organization wants to see if homeowners here would be open to a new idea that would speed up the home buyout process.
One of the survey questions asks, "If there was a program through which you could sign a contract saying that you would allow the city to buy your house after the next flood event that substantially damaged your home, and in exchange, you would get subsidized insurance rates, would you take it?"
That's an idea that's been championed by the National Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program. And the pre-approved buyout process could be one of the outcomes of the Promoting Flood Risk Mitigation Act, which was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in July and has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
The legislation is aimed at figuring out how the government can make buyouts happen quicker and more efficiently.
"Many people who might want to have their home bought out right after a storm end up not taking that option because the process is so arduous and complicated and confusing," Crowley said.
The survey had already seen roughly 300 respondents in mid-December. With the results, Crowley said they'll have a better sense of what types of policies to push for to help residents struggling with repetitive flooding.
"Getting that baseline data, finding out who is and is not interested in looking at that, is just the starting point," he said.