JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City officials are proposing a $5 million buyout program for one of the most flood-prone areas of Jacksonville.
During Hurricane Irma three years ago, heavy rains caused the Ribault River to overflow into many homes along Ken Knight Drive, located off Moncrief Road in Northwest Jacksonville, and residents said floodwaters brought snakes into homes and alligators floating down the street.
Some of those homes and apartments in the Ribault neighborhood are still left badly damaged from severe flooding. That’s why the city is proposing a buyout of those properties so they can be demolished and then the area can be turned into a green space, which will act as a buffer from the river.
Reactions to the proposal are mixed because property owners want to know how much money the city is willing to pay and people who pay rent want to know if they will get financial assistance to move somewhere else.
Louise Allen was born and raised on Ken Knight Drive — long before homes were built next to the Ribault River.
“I saw it as woods back here. I seen these houses come up," she told News4Jax.
Since the late 1970s, she’s owned a home across the street from the river and has seen the area flood from time to time. Floodwaters never came to her door — until Hurricane Irma in 2017.
“It hit me also," Allen said. "I was shocked because I thought I had nothing to worry about.”
City leaders want to put an end to this problem by offering to buy the homes along the floodplain of Ken Knight Drive. News4Jax asked Allen whether she is willing to sell a home that she has had so many memories in.
“I’m gone," she said. "As long as it’s a decent offer so I can find somewhere else to stay, I’m gone.”
Under the proposal, once the homes are purchased, they will then be demolished so that the land can be turned into a natural buffer zone to absorb floodwaters. Restrictions would be put in place to prevent the land from being developed. That was considered a more viable, safe and less expensive option than raising each home 10 feet off the ground to get them up to code.
Selling may be an easy option for homeowners if they are offered a deal they can’t refuse, but people who rent are worried about having to suddenly pack up and leave.
“I’m hoping they will have some kind of assistance for the people who are renting,” said renter Leroy Bradley.
Rhode Melton, who rents a small home several doors down, asked: “What will they do with us?”
For the last three years, Melton has rented the home next to the Ribault River along Ken Knight Drive. He was living there when Irma caused the river to overflow into his neighborhood.
“This road here, you couldn’t see it. You could see the gators swimming up and down the road," Melton said. “So yes, this is a flood area. It’s not a good area. But right now, I love living right here because I can fish in the back.”
Bradley acknowledged flooding is a problem but said he wished there was another option available to prevent flooding while not having to potentially move.
“I wish that it didn’t have to be like that because I love where I’m staying. I love the water and everything,” he said. "But if it’s got to be, it’s got to be.”
Many people living along Ken Knight Drive are either at or below the poverty line, which is why a city spokesperson told News4Jax that the city is prepared to help renters find affordable housing through local nonprofit organizations that offer housing counseling. The help includes money for moving costs, utilities and rent.
“I won’t be able to buy another home because I’m up in age, so I’m going to have to rent something," Allen said.
According to a city spokesperson, 52 property owners have agreed to participate in the buyout program, but they still need to get their property appraised before they receive an offer from the city.