As a researcher and a practicing planner, I am passionate about both equitable development and coastal environments, which has directed my doctoral work toward addressing the needs of vulnerable populations in disaster recovery and redevelopment. My dissertation specifically focuses on the practice of “buying out” residents in risky areas. Hazard mitigation specialists view buyouts as the only permanent solution to reducing disaster impacts in areas where development patterns have put populations at risk. Residents are offered the pre-flood value of their home, allowing them to retain their home’s equity and move elsewhere, and their property is converted to open space.
If buyouts are an important hazard mitigation and even climate adaptation strategy, we need to understand more about their role as interventions in community and economic development. My research uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the social and economic perceptions and impacts of buyouts in eastern North Carolina. I focus particularly on low-income and African American communities because often these communities are at the intersection of physical vulnerability and low-value housing, which make buyout programs feasible.
Core questions that drive my research include: How do buyout participants, local leadership, and state and federal officials view the long-term economic impact of buyouts on participant households and participant communities? Do buyouts affect the trajectories of community change during disaster recovery compared to those communities that do not use buyouts? What are the spillover effects of buyouts in nearby neighborhoods? How do race and wealth moderate the answers to each of these questions? This work has (unfortunately) only become more relevant since I began it; massive coastal storms have recently caused devastation in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and beyond. Analyzing buyout programs through the lens of community and economic development will provide insights to federal and local policymakers who will structure and manage future buyout programs during disaster recovery.