Fewer carrying flood insurance despite risk;
Standard homeowners and renters insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood coverage, however, is available in the form of a separate policy.
Amanda Spartz nearly did not renew her home's flood insurance policy after her first. Two hurricanes came close, but they didn't hit and her home isn't in a high-risk flood zone. She figured she could put the $350 annual premium, due next week, to another use.
Then Harvey hit Houston, its historic rains causing massive floods even in low-risk neighborhoods. Spartz, a business analyst, paid the bill this week. If Spartz had dropped her policy, she would not have been alone. Far fewer Americans compared with five years ago are paying for flood insurance in coastal areas of the United States where hurricanes, storms and tidal surges pose a serious threat, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. "I was talking to my husband and I said that if something like Harvey happens here, I don't want to be on the hook," said Spartz. "It isn't a lot of money to save yourself the heartache if it does happen." Without flood insurance, storm victims would have to draw on savings or go into debt — or perhaps be forced to sell.
Roy Wright, the director of the insurance program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, acknowledges that the decrease is alarming and says he hopes to double the number of policies in the near future. He also wants to persuade more communities to limit construction in high-risk flood zones. Congress is likely to reauthorize the insurance program before it expires Sept. 30.
President Donald Trump's homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said he expects changes to the flood program to be debated on Capitol Hill later this fall, after the immediate Houston recovery is underway. "This administration's been pretty clear that we'd like to see some responsible reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program," he said Thursday at the White House. "I don't think now's the time to debate those things." Last year, the program collected about $3.3 billion in premiums and paid out about $3.7 billion for losses. FEMA paid out $3.5 billion per year over the past 12 years, which included Katrina.
FEMA periodically redraws flood-risk maps, moving some homes from mandatory-carry areas to a less-risky category. When the requirement is lifted, homeowners gamble or believe their home is no longer in danger. As Harvey proved, a lower-risk neighborhood is not a no-risk neighborhood. After the city of Central, Louisiana, successfully petitioned FEMA last year to change its flood maps, it sent letters notifying roughly 2,000 residents that their homes no longer were inside the high-risk zone. Kyle Cutrer didn't get flood insurance when he purchased a house in Central last summer, outside the flood zone.
Last August, a slow-moving storm dumped an estimated 7 trillion gallons of rainwater on south Louisiana, more than two feet of rain in some places. The deluge overtopped rivers and damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes, inundating many neighborhoods that had never seen such catastrophic flooding. A foot of water washed into a Gutrer’s home, causing approximately $40,000 in damage. He used about $16,000 from FEMA to pay for some repairs; he paid the rest himself.
Flood insurance is available for renters as well as homeowners. You will need flood insurance if you live in a designated flood zone. But flooding can also occur in inland areas and away from major rivers. Consider buying a flood insurance policy if your house could be flooded by melting snow, an overflowing creek or pond or water running down a steep hill. Don’t wait for a flood season warning on the evening news to buy a policy—there is a 30-day waiting period before the coverage takes effect.
Cutrer said his real-estate agent and mortgage company had both assured him he did not need flood insurance, which would have cost him about $300 annually. "I was told, 'You'll never flood. You won't have a problem here,'" he said. "As a first-time homebuyer, I was trying to keep that note as low as possible. "A week after the flood, he called his insurance agent and purchased a flood policy.
"I'm not going to be able to stop the flood. But if it comes, I'll be fine," he said. “I say why take the risk to save $350/year”