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Community Development

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Volume 21, Number 1, 2011

Under Water in More Ways Than One: Assessing the Impact of Historic Flooding and Foreclosures on Atlanta's Vulnerable Communities


The 2009 floods that dumped more than 12 inches of rainfall on parts of the metropolitan Atlanta area caused severe damage in some neighborhoods that were already dealing with a crisis—high rates of foreclosure—leaving them underwater in more ways than one.

Photo of houses underwaterIn the current issue of Partners in Community and Economic Development, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta visiting researcher Ann Carpenter explores how vulnerable communities can build the resiliency to withstand natural and financial shocks.

To pinpoint the areas where households were most at risk of foreclosure and flooding, Carpenter merged foreclosure data with Federal Emergency Management Agency 500-year floodplain maps, which were then indexed geographically with residential land cover data. Though preliminary, the data show a correlation between the risk of flooding and foreclosure and the percentage of African-American households in a community. The data also show that the risk of flooding and foreclosure increase as neighborhood income declines, Carpenter noted.

The city of Austell, located in Cobb County near Sweetwater Creek, fits the profile of the at-risk communities Carpenter identified. The area was heavily flooded during the 2009 storms, which left homeowners and local government officials grappling with foreclosed and flood-damaged properties while also trying to stabilize home values. The problems that Austell and other affected areas have faced pose the question, "How might this community have been better prepared to absorb these natural and financial shocks?"

One way to build resilience is to understand the risks facing vulnerable populations and neighborhoods, writes Carpenter. Further, planners and policymakers must communicate these risks and "engage affected populations in efforts to mitigate future damage." Such efforts include risk assessments, expanded insurance and disaster recovery programs, and more robust information-sharing mechanisms and financial resources for nonprofits.

For more information about the 2009 flood and its impact on foreclosure-stricken communities, as well as a profile of the 2010 floods in Nashville, Tenn., see the full story, available in print and online.