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(Mis)trusting the process: how post-disaster home buyout processes can degrade public trust


Federally funded housing buyout programs are the dominant method of government-supported retreat in the USA. Done correctly, buyouts can reduce pre-disaster vulnerability and facilitate post-disaster recovery. However, the success of buyout programs hinges on successful coordination and implementation by local administrators, who represent buyout participants, manage the buyout process at the community level, and connect them to state and federal resources. Because of this, trust between local administrators and the members of their communities is crucial for project participation and successful outcomes. While local administrators play a critical role in the buyout program, their role in building trust throughout the process has been an understudied aspect of the buyout literature. To address this gap, our paper examines the perceptions of local buyout administrators related to trust. This is done through a study of the conditions following Hurricane Matthew’s landfall in North Carolina, USA, in 2016 using in-depth interviews with 18 local HMGP administrators, and an analysis of over 300 local newspaper articles to study how trust is built and lost in the buyout process. Our findings indicate that a lack of program clarity, unclear communication about the program’s guidelines across all levels of governments, and extended time frames deteriorated public trust in a manner that hindered program success and diminished program results.

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This paper is based upon work graciously supported by the North Carolina Community Foundation Disaster Relief Fund.

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Correspondence to Nora Louise Schwaller.

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Schwaller, N.L., Campbell, L., Nguyen, M.T. et al. (Mis)trusting the process: how post-disaster home buyout processes can degrade public trust. Nat Hazards 111, 2681–2702 (2022).

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  • Buyouts
  • Hurricanes
  • Local governance
  • Recovery
  • Trust