Building Flood Protection and Financial Security in Norfolk

The Problem

Norfolk faces heavy storms and frequent tidal flooding, which has increased in recent decades due to sea level rise. With a quarter of the city on a 100-year floodplain, this poses a significant risk to much of the community. Additionally, more than 11% of the city’s population has no bank account, which is almost twice the national average, and 27.5% have insufficient banking services. This leaves a large number of low-income communities especially vulnerable to problems such as flooding, which can cause a financial strain.

Additionally, more than 11% of the city’s population has no bank account, which is almost twice the national average, and 27.5% have insufficient banking services. This leaves a large number of low-income communities especially vulnerable to problems such as flooding, which can cause a financial strain.

The Solution

The city’s Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA program consisted of parallel programs, including Bank On and Retain Your Rain, to increase financial literacy and planning, and better prepare the city for flooding.

  • Through Bank On, Cities of Service AmeriCorps VISTA members and city staff connected residents with volunteer financial coaches from banking, insurance, accounting, and other financial industries to educate them about money management.
  • Over 10 weeks, participants received advice about how to build their savings, create realistic financial plans, improve their credit scores, and reduce debt.
  • AmeriCorps VISTA members coordinated Retain Your Rain workshops, which taught residents to install small-scale green infrastructure, such as rain barrels and gardens, around their homes to collect rainwater.
  • The city also gave small grants to community groups to create additional green infrastructure through the Retain Your Rain program.
  • The city piloted Seniors Helping Seniors, which offered Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training to prepare seniors for emergencies, such as floods.

The Results

The city has helped residents become more financially independent and prepared for emergencies, and residents have made the city better able to handle stormwater.

  • More than 40 people completed the Bank On program during the grant period.
  • With enhanced financial skills, participants have saved nearly $14,000, reduced their debt, and increased their credit scores by an average of 30 points.  
  • The city trained more than 200 seniors to better respond to emergencies.
  • Through Retain Your Rain, community groups have installed rain gardens and rain barrels at schools and in a commercial corridor, which have the potential to mitigate 4,100 gallons of stormwater per rainstorm.  
  • 60 volunteers installed fruit trees and other plantings around an elementary school to collect rain.  

Keys to Success

The city knew that community groups were already working to the address the problem of stormwater management. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they created Retain Your Rain and brought these organizations together to train civic leagues in green infrastructure, ensuring the the sustainability of the program and increasing its impact.

“This is about giving someone basic knowledge about first aid and keeping themselves safe. If somebody can help somebody or help themselves in a dangerous situation because of something we taught them, then it’s a success.”

— Nathaniel Jones, resident of Norfolk and CERT volunteer