Flood insurance premiums in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are
slated to become astronomically high, said Sen. Robert Menendez, who is pressing for
an alternative bill to freeze federal flood insurance premium increases for two years.
Menendez was joined by local homeowners and the founder of Save Our Communities 2013, as well as Brick Mayor John Ducey, who each explained their fears of how flood insurance would make living even a mile from a waterfront unaffordable after Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps put much of the Jersey Shore in flood zones.
The U.S. Senator came to Brick Thursday to push for an alternative to current events, as homeowners receive new flood insurance rates that, homeowners said, are increasing by several thousand dollars a year.
His bill, Homeowner’s Flood Insurance Affordability Act, also calls for FEMA to base its flood maps on scientific and engineering studies complete two years from now, instead of creating maps without the benefit of the two-years’ study.
“This is backwards,” Menendez said. Ensuring accurate Flood Insurance Rate Maps is critically important because they determine premium costs, added the senator, pointing to now scaled-back maps that once had even larger portions of towns such as Brick in so-called V zones.
As part of his push to show the impact of the post-Sandy flood insurance costs, two local homeowners shared their stories. One, Peg Molloy of Point Pleasant Borough, said her home faced zero damage from the storm, being 1.5 miles from the coastline.
“But FEMA recommends I have to raise my home to 8 feet, and that could cost $80,000-$100,000,” Molloy said. “I live in a modest ranch.”
Molloy said her flood insurance premium is now quoted at $10,000-$14,000 annually.
The expense of both eclipses the value of the home itself, Molloy said, and has her family asking what to do next.
Mayor Ducey started the press conference warning that radically increased flood insurance premiums could create whole neighborhoods of homeowners leaving their home due to unaffordable insurance.
“Homes that have been in families for generations; families that have contributed to the community of Brick for generations,” Ducey said.
Mae Kellaher, a longtime resident of the Shore Acres section of Brick, has no mortgage on the family home she’s had for 40 years. Last year’s flood insurance was about $800. The newest rates for the senior’s home are more than $10,000.
"I love my house," she said. "I was flooded by Sandy, and now my premiums are going to go extraordinarily high…"If it goes up by thousands, there's no possible way I can afford it. I'm quite elderly. I don't know what to do. I have no recourse."
“These are people who played by the rules, who saved for a home, bought flood insurance, have contributed to their communities,” Menendez said. “These are not millionaires, but the middle-class who are most affected, and find themselves suddenly having to not only rebuild after Sandy but now priced out of their homes by flood insurance premiums.”
Menendez’ bill is a response to Biggert-Waters’ bill and its attempt to sustain the National Flood Insurance Program. Menendez says NFIP would sustain itself better with a spread of the risk, instead of focusing the flood risk on a smaller scope of the most heavily impacted residents.
“As those ratepayers drop out of the program as it becomes more and more unaffordable, the base of the NFIP shrinks and the burden of risk falls to fewer and fewer,” said the senator. “It’s not sustainable…the risk must be spread out and the maps must be based on the best information.”
At the press conference, Menendez summarized his opponents’ view of the Homeowner’s Flood Insurance Affordability Act as delaying the inevitable, that rates will eventually catch up to the actual risk of living in a flood zone, and that the NFIP will run out of money subsidizing flood risk premiums.
Menendez said the bill is less an attempt to subsidize “millionaires” who live on the waterfront but the middle-class are now in danger of being forced out of their homes from higher premiums. He said the problem is not uniquely Hurricane Sandy, as a flood insurance premium is also going to impact a homeowner near a river or lake in South Dakota, he said.
He said the bill would address primary homeowners, not those who have a secondary home and are facing flood insurance premium increases, nor does it grant relief to properties with a history of repeated flood damage.
His bill has 28 co-sponsors in the Senate, including eight Republicans. Menendez said his hope is that the bill will be before the full Senate before the end of the month.