Resilient Ecosystems


Buy-In Community Planning

Relocating residents of high hazard flood areas and enabling ecosystem restoration projects

Team Lead

Kelly Leilani Main

Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Buy-In Community Planning

One-line solution summary:

Buy-In helps communities relocate away from high hazard flood areas, making space for ecosystem restoration projects as sea levels rise.

Pitch your solution.

The homes of an estimated 13 million Americans are currently threatened by sea level rise. Traditional hazard mitigation strategies for SLR and coastal storms like seawalls, dykes, and levees destroy precious coastal ecosystems and cause intertidal habitat loss, a phenomenon known as coastal squeeze that threatens biodiverse, carbon rich wetland ecosystems. 

Buy-In uses the power of geospatial data tools to match vulnerable households with high conservation potential with conservation financing organizations to transform hazardous real estate into invaluable conservation assets that provide high-value ecosystem services. Our Buyout Prioritization Index cross references hazard mapping, buyout interest, conservation value, and carbon sequestration potential to create buy-in for voluntary home buyout processes that restore critical ecosystem functions. 

At scale, our solution has the power to transform communities by creating win-win solutions for multiple stakeholders. We give vulnerable households the resources they need to relocate while creating new opportunities for critical ecosystem service areas.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

By 2045, more than 280,000 residents of the United States will be forced to adapt or relocate due to chronic, disruptive flooding, threatening $135 billion in property. Additionally, at least 13 million Americans live in flood zones at risk during extreme weather events, totaling over 1 trillion dollars in real estate assets. Simultaneously, wetland loss is accelerating: NOAA estimates that more than 50 percent of coastal wetlands in the US could be lost by 2100. Despite the need for solutions to this intensifying problem, opportunities to permanently move away from vulnerable areas and make space for wetland migration are extremely limited. Currently, publicly-funded voluntary property acquisitions (buyouts) are the most common tool to help households relocate, but FEMA buyout programs are slow, opaque, and rarely meet local demand, averaging over five years to implement. The inability of many households to wait this long for help often results in families selling their homes cheap to redevelopers, losing their equity and perpetuating a cycle of destruction and reconstruction which is socially, fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. Currently, no national dataset exists that tells us how many people want help relocating and where they are, making a robust national relocation assistance solution impossible. 

What is your solution?

Buy-In is building a national database of buyout interest that uses the power of geospatial data tools to match coastal neighborhoods with conservation financing organizations to transform hazardous real estate into invaluable ecosystem service assets. Our Buyout Prioritization Index cross references hazard mapping, buyout interest, conservation value, and carbon sequestration potential to create buy-in for voluntary home buyout processes that restore critical ecosystems and increase community resilience. Our process uses human-centered design principles that combine online and in-person engagement strategies to gather information about which homeowners want to leave and under what circumstances. In these conversations, we demystify the process of selling a risky property, empower vulnerable neighborhoods to have more control over their decision to relocate, and ensure they get a fair value for their land.  By diversifying the number of stakeholders who can buy-in to the buyout process, we are building a community of adaptation agents whose mission is to conserve land and restore ecosystems, without neglecting the needs of communities to have access to coastal land. This strategy has the opportunity to create win-win climate migration scenarios which could be scaled globally to increase the markets for ecosystem services in high vulnerability coastal areas. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

While flooding is a global problem, we are currently developing our services to support high vulnerability communities in coastal areas of the United States. By 2045, more than 280,000 residents of the United States will be forced to adapt or relocate due to chronic, disruptive flooding, threatening $135 billion in property. This doesn’t account for the more than 13 million Americans living in flood zones at risk during extreme weather events, totaling over 1 trillion dollars in real estate assets. 

Existing buyout programs privilege communities that have the capital to dedicate human and economic resources towards applying for federal assistance. In poorer communities,  thousands of households could be falling under the radar, including in places where households are not enrolled in federal programs like the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Buy-In recognizes that many poor communities don’t have the staffing required to implement proactive buyouts year round. We work with communities that need targeted, affordable services to help design a better buyout program that suits their communities present needs and future ambitions, with a focus on EPA Environmental Justice communities and those historically marginalized by and from public programs. However, because our Voluntary Expression of Interest form is located online, anyone in the country can sign up for buyout support at any time. Our Buyout Prioritization Index parametrically analyzes the number of interested households and their locations to ensure that the most vulnerable households receive priority support. 

Our on-the-ground engagement strategies to bring people into the Buyout Prioritization Index database work directly with community organizations to build local capacity for organizing for relocation assistance. In these conversations, we learn from communities about what kind of conservation, recreation, and ecosystem service assets are most desired. These conversations help inform the types of partnerships and funders we contact to finance relocation assistance implementation. 

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Aggregate local projects to enable access to financial capital for ecosystem services such as natural hazard mitigation, water quality, and carbon storage.

Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

Decades of irresponsible development that built housing by filling in low-lying areas such as wetlands have created a coastal vulnerability crisis. In addition to destroying critical habitat, this legacy has led to deep inequality. Many of these low-lying areas are home to low-income and BIPOC communities who were forced to live there due to redlining, segregation, and racist housing policies. Irreversible climate change and demands for social justice are forcing a reckoning that demands large-scale relocation assistance for communities affected by chronic exposure to flood risk. Our solution addresses reparations and restoration simultaneously by increasing community agency for relocation. 

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Oakland, CA, USA

Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

Buy-In is currently implementing one buyout pilot program with the Citizens Committee for Flood Relief in De Soto, MO, but we are growing. Buy-In is partnered with the Higher Ground Network, the nation's largest coalition of frontline environmental justice communities and flood survivors, to explore additional buyout programs in at least four other communities across the US including Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico.  In addition to our work helping communities get buyouts on the ground, we are also involved in multiple research initiatives including a scenario planning workshop funded by the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy and have been invited to work as a sub consultant for planning and engineering organizations working with American cities on large-scale acquisition projects and plans. 

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several communities, which is poised for further growth.

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Kelly Leilani Main

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

What makes your solution innovative?

Currently, most buyout programs only focus on mitigating a hazard by giving a homeowner the market value of their home through a benefit-cost analysis. While essential for giving people some financial assistance for relocating, this method neglects the social and environmental dimensions of relocating away from high vulnerability areas and leaves gaps in support and restoration opportunities. 

Buy-In believes a better buyout is possible - our innovative buyout program addresses people, housing, and land — the foundations of a healthy community — holistically. Our services enhance each of these three building blocks, crafting a human-centered buyout process based on local needs and vulnerabilities, providing re-housing solutions and case management for participating households, and creating open space and flood controls to protect neighborhoods that prioritize ecosystem service and conservation potential. 

Our national buyout database also enables the Buyout Prioritization Index, which helps policy makers understand how to address social vulnerability while connecting with novel funding partners who can help bring private sector resources to the managed retreat space. By building a proactive system and network of partnerships, we provide supportive relocation services that let households move on their own terms and timelines.

Our decision-making tools that make data collection, coalition building, program oversight, and project financing more accessible to communities on the frontlines of climate change, enabling transformative climate action. 

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • GIS and Geospatial Technology

Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Rural
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 14. Life Below Water
  • 15. Life on Land

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • United States

How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Our solution is currently serving 100 households and we hope to scale to 10,000 in the next five years. 

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Our primary indicators are numbers of people who receive buyouts, number of people we help re-house, and acres of wetlands restored / acres of conservation land created.

Solution Team

  • KM KM
    Kelly Leilani Main Co-founder and Executive Director, Buy-In Community Planning
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