As flooded houston neighborhoods dry out, residents wonder are they worth the risk – the washington post electricity lesson plans year 6

Built half a century ago on what had been rice fields, it totals more than 2,000 spacious homes, many with swimming pools, all set amid unfurling green lawns. In 1955, Vice President Richard M. Nixon attended the development’s ribbon-cutting. Michael Dell, the billionaire computer entrepreneur, grew up here.

Beating a retreat from a thriving neighborhood is a rarity in U.S. urban history, but after Harvey, the notion is compelling enough in flood-prone communities that it has drawn support from leading planners in Houston. And exhausted by repeated inundations, some residents say they would welcome a government program to buy out their vulnerable homes.

"A fair but extensive home buyout and removal program must be established," according to a report just issued by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Many properties "have been flooded three or more times since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. . . . We need to identify these areas and remove these homes from harm’s way; it is unlikely we can develop strategies to protect them from severe rainfall events."

Such a billion-dollar effort would probably be far-reaching, ranging from Meyerland in southwest Houston to Greens­point, a lower-income neighborhood on the city’s north side, to areas around Ellington Airport southeast of downtown. Those three Zip codes lead Harris County in repetitive national flood insurance claims. Other locales have frequently been underwater, too, and even before Harvey, "several thousand people" had requested that their property be purchased, according to the flood control district.

By contrast, nearly all homeowners in Staten Island’s devastated Oakwood Beach opted to sell when New York state came calling after Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, similar questions are likely to arise in the Florida Keys, where federal officials said Tuesday that many homes were destroyed or badly damaged.

In Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, buyouts could be contentious. While City Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who represents Meyerland, says they should be considered only as "a last resort," residents weary from repeated losses and living in dread of the next major rainfall may feel differently. Those like Suzanne Smith say they would leap at an offer for their homes if government authorities were to create a big enough program.

Smith, 53, grew up and raised her children in Meyerland, but she’s set on leaving. "I can’t stay in this house where every time I fall asleep I worry it will flood and I’ll have to be rescued by a National Guard helicopter," she said last week.

Her home on Heatherglen Drive is just two blocks south of the miles-long Brays Bayou, which bisects the neighborhood. She was flooded by Allison in 2001, then again during what’s now known as the Memorial Day Flood of 2015 and the Tax Day Flood of 2016. During Harvey, water reached nearly up to the eaves of her home. She lost artwork and $90,000 of inventory for her online menswear business.

Even before the hurricane struck on the weekend of Aug. 26, many in Houston were beginning to fathom the depths of the area’s flood dangers. As a result, the hurricane didn’t uncover a new peril; it added several exclamation points to previously issued warnings.

New subdivisions, strip malls and office parks have meant more pavement and less land to absorb rain. So more water rushes into the region’s drainage system and, downstream, into other Houston communities. The curious result is that some older Houston neighborhoods have become more flood-prone with time.

Samuel Brody, director of the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University, has a set of slides showing Meyerland’s evolving susceptibility. In 1979, only a sliver was considered to be a flood plain to the north and south of Brays Bayou. That began changing significantly in the mid-1980s, and today, almost all of the community is deemed to lie in the flood plain .

As drastic as home buyouts sound, they wouldn’t be unprecedented in Harris County. Since 1985, more than 3,000 properties in various areas have been purchased with a combination of $300 million in federal and local funding, according to the flood control district. There remain more than 107,000 properties in federally designated flood plains throughout the county, officials said.

What makes the Meyerland area so likely a buyout target is its history of storm-soaked disasters. Federal statistics analyzed by Syndeste, a risk analysis firm, show the community produced more than 3,000 claims totaling $102 million in damages against the federal flood insurance program from the 1970s through mid-August.