Flood Insurance Program and Shore Drive Area Sustainability

The recent article in the Virginian-Pilot ((Obama to sign bipartisan bill to ease flood insurance woes 3/15/2014) only hints at some of the problems that FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is experiencing.  The hurricanes and N’or Easters that have struck the coastal areas over the last twenty years have drained FEMA NFIP bank. Numerous articles have said that the NFIP premiums for those living in flood prone areas was going up, but by how much?  A recent hint said 40%, or more.  Some sources said that potential rates to fund the NFIP would increase thousands of dollars, to the point where most of the insured would feel a significant pinch like a ballooning second mortgage with a variable rate.

I have personally seen the near collapse of some coastal real estate markets (Florida comes to mind) when Flood Insurance policies are either not renewed, issued or become prohibitively expensive.  Under such conditions, owners must either sell at a huge loss, cannot sell their property, or prospective buyers cannot find flood insurance as required by their mortgage company.  This real estate bubble collapse directly impacts owners, buyers, city and state tax revenues, and all the associated elected officials.  Many parties lose when structures are inadequately built in a flood hazard area. Many previous and current local building codes for coastal areas are not substantial enough to reasonably ensure that structures could withstand flood waters and winds from a potential CAT 3 hurricane. Many builders and city officials call “building to code” adequate and sufficient, yet many insurers are not so free with that classification.  What happens when current building code are found to be insufficient by the insurance companies?  Insurance rates will either get prohibitively expensive or policies will not be issued. 

Faced with significant premium increases for NFIP subscribers, many coastal dwellers have complained to their lawmakers.  Under pending legislation, increases have been rolled back and future rate increases will be limited to just 18% per year.   Some home owners in flood prone areas (statistically a 1% chance or more of flooding per year) have been given a reprieve this year, but can now expect significantly higher rates in the coming years. 

 The days of small cinderblock summer cottage along Shore Drive and North Beach areas are gone as they have been replaced with pricey homes and condos.  It is fair to expect that NFIP rates will keep on increasing until some reasonable balance between the insured and the insurers is achieved. But, who should reasonably pay either directly or indirectly for the NFIP premiums for such precarious living?  More importantly, for the many of us who live in or near flood prone areas, what can be done to improve the storm worthiness of our homes or to improve our city’s building codes? We just cannot rely on the builders to do it, or many local politicians who receive their campaign funding and support from the builders’ and bankers’ clique. 

We will all have to get a lot smarter about the NFIP, coastal building codes, and the stressors of coastal living. We must push for improvements in the quality of our city’s construction, strengthened storm codes, and improved knowledge on the part of owners and landlords. We should consider reasonably retrofitting our homes for improved sustainability, or asking our builders about what methods they will use to improve building survivability, like having a 10 year “bumper to bumper warranty.  I think being told that the building “meets code” just won’t suffice any more.  When told that to incorporate improved and reasonable storm mitigation upgrades would be cost prohibitive, we should just ask the builder if he would then underwrite future NFIP premiums?  We don’t need to live concrete bomb shelters, but we can do a much better job asking questions and making reasonable improvements.  Builders and city officials can do their part.   And, we can become better informed, and then ask the right questions until both we and the insurance companies are satisfied. 

4 thoughts on “Flood Insurance Program and Shore Drive Area Sustainability

  1. Interesting points, but this all seems to be directed towards new construction. What can be done to help home owners that already suffer from floods? The best option is to elevate our homes. And without some type of real estate tax relief to help offset the cost, I don’t know how most of us are going to be able to mitigate our losses from future floods.

  2. It is also my understanding that local communities can band together to create collective groups of interested parties to meet with NFIP to request more micro examination of residents and neighborhoods to fine tune the insurance impact. that’s from reading the original legislation. we should consider just such a committee for Shore drive neighborhoods.

    • TGeorge,
      We have a former FEMA GIS analyst coming to our 31 March meeting and I know that Anthony can get you down to the to the micro level for the individual. He will demonstrate at our SDCC meeting. VB is offering neighborhoods an opportunity to review their new FEMA Flood, but what does the owner do with this information? There are mitigations that individual owners can implement, but I can’t think of what neighborhoods can do in whole. I do know that researching and passing information on individual “best practices” helps our knowledge level. Having a neighborhood “Post Storm” plan for the initial recovery phase will help prevent further damage (cutting and removing wet drywall, insulation, applying cleaning solution to floors, etc.) All this takes preplanning and storing up on the necessary supplies, because after the storm, supplies will be very limited. Maybe we can discuss and see what we can come up with for our neighborhoods. Thank you for the input.

  3. Mike,
    The more that I research the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), FEMA Flood Maps, building codes, and what we can do, I am flooded with information (bad pun). I believe that we can visualize the damage that we would sustain if we look at Hurricane Sandy’s impact on NY and NJ. I think our waterfront buildings and homes are from about the same era and built to the same building codes. Check out FEMA Publication P-942 (available online at FEMA.gov) for the post-Sandy structural damage assessments and how there structures withstood the storm and flood. I think if Sandy had come ashore here in VB, we might have had the same amount of damage. It was a major flood event.
    The other site that I find interesting is the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System which is also available at the FEMA.gov site. This site provides an excellent source of information on what residents can do to improve the storm readiness of their homes, which when done collectively with the city’s efforts, will help to lower our future Flood Insurance Premiums. It is a city effort in conjunction with residents.
    Another great website to check out is Florida’s “ReadyFlorida”. After Hurricane Andrew wiped out a significant portion of southern Florida, their state government significantly strengthened their building codes. There is an extensive library available at the FloridaReady helping homeowners improve their structures. Mitigation ranges from very reasonable and simple to expensive. I have used this site to help me prepare my house for a Sandy-like event. I can’t prevent the flood, but hopefully I can start a speedy recovery.
    We hope to have insurance people at our next SDCC meeting to better answer our group’s questions. My advise is to look at the Florida site for ideas, start simple with upgrading your garage door and tracks to commercial grade, cut 5/8-3/4 inch plywood storm covers for your windows, and reinforce your internal roof structure. You can do simple things like elevating and securing your A/C/heat pump (so it doesn’t get flooded or blown off its pad) and raising the garage furnace and water heater. Dealing with flooding is significantly harder depending on your Base Flood Elevation. Any measure can be done, but it just gets to the point of what would be cost effective. Hope this helps.

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