Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that today, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act that she has co-sponsored to delay the most aggressive rate increases and fix major flaws in the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform law to make the National Flood Insurance Program affordable, accessible and self-sustainable. The bill, which also includes Gillibrand’s amendment that will help thousands of New York City homeowners whose homes are impossible to elevate reduce their flood risk and lower flood insurance rates, now heads to the House for a vote.
Specifically, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would delay the most aggressive rate increases until FEMA understands how they will impact individual policyholders and the program at large. It also requires FEMA to certify that their flood maps are accurate and ensures that local levees and other flood control structures are treated fairly in the mapping process. Other provisions include reimbursement to qualifying homeowners for successful map appeals and the establishment of a Flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA to aid and assist policyholders. On the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Senator Gillibrand took to the Senate floor pressing her colleagues to pass this bill and get relief into the hands of those who desperately need it.
“This important, bipartisan bill would simply delay the potentially disastrous flood insurance rate increases set to go into effect until after FEMA has completed a study and provided Congress with a plan to make rates more affordable. Our families working so hard to rebuild deserve nothing less,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “My amendment is simple and common sense – and it is aimed to help our city homeowners who will be stuck in a bureaucratic ditch that is impossible for them to climb out of due to the immovable reality of the building they live in. Providing a clear set of mitigation alternatives for these homeowners would prevent costly damage to their homes during the next storm or flood, and save money in potential disaster recovery costs in the long-term.”
The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would:
- Delay implementation of dramatic flood insurance rate increases and protects NFIP policyholders who have no annual cap on their rate increases and have seen their property values plummet as a direct result of Biggert-Waters. This includes all homes and businesses that were built to code and later remapped into a higher risk area and all properties that were built before flood maps were released which could see their rates skyrocket overnight when they try to sell their property.
- Provide targeted rate relief to these policyholders until FEMA certifies that their maps are accurate and reliable, and Congress has an opportunity to review and take action on the draft affordability framework FEMA will develop using the findings of the study mandated by Biggert-Waters.
- Provide funds to reimburse homeowners for successful map appeals: Allows FEMA to utilize NFIP to reimburse policyholders who successfully appeal a map determination. FEMA currently has the authority to reimburse eligible expenses related to surveyors, engineers or similar services, but Congress has not appropriated funding for this account.
- Eliminate penalties on communities self-financing flood protection: FEMA’s AR and A99 flood zone categories provide more affordable flood insurance to qualifying communities in the process of levee construction, reconstruction, and improvements. Current regulations require a certain level of federal funding to qualify for either an A99 or an AR designation and prevent FEMA from giving communities fair credit for improvements made to existing flood control systems. Proactive communities that are actively investing in mitigation should not be penalized for self-financing flood protection projects.
- Protect the basement exception that allows the lowest proofed opening in a home to be used for determining flood insurance rates. This impacts 54 communities nation-wide where basements are necessary to protect homeowners and businesses from extreme weather.
- Establish a Flood Insurance Rate Map Advocate within FEMA to answer current and prospective policyholder questions about the flood mapping process. The Rate Map Advocate will be responsible for educating policyholders about their individual flood risks, assisting property owners through the map appeals process, and improve outreach and coordination with local officials and community leaders.
Senator Gillibrand’s amendment, passed as part of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, would help New York City and urban homeowners of buildings such as brownstones, brick buildings, and multi-family homes that are physically impossible to elevate to reduce their flood risk and lower their flood insurance rates. Currently, the only way to reduce flood insurance premiums for homeowners living in flood-prone areas is to elevate their homes. But for thousands of New York homeowners who cannot elevate their properties due to its inherent structure, there are no federal guidelines in place to prevent a costly increase in their flood insurance rates. Senator Gillibrand’s amendment under the bipartisan bill would require FEMA to develop new guidance specifically tailored to help these property owners mitigate future flood disasters, lower their flood risk, and ultimately lead to reduced insurance costs.
New FEMA flood maps that have been proposed for much of New York City would require residents living in certain flood-risk zones to elevate their homes in order to avoid steep spike in their annual federal flood insurance premiums. The increase in flood insurance rates is tied to the home’s elevation above flood level. According to New York City estimates, out of the approximately 35,000 single and multi-family city homes that are projected to purchase flood insurance, thousands of those homes cannot be elevated. Many property owners in urban communities cannot physically elevate their homes and as a result, could face potential sky-high flood insurance rates.
Under Senator Gillibrand’s amendment, FEMA would be required to develop a set of guidelines by next year for homeowners to implement mitigation methods that are alternatives to elevation, such as flood-proofing or using different types of building materials that reduce flood risk, and provide homeowners with information on how those alternative methods will affect flood insurance premiums. The Senator’s amendment would also require FEMA to take the implementation of those methods into consideration when calculating flood insurance rates for homeowners.