To remain or relocate? Mobility decisions of homeowners exposed to recurrent hurricanes

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Seong, Kijin, and Clare Losey. "To remain or relocate? Mobility decisions of homeowners exposed to recurrent hurricanes." National Hazards Center [University of Colorado Boulder], 2020.


This research-based report focuses on semi-structured iinterviews with 15 homeowners (or related individuals) in Lumberton, North Carolina. The homeowners received funding after Hurricane Matthew (2016) from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). They could use the funding for property acquisition, elevation, or reconstruction. Robeson County was also severely impacted by heavy rainfall from two tropical storms prior to Hurricane Matthew, and later by Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Only 106 of the 400 Lumberton property owners who applied for HMGP funds received assistance. Lumberton, North Carolina is ranked one of the poorest cities in North Carolina, with 35.1% of the population living below the poverty level in 2016.

The interviews had two overaraching research questions:

• "What factors drive homeowners' long-term mobility decisions to rebuild or relocate from their disaster-affected homes?"

• "How does a subsequent disaster affect homeowners' perceptions of mobility decisions made before the current event?"

To select interviewees, the authors sent letters to 70 Lumberton homeowners. When the authors arrived for their field study, they found that 3/4 had vacated their property. 

The researchers added some additional interviewees while conducting their field observations.  They spoke with: 15 homeowners (or related individuals) who received HGMP assistance after Hurricane Matthew, as well as several county government officials.

The researchers grouped the results of the interviews into two categories:

1) Homeowners who will remain (HMGP fund recipients who will elevate or reconstruct their property), and

2) Homeowners who will relocate (recipients whose property was acquired through HMGP funds).

Primary reasons homeowners chose to remain in their property were (1) the cost of purchasing another home was too high for them; and (2) emotional attachment to the home and/or the neighborhood.

Primary reasons homeowners chose to relocate were: (1) the homeowner was worn down by flooding and its aftermath and wanated to avoid more disasters; and (2) the homeowner could afford to relocate (i.e., purchase another home or use some other strategy to move to another residence).

The researchers' planning and policy recommendations include:

  • Prioritizing socially vulnerable HGMP recipients in the mitigation process: "Funds should be initially directed to those with the least resources."
  • Government entities should be more proactive about hazard mitigation.
  • Lower-income HGMP recipients should be given the financial resources to make buyouts of their property a feasible option, especially since FEMA promotes buyouts as a mitigation technique. The researchers explain that for lower-income households, "the buyout amount--the fair market value of the disaster-affected home--may not translate into the funds necessary to purchase a home that is not located in a flood-prone area."
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Additional Information: 
Both authors are at Texas A&M University.
View the full text of this source at this link.
Other Features of Work: 
3 photographs, 3 endnotes, 16 references.
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