In the News

LI Herald: Rice aims to check the rising cost of flood insurance

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Washington, April 15, 2021 | comments

Responding to a study showing that flood insurance premiums could increase to nearly five times what they are now, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice is looking to introduce legislation that will limit the increasing cost.

Rice, who represents New York’s 4th Congressional District, which includes the Five Towns, said in a March 9 news realease that she plans to submit a bill that would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to report to Congress and publicly disclose the methods and sources of data it uses to calculate new flood insurance rates at least six months before any changes can be made to the National Flood Insurance Program.

“News that homeowners could potentially face significantly higher flood insurance premiums could not come at a worse time,” Rice said. “The last thing homeowners on Long Island can afford is another financial burden during this pandemic. My legislation would also prohibit any changes to FEMA’s flood-risk assessment methodology during, or within six months following, a national emergency declaration.”

The Five Towns are particularly vulnerable to flooding, because of their low elevation and their proximity to Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. FEMA currently provides homeowners with flood insurance through the NFIP, which covers roughly five million policyholders across the country, including tens of thousands on Long Island. There are more than 20,000 policies in the Town of Hempstead covering nearly 65,000 residents, according to town officials.

FEMA plans to implement premium changes on Oct. 1 for new flood insurance policies, and to amend existing policies next April 1.

According to a study that was released on Feb. 22 by the First Street Foundation, which studies flood risk, NFIP would have to “quadruple premiums on high-risk homes inside floodplains to reflect the risks they already face.” The study concluded that if all of those homes were to insure against flood risk through the NFIP, its rates would need to increase 4.5 times to cover the estimated risk in 2021, and 7.2 times to cover the growing risk by 2051.

“Before FEMA makes any changes to its flood insurance models,” Rice said, “it must first disclose the data it is using and provide additional details to justify its actions.”

Since Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, flood insurance premiums have increased significantly for Five Towns residents. Michael Feygin, who lives in Woodmere, said that his insurance costs have doubled since 2013. “In 2013, FEMA was charging us around $400, and now it’s nearly $800 per year,” Feygin said. “It has gone up several hundred dollars over the last two or three years. Even three to four years ago, I was still paying around $500.”

According to FEMA, if a home is in an area with a high risk of flooding and the homeowner has a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender, the lender is legally mandated to require a homeowner to have flood insurance. Feygin said he lives in a flood zone. “During Sandy, several blocks around me did flood, but my block had no damage whatsoever,” he said. “I don’t mind paying for something that I need. But I never used this insurance, even in the worst weather situations.”

Woodsburgh resident Lauren Sobol, who lives on Ivy Hill Road, across from Woodmere Channel, said her premiums have kept increasing. “I know the street had flooding from Sandy, but my house did not,” she said. “My house is considered to be in a risky flood zone, and I pay more than anyone I know.”

Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock, a real estate attorney, noted that flood insurance premiums vary depending on a number of factors. “The most important factor is your location, and if you’re in a flood zone,” he explained. “If your first-floor elevation is above what they call the base flood elevation, then your rates are going to be lower. If the first floor of your home is low, your premium will be higher.”

Weinstock added that another factor that affects premiums is how long a resident has been insured. “If you’re newly insured, the premiums are higher than if you’ve been insured for an extended amount of time,” he said. “My personal situation — I’m happy with my flood insurance, and I’ve had it since I bought my house. I’m outside of the flood zone, and my premium happens to be reasonable.”

Feygin said he believed that having flood insurance should be a homeowner’s choice. “If something happens,” he said, “I’m willing to pay out of my pocket.”

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