It’s been a year since Congress initially passed a National Flood Insurance Reform Act, but the financial cost of this major policy shift is finally coming home to roost.
The administering Federal Emergency Management Agency has reached out to hold some informational meetings about redrawn flood plain maps designed to supposedly account for new flooding projections based on rising seas in the years and decades ahead.
Indeed, one such session, geared toward Essex County coastal residents, was held Monday at the Lynn City Hall Auditorium. It was well attended by area residents who are concerned about the impact of this change.
But Congressman John Tierney and state officials, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, are right to push for more time before the new flood plain maps, new insurance reforms and, indeed, new rates for some properties took effect Oct 1. While urging FEMA to step up its efforts to inform homeowners and businesses of the reforms, the letter more importantly calls for adequate funding for the National Academy of Sciences to complete an affordability study, as mandated by the law.
The new rates ultimately will affect anyone who lives along the coast or near rivers and streams. But the suddenness and severity of the insurance increases could be devastating to individuals, businesses and the local economy.
Residents and businesses that already own property in flood zones will see incremental increases of 25 percent per year until their premiums reach a full-risk rate. If a property is sold, the new owner will be responsible for the full rate. Subsidies will no longer be offered for newly purchased properties, lapsed properties or new policies covering properties for the first time, according to FEMA.
The reform is designed to make the National Flood Insurance Program “more financially stable and ensure that flood insurance rates more accurately reflect the real risk of flooding,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The program will phase out some artificially low rates and discounts, which reform supporters say have historically been subsidized by the government. It’s a policy that needs to be phased out. People who choose to live on the shoreline, at a time when sea levels are rising and the intensity of coastal storms is predicted to increase, should assume the risk of their decision.
But if it spikes insurance rates for coastal homes upward from $200 a month to $1,000, as local J Barrett Realtor Amy Wallick noted for one listed North Shore property, that could have chilling effects on local property values, home sales and the overall economies of our local coastline, in particular Plum Island.
“Going from $200 a month to $1,000 for flood insurance will seriously impact the affordability,” she told a reporter for our sister newspaper the Salem News.
The Massachusetts Association of Realtors worries that the changes could stall the recovery in the real estate market.
Redrawn risk maps and soaring insurance rates are surprises that neither homeowners nor businesses need.