Climate change and homeownership: Preparing for the future

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Following lessons learned from its work helping homeowners recover from Hurricane Sandy, the Center has pivoted to help coastal communities become more resilient to the severe storms and increased flooding associated with climate change. In 2015, the Center formed a recovery and resiliency team to focus its efforts.

A major project the team handles is the Home Resiliency Audit, where a qualified engineering firm assesses a home’s strength and resistance to flooding. A major benefit of the program is that homeowners receive an elevation certificate — valued at over $800 — at no cost to them, as well as a customized resiliency plan that can be shared with contractors, insurance agents, and others to help make their home more flood resistant. More information and an application is available at FloodHelpNY.org.

We asked Rachel Eve Stein, Deputy Director of Recovery and Resiliency, three questions about climate change and homeownership. Stein, who is also a an activist in her personal time, previously worked in sustainability. Her experience is expected to inform the future direction of the Center’s work.

Why is climate change important to what we do at the Center, and for your work in particular?

Climate change affects all homeowners. Because of its effects, homeowners have to reconsider their cooling systems, prepare for more power outages, and retrofit their homes to combat flooding. Consequently, climate change affects residents in high risk flood zones the most, and more New Yorkers than ever before live in high-risk flood zones. FloodHelpNY exists to prepare homeowners in flood zones and, in particular, financially vulnerable homeowners, for the inevitable “superstorm.”

How are resiliency and sustainability related? How does this relate to homeowners?

Resiliency deals with the results of climate change. FloodHelpNY services bring to homeowners an awareness of the connection between resiliency and sustainability, and how climate change is adding to their already rising flood risks, and therefore insurance rates. We aim to expand people’s minds when thinking about their home, not just about their own personal well being and preservation of their property, but about how their actions affect our living environment.

Homeowners, unlike renters, have significant control over major choices they make over their living spaces. They can look into weatherization, solar panels, and more efficient appliances to make their homes more sustainable. They can fill in basements, move mechanicals, and install flood vents without having to go through a landlord. Homeowners have to make choices in their homes that affect their everyday, such as converting from incandescent light bulbs to LEDs, using fans instead of air conditioners, and reducing vampire voltage [energy used by appliances even when they are turned off]. All of these choices can help mitigate the effects of climate change on their homes and neighborhoods.

Tell us a little about the audits that some eligible homeowners receive by applying at FloodHelpNY.org. What are they, and what is it like to have your home audited?

The Center, in conjunction with the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as part of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, provides free audits for homeowners in flood zones.

I’ve been able to go on a few audits and watch the engineers in action. They assemble an incredibly comprehensive profile of the building, inside and out, which can give homeowners new insight on their homes and its structure. Many times, homeowners learn things about their homes that they never knew.

It’s also been really powerful to speak with the homeowners and to hear their stories. They are still feeling the impact of superstorms financially and emotionally. Seeing them so enthusiastic about our services is also a reminder that FloodHelpNY makes their lives easier!

Homeowners who have participated have noted that while their home flooded [during past storms], their neighbor’s home didn’t, and they wanted to know why. We have to inform them that it’s not necessarily an issue of weather, but an issue about home structure and the ground on which the home was built.

If you want an accurate flood insurance quote for a home in a high-risk flood zone, you’ll need an “elevation certificate” — it’s the only way to know how high your rate will go. Not sure how to get one? We may be able to help. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods can arrange for eligible households to get a free home resiliency audit and elevation certificate, saving you hundreds of dollars. To see if you qualify, visit our website: http://www.floodhelpny.org/homeowners

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