Prepare for Higher Flood Insurance Premiums

Last year's overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, the adoption of new flood maps for high-risk areas, and the impact of Hurricane Sandy are all contributing to a substantial impact on flood insurance rates in the New York region. As a result, government officials, grass-roots organizations and building owners are mobilizing to prevent the higher premiums from taking hold.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has proposed changes to make flood insurance more affordable and accessible. And senators from flood-prone states, including New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana, have offered amendments and bills to extend the time frame over which the steep rates go into effect.

At the heart of the issue is the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act. It was passed by Congress in 2012, before Hurricane Sandy landed on New York and New Jersey. The act reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program, and lawmakers agreed that they had to make changes because the program was $18 billion in debt. The legislation called for the elimination of long-term subsidies that had kept down rates for properties in flood zones. Then came the hurricane last October.

FEMA rushed to revise maps that had been long overdue, placing far more people in the floodplain. Mayor Bloomberg’s office said that by the 2050s, 800,000 New Yorkers would live in the 100-year floodplain, more than double the current number. Because of these changes, the mayor’s office estimates that almost 20,000 New York homes could face sharply higher premiums.

Lawmakers have proposed several amendments and bills to reduce the impact of the legislation, though it is unclear whether any will pass. When the bill was approved in the Senate in 2012, it was attached to a transportation bill and no debate was permitted.