Though it’s been a year and a half since Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, homeowners in our coastal neighborhoods continue to reel from the destruction caused by the storm. Many struggle to recover financially from the storm, while others are still in the process of rebuilding.
Fighting disaster-related foreclosures and assisting at-risk homeowners is a major priority at the Center, which is why we launched the Neighborhood Recovery Fund and continue to connect homeowners to our network of highly-skilled housing counselors and legal services professionals. So far, our network has served over 4,500 homeowners impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Rising flood insurance costs pose another challenge to the long-term vitality of New York City’s coastal communities. Two important changes to flood insurance in NYC will complicate the Sandy recovery process and require a coordinated approach on the part of government officials, service providers, and other community stakeholders.
First, New York City’s Flood Insurance Rate Map is in the process of being updated, which will place many more properties in high-risk flood zones. When the new maps are adopted in 2016, the area covered by high risk flood zones will include approximately 68,000 buildings—nearly twice as many as those included in the current zones. Many of these homeowners will be required to purchase flood insurance for the first time, while others will see their rates increase due to being placed in a higher risk zone.
Second, legislative reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program will significantly increase rates for many NYC homeowners. Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012 to transition the NFIP to a more financially sustainable program after flood disasters, particularly Hurricane Katrina, left the program over $25 billion in debt. Biggert-Waters increased rates substantially for new flood insurance policies and for homeowners whose properties were remapped into higher risk zones. The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which was passed in early 2014, modified some of Biggert-Waters’ most severe price increases and limited the rate of premium increases to 18% per year for most policy holders.
Even with these modifications, however, most homeowners will continue to pay more for flood insurance each year. Given the magnitude of the anticipated rate increases, some homeowners will be unable to afford to stay in their homes, increasing the risk of a new foreclosure crisis and significant numbers of abandoned and/or unsalable homes across our coastal neighborhoods.
Fortunately, New York City is rising to the challenge through the efforts of community-based organizations, government officials at the national and local level, and collaborative groups such as the Flood Insurance Working Group, which is made up of government and non-profit partners, including the Center. Our next blog post will detail some of the initiatives we’ve begun in order to get the word out about flood insurance and provide assistance to at-risk homeowners.