If you live in the Socastee area and your home has flooded multiple times in recent years, Horry County wants to buy your house.

That could be the reality for several dozen homeowners who want to move, thanks to a new buyout program the county is beginning to roll out this week. Under the program, up to 61 homeowners, and possibly more in the future, could apply for a buyout with Horry County if their home has been flooded and damaged multiple times in recent years. The county will then work with the homeowner to purchase the home, allow the homeowner to move, and then demolish the home and prevent future building on that site.

The county is running the program like this:

  • Last February, Horry County circulated interest forms in Socastee and other flood-prone areas of the county to gauge how many people may want to move because they’ve flooded several times. County council member Cam Crawford, who helped take those forms door-to-door in Socastee, said the county received interest from about 80 homeowners, saying they’d like to move.
  • In the meantime, Horry County leaders applied for federal money to buy those people out of their homes. Ultimately, the federal government, through a post-Hurricane Matthew flood prevention program, sent several million dollars to the South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office, which then gave $15.6 million to Horry County, $13 million of that total will be used for the buyout program.
  • County leaders have also been working to screen the homeowners who submitted interest forms last year to assess if they’d qualify for a buyout under the program. Because the program is being funded through the federal government, the county and state must follow specific rules when spending the money.
  • This week, the county announced that it would start rolling out the buyout program, first working with those who said they were interested and fit into the program, and then with other homeowners.
  • County leaders don’t yet have a target date for when the open enrollment portion of the program will begin, but Crawford said he hopes it opens up sometime later this summer. If more grant money becomes available in the future, county leaders may expand the program to the Conway and Bucksport areas, which, like Socastee, have also experienced bad flooding in recent years.

What homeowners need to know

To go through with the buyouts, the county will have to take a number of steps. First, once a homeowner has qualified for the program and has agreed to sell to the county, the county will have to conduct title searches and appraisals of the property as part of its due diligence. Under the program, the county can pay up to $250,000 per home, and some homeowners may be eligible for additional moving expenses. Then, once the county has purchased the home, it will have to conduct an environmental review of the property, and contract with a company to demolish the home and clear the property. The county said in a news release Monday that it has already contracted with a consultant to help run the program per federal rules and is working with the state to issue bids for other parts of the program.

“We’re doing this work up front, so that when we begin the process, everything will flow as smoothly as possible for the people in the process,” the county said in the release.

To qualify for a buyout, homeowners need to have flooded multiple times in recent years, or flooded once during a major storm, like Hurricane Matthew or Hurricane Florence. The cost and location of a home will also be factors. Crawford said the program is intended to buy out homeowners who live in smaller homes on concrete slabs rather than those who live in homes built up on stilts or in larger, more expensive homes. The county will prioritize buy outs for homeowners in the Socastee area but may open up buy out efforts to the Conway and Bucksport areas if more grant money comes in and homeowners there wish to move.

Another factor in the buyouts, though a less important one, said county spokesperson Kelly Moore, is if homes being bought out are contiguous. That matters because once the county buys and demolishes the homes, no one will be able to build on those lots in the future, though the county could still use the land. Crawford has said he’d like to see the land used for a park, nature trail or other community amenity.

Because the program is rather small, Moore emphasized Tuesday that county officials would be tailoring the program to the homeowners who qualify and working closely with them.

“It’s going to be pretty individualized,” she said.

A solution to flooding?

That such a buyout program is now rolling out in Horry County is significant because county leaders have been working for years now to prevent and respond to flooding in the area. While some residents and local advocates have called for a pause or slowdown on new building until the county can catch up its flood-prevention measures, the buyout program works as a sort of building moratorium in reverse, preventing new building in areas that are flood-prone.

The buyout program rolls out as the county is also working to rewrite its flooding-prevention ordinances, which are likely to include a requirement that new homes and other buildings are built above the high water marks from Hurricane Florence, which produced catastrophic flooding.

In addition, local state and county politicians, in concert with Coastal Carolina University, recently announced a new data-collection effort on the Intracoastal Waterway that could, in the future, help determine which nearby properties are flood-prone and what risks those home and property owners may face.

Next year’s county budget will also include a $45 stormwater fee increase for residents which county officials have said will go towards more localized flood prevention tactics, like cleaning out drainage ditches and breaking down beaver dams.

Taken together, the buyout program emerges as one piece of a multi-pronged approach Horry County is taking to keep water out of residents’ homes.

County officials ask residents who are interested in participating in the program to keep an eye on the county’s website and the Disaster Recovery Office’s website.

When funding for the program was announced in March, Crawford and state leaders expressed relief that people in their community could see the burden of repetitive flooding eased.

“What I didn’t want to do was wait around for an infrastructure solution that could take 10 or 15 years,” Crawford said then. “I can’t wait on a long term project like that while people suffer. I know it was a great hardship that was placed on people that fall into that category, mental, emotional and financial stress, (and I) thought that the buyout would provide the most immediate relief to them.”

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