Flood-Prone NJ Properties May be Bought by Towns

Property owners in 13 New Jersey towns may be able to sell their homes to their local government, if they have suffered repeated flooding, through program that relies on funding from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

New Jersey ranks third nationwide in a FEMA classification called "repetitive loss properties" — these are homes that have continual problems with natural disasters. Under the program, towns are awarded FEMA grant money to buy or raise homes above flood level in these areas.

If purchased, the property would be converted to parkland or some other use, and it could never be built on again. It would be owned by the local municipality.

The first towns to receive buy-out funds will be Wayne, Lincoln Park, Fairfield, Pompton Lakes, Pequannock, Manville, Little Falls, Paterson, Cranford, New Milford, Westwood, Middlesex Borough and Denville, according to Mary Goepfert of the New Jersey Department of Emergency Management.

Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones said there are more homeowners who will want to sell out than the city will have funds to buy. On a recent tour of the area he found many homeowners who are desperate to get away from the Passaic River.

“One woman said she was flooded 17 times. So, those neighborhoods that are on dead end streets and in very close proximity to the river’s edge, those folks remain in peril,” he said.

Jones took residents on a tour of Lowell, Mass., recently to see what that post-industrial city has done with its flood plain. Lowell built a sandy beach, something of interest to Paterson residents, Jones said. 

The FEMA grant program can also be used to take other flood prevention measures.

The New Jersey Department of Emergency Management does not yet know how much FEMA money will be available this year, said Goepfert. But added, the state hopes to expand the program, and will apply for more FEMA funds.