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According to new research from Rice University, government buyouts of flood-damaged homes disproportionately benefit whiter, wealthier communities, even as low-income and minority homeowners are more likely to participate in such programs.

Scientific American reports that in a nationwide analysis of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, researchers found that buyout programs both create and reflect historical discriminatory practices, even if the implementing agencies comply with anti-discrimination laws.

Researchers report that the phenomenon is especially prevalent in urban areas.

“Basically, our analysis tries to follow the demographic trail,” said Jim Elliott, professor and chair of sociology at Rice and a fellow at the university’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research. “What we found is [buyouts are] not randomly distributed among neighborhoods and racial groups. Buyouts are about housing, and housing is a socialized asset” affected by race and other socioeconomic factors.

“Cities have neighborhoods forged through long histories of racial segregation that live on to create unequal access to opportunities in good times and bad, as well as in ways that can accumulate across multiple of steps of housing transactions, even when the buyer is a government agency,” according to the study published in the sociology journal Socius.

“Although sometimes blurry in practice and opaque in process, these steps matter because they allow racial inequities to enter at multiple points that can accumulate in unintended ways.”

“This dynamic is not a contradiction,” said Kevin Loughran, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at Rice. “It is how privilege works in the age of climate change. It brings more options and public resources to those living in more socially advantaged spaces, especially if they own property, while leaving those in socially marginalized spaces more reliant on government assistance that is not only less likely to come but less trusted when it does.”





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