Seek mitigation best way to go

By Steve Estes

Now that we have learned just how bad the future can be with regards to flood insurance in the Keys, it’s time for our leadership to step up and take a hand in finding a solution.

There are more than 8,000 homes in Monroe County that have the possibility of being adversely affected by the recent federal decision to try and make the National Flood Insurance Program more self-sustaining by raising rates on current policy holders.

Those homes hardest hit will be homes built before January 1975 that are ground level. Those pre-FIRM homes have been receiving sizable subsidies for flood insurance through the NFIP, which is under the umbrella of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Under the new federal guidelines, those subsidies will be phased out in many cases, or dropped immediately in others, and could wind up costing property owners with mortgages tens of thousands of dollars per year for mandated flood insurance.

Flood insurance is a requirement for home loans that have any federal backing in recognized flood zones, regardless of the severity of that flood zone.

For some, that could well mean a monthly payment equal to a mortgage to supply the mandated flood insurance.

Most in Monroe County, particularly those with older homes that may have small mortgages nearing payoff, won’t be able to afford that drastic jump.

As with the housing crash of 2007-2008, what we are set up to see here is another flood of foreclosures as people struggle to make doubled mortgage payments, or a series of strategic defaults with large lenders left holding the keys to some basically useless properties.

According to some local realtors, the real estate sales market has been almost exclusively cash buyers in recent months as the full effects of the flood insurance increases slowly become known. Homes purchased with cash don’t require flood insurance if the property owner is willing to take the full risk.

But as with windstorm insurance, Monroe County has always been a donor county to the flood insurance program.

Even with the water-borne devastation of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Monroe County has paid in nearly twice in premiums what the NFIP has paid out in claims.

That profit has gone out to other communities hard hit by storms, communities such as New Orleans where older homes were  built below sea level when Katrina’s devastating water swept across the low-lying city.

There have been many suggestions put forward to combat the coming rise in flood premiums, but the one that makes a lot of sense is to lobby FEMA to make mitigation money available to flood-prone communities to allow low-lying homeowners, primarily ground-level homes here, to elevate existing properties out of the flood plain.

FEMA undertook just such a program in 1999 after Hurricane Georges swept across the island chain in 1998.

Hundreds of homeowners took advantage of the grants and had their properties lifted skyward to allow flood waters to pass harmlessly underneath. That’s one of the many reasons why Monroe County has such a low payout to premium ratio.

We believe a strong case can be made that the money necessary to elevate existing homes out of the path of rising food waters is a long-term solution worthy of consideration.

Once elevated, the homes would no longer be susceptible to destruction by flood waters. We would still have the claims for pumps and storage sheds, but those claims pale in comparison to the claims filed when an entire home is destroyed, or nearly so, by storm surge.

We should continue lobbying efforts to get Congress to delay implementation of the new flood premiums for a year or two until the full effect of those premiums is better understood, and to give us time to outline a mitigation program that saves the federal government, and by association the American taxpayer, more money than it will ever profit in increased rates.

Monroe County learned long ago that dodging hurricane wind damage was best done by taking every opportunity to harden the target.

This is simply another twist to the same premise.

If you don’t want homes destroyed by flood waters, get them out of the way by elevation. Elevation is a one-time cost. Payouts for flood damage on a ground-level home are a continuing issue.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply