After Flash Floods, Some Nashville Homeowners Are Restarting Buyout Talks

Sep 7, 2017

Last week's deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey has some Nashville homeowners finally ready to sell.

Dozens of homes were inundated around Whites Creek. Most had already turned down buyout offers from the city, which has purchased and demolished hundreds of structures following the floods of 2010.

After last week's flooding, DeeDee Brickner shook her head looking at the pool she just upgraded at a house on  West Hamilton Avenue. It's full of mucky, brown water. The ranch house on one flat acre had more than a foot of water in the living room and kitchen. The hardwoods buckled and the drywall was smelling moldy.

"Why would you repair a house once you realize what you've got?" she asked. "It shouldn't be repaired. It shouldn't have been repaired after 2010."

But the owner at the time turned down the buyout program. A few years later, Brickner purchased the house site-unseen in an auction, not realizing it was across the street from a creek notorious for rising out of its banks.

It's now surrounded by empty lots. So far, 41 homes up and down West Hamilton have been razed. The government has offered to do the same for Brickner.

"I've known that for a couple of years," she said.

But her tenants were happy, so she held off. After the latest episode, Brickner said she's done. "I'll throw up if I find out they aren't going to buy it."

The city has purchased 261 homes since 2010 with 90 more that officials hope to acquire.

"We've actually gotten phone calls from some of those owners saying I'm ready to talk buyout again," says Roger Lindsey, who oversees flood mitigation for Nashville.

Most of the buyout offers were for houses built before the 1970s. That's when the city raised the standards for how high a new structure had to be above the floodplain. With buyouts, the federal government pays 75 percent of the cost, and the owner gets a fair market value.

The vacant lot either becomes open space, a park or sometimes community organizations use them for an urban farm.

The process can take a while. That's been the drawback for some. They've got a house that's unlivable and it may take a year to finalize a buyout, so they just repair it and say a prayer. But Lindsey says last week's high water showed that for some homes, the question is not whether they will flood again, but when.

"We don't look at the 2010 flood as a once-in-a-lifetime event," he says.