NHARPC Corner: Rising Above: Exploring Federally Funded Home Elevations and Voluntary Buyouts as Flood Mitigation Strategies in New Hampshire

Madeleine DiIonno, Senior Planner, Rockingham Planning Commission and Stephanie Alexander, Senior Planner, Central NH Regional Planning Commission

As communities across the country grapple with the increasing threat of flooding from extreme weather and higher sea levels, federally funded mitigation strategies have emerged as critical tools to protect homeowners and businesses from the devastating impacts of inundation. Among these strategies, home elevations and buyouts supported by programs such as FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) play a pivotal role in enhancing resilience and safeguarding properties against flood-related damages. However, federally funded home elevations and buyouts come with a range of logistical, financial, and equitable complexities that pose challenges for property owners and local governments as they evaluate their options for mitigating flood risk and preventing future damage to their homes and businesses.

Home elevations are a common retrofit method that involves raising a building’s first floor above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). This process typically entails lifting the structure onto a higher foundation or pilings, effectively ensuring the living area is raised out of harm's way and only the foundation or pilings remain exposed to flooding. Elevating a home above the BFE significantly reduces the risk of flood-related damage, protecting the structure and its occupants.

Buyouts are a type of property acquisition program where the government purchases private property from a willing seller, demolishes the structure on the property and retains the land as permanent open space. Buyouts offer a permanent solution to flood risk by removing the structure from a flood-prone area, thus eliminating the threat of future flood damage. The remaining open space offers numerous natural resource benefits including flood storage and habitat protection.

Both elevations and buyouts may be funded by three FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance grants: the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMA), and Building Resilience Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. FEMA may reimburse up to 75% of the eligible project costs for the elevation or buyout project and up to 90% for repetitive loss properties. The remaining 25% or 10% must be provided by a local match. Often, the property owner is responsible for the 25% or 10% cost share. However, some state and local governments have implemented processes for covering the cost-share. For example, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, uses stormwater management fees to support their local buyout program. New Jersey allocates a portion of their corporate business tax revenues to the Blue Acres Buyout program.


Despite the effectiveness of home elevations and buyouts in reducing flood risk, the federal funding process for elevations and buyouts is time consuming, expensive, controversial, and often inequitable. Both home elevations and buyouts involve significant financial considerations for property owners. For elevations, property owners are responsible for providing the permitting, design and construction costs to elevate the structure. These costs can exceed one hundred thousand dollars depending on the structure’s size and complexity.  The property owner will receive the 75% to 90% reimbursement by FEMA until the elevation is complete and a certificate of occupancy is issued.

For buyouts, homeowners may not always receive the full value of their property, depending on market conditions. Additionally, local tax bases could be impacted negatively from buyouts despite benefits in protecting lives and property from future flooding. This is especially challenging for local governments such as New Hampshire where property taxes are a primary form of government revenue.

Applying for and receiving federal aid is time consuming and complex. In the case of buyouts, the process can take up to five years from the time a homeowner begins pursuing a buyout to when the purchase is finalized and the home is demolished.[1] The slow and complicated federal funding process poses significant challenges for property owners and program administrators; requiring expertise, time, and resources that many individuals and communities often don’t have. This is especially true for lower income residents who cannot absorb the up-front costs associated with home elevation and waiting for reimbursement or costs associated with a buyout such as finding temporary housing, dealing with subsequent flooding, or paying for repetitive losses.

Despite the challenges associated with federally funded elevations and buyouts, several communities in New Hampshire have successfully acquired federal funding to implement these projects or are beginning to look more toward these programs as ways to protect homeowners and businesses from increasing flood impacts.

An example of successful home buyouts can be found along the Suncook River in Allenstown. Many New Hampshire residents and businesses still remember the extreme flooding events of 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008, especially the 2006 Mother’s Day Flood FEMA Disaster DR-1643 when the Suncook River avulsion occurred. This was a geologically significant event where the river made an immediate, permanent channel change in Epsom. The new channel course caused faster currents, enabled greater water volume, contributed to more debris settlement, and directly caused more sedimentation downstream. These changes to the Suncook River contributed to higher flooding levels during the April 2007 flood, which in downstream Allenstown resulted in 14 condemned homes and 61 homes with substantial damage. For many Allenstown homeowners, buyouts were the only reasonable option left after a series of extensive repetitive flooding losses during such a short period.

Using a combination of federal HMGP, Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA), and Repetitive Flood Claims (RFC) funding with matching funds through state budget appropriation, the Town of Allenstown purchased and demolished 34 homes in five phases between 2008-2012 at the homes’ fair market value during the time of the initial 2006 flood. The Town identified potential properties to acquire, sent surveys to owners to determine interest, worked with the state to develop an acquisition strategy, obtained approval by the selectmen and Town Meeting, sent Letters of Intent for respective grant funds, and contacted state legislators for assistance with the matching funds. After the phased purchase of the 34 properties, the homes were demolished, all construction materials were removed, and the properties were landscaped with grass and trees. The town retains responsibility in perpetuity for utilizing the acquired land as permanent flood storage with no permanent structures erected. Many of these locations are used by the public as park land, ball fields and open space. Details about the Allenstown buyouts are available in the Allenstown-Suncook River Hazard Mitigation Plan 2015.

On the New Hampshire Seacoast, increasing extreme weather events, including heavy rainfall and coastal storm surges, coastal communities such as Hampton are grappling with the urgent need for proactive flood management strategies to protect homeowners and businesses from the widespread impacts of flooding. Hampton has taken proactive steps to address its flooding challenges. The town has engaged in comprehensive planning efforts to enhance flood preparedness, promote sustainable development practices, and foster community resilience in the face of climate-related risks.


As part of a suite of climate adaptation and coastal resilience initiatives the town is pursuing, Hampton is working to build its knowledge and capacity for administering home elevation and voluntary buyouts on behalf of interested residents. With funding provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the town is working with the Department of Environmental Services Coastal Program and the Rockingham Planning Commission to develop a program for administering federally funded home elevations and buyouts with a focus on equity, efficiency, and community resilience. The town is focused on expanding its capacity to facilitate an efficient and fair application process that minimizes delays and bureaucratic obstacles and prioritizes those most in need, regardless of socioeconomic status or demographic factors. As part of this process, the town is conducting robust outreach to inform homeowners about the program and gauge homeowner interest in pursuing elevations and/or buyouts. In a recent town survey (2023), 157 people indicated they are interested in elevating their homes to protect against future flood damage and 76 are interested in participating in a voluntary buyout – 18 of which indicated they’re ready to have their property acquired as soon as possible.

The program's purpose is to support Hampton residents in their pursuit of federal funding to elevate their homes or participate in a buyout. A homeowner’s decision to elevate a home or participate in a buyout is multifaceted, involving financial, emotional, and logistical considerations. Hampton’s program aims to address these complexities and ensure residents receive the support they need throughout the project. As part of a long-term strategy, project officials are exploring financing mechanisms to supplement federal funding and support residents with the program cost-share to offset the financial barriers to participation and help ensure the program is accessible to all residents. By leveraging resources effectively and prioritizing investments in flood resilience, Hampton is working to build a more resilient future in the face of increasing flood risks.

Interested in learning more about what is happening in your region to address climate challenges? Visit the NH Association of Regional Planning Commissions to connect with the regional planning commission in your area.