FIRM plans to take up flood fightBy Steve Estes
As new flood insurance rates get set to start kicking in throughout Monroe County, the grass-roots insurance advocacy group Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe is branching out to try and attack the problem.
Homeowners and commercial properties here will see stark changes in flood insurance premiums in many cases when renewal times start to roll around now that the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act has implemented.
Several attempts by federal Legislators to delay the implementation of the new law have failed in Congress, and FIRM President and County Commissioner Heather Carruthers says that she expects very little action on the flood insurance front in Washington until the current shutdown fiasco is resolved.
“Everything is at a standstill for now while they fight about continuing funding in Washington,” said Carruthers.
And while that bodes no good for many property owners in the Keys, that gives FIRM a little breathing room because the group is currently in the midst of a windstorm rate study to try and deflect triple digit increases in that realm for Monroe County property owners.
“We have established a sub-committee that is looking at flood insurance, but its just in a fledgling state, doing more data gathering than anything right now,” said Carruthers.
FIRM is well aware of the devastation the proposed flood insurance premium increases can cause on the Keys, particularly since the real estate market has finally begun to recover.
“We’ve been told by local Realtors that the new flood premiums could make ground-level homes in the Keys unsellable due to the rate increases unless someone can pay cash and not need the insurance,” she said.
Sue Cherrybon, an agent with Johnson’s Insurance on Big Pine, said that homes built before Jan. 1, 1975 may immediately feel the brunt of the increases as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program phases out or eliminates federal subsidies for those homes and commercial buildings.
Carruthers says everyone will see at least a six percent increase, even those homes built after that date.
“A lot also depends on where the house is located, what the flood zone is, and how its used,” she said.
Cherrybon says that most post-FIRM homes are already paying an actuarial rate and should see little change.
“But pre-FIRM homes that are not the primary residence, are an established rental unit, or commercial properties will see at least a 25 percent increase each year until FEMA has what they think is an actuarially sound rate,” said Cherrybon.
Many of the new rates will kick in if the property is sold, she added. “When the property sells, all of the previous subsidies are removed. If the house is below base flood elevation, buyers are going to see a drastic increase in flood premiums.”
The new rates may also kick in if the flood policy lapses for any reason, or if FEMA decides that the property has a repetitive loss history and cancels flood insurance.
“One of the problems with flood insurance, just like with windstorm, is that Monroe County already pays so much higher rates than other areas,” said Carruthers.
She said FIRM’s initial push is going to be to allow residential units to mitigate flood risk by more flood-proofing.
“You can lower flood rates on a commercial property by mitigating for flood damage, but you can’t do that with residential properties,” said Carruthers. “We want to lobby our representatives to have FEMA allow flood-proofing mitigation credits just like we have with windstorm with shutters and strengthened building codes.”
“FIRM is just stretched to thin right now with the wind rates study to be able to devote the necessary time it will take to fight this. But we must. Our residents can’t stand a hit like this on insurance. We’ve heard of cases where flood premiums would rise to the level of a monthly mortgage. Our people can’t afford that,” she said.
Those seeing further information or who want to give information on flood insurance scenarios to FIRM can do so at the group’s website, FIRM.org.