By now you have heard a great deal about the impending flood insurance rate changes. It is very complex legislation with potentially disastrous consequences. Let me provide you with a little information about the changes, and what we are doing to help our residents.
In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which calls on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make a number of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Some of these changes have already occurred, and some are scheduled to take effect October 1, 2013. The legislation requires the NFIP to raise premiums to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable, and change how Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders. The changes will mean premium rate increases for some, but not all, policyholders over time.
What does that mean for St. Petersburg?
Approximately 15,000 of our 70,000 single family homes in St. Petersburg are affected by these changes, and may see significant increases in flood insurance premiums unless something is done. These are homes throughout St. Petersburg, not only homes located directly on the water.
These premium increases are having a chilling effect on the real estate market countywide. Some property sales are not closing. And some residents that recently purchased a home, figuring on an annual flood insurance premium of a few hundred dollars, are now receiving new premium notices raising their annual cost to a few thousand dollars. It is just not in their budget, and could cause round two of the mortgage foreclosure crisis.
So what are we doing?
I have been in constant communication with Congressman Young’s office, and have corresponded with U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor and U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. I participated in telephone conferences on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the outcome of a hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. During the hearing, testimony was given by Craig Fugate, FEMA Administrator, and two leading senators from Louisiana who are pushing for reform or repeal of the legislation. There is still much debate regarding the methodology of flood mapping, affordability and equity. At the time the bill was passed, the argument was “Why should someone in Iowa subsidize flood insurance for coastal communities?” The ongoing devastation in Colorado is evidence that natural disasters, including floods, aren’t limited by geography. We must unite as a nation to find an equitable and affordable solution that isn’t overwhelmed by its unintended consequences.
The good news, I hope, is that subcommittees in both the U.S. House and Senate have taken action to delay implementation of the bill, and it looks like that will happen (unless they get too distracted with the Affordable Health Care Act). But that doesn’t fix the problem – it only moves it down the road.
Our ultimate goal is reform or repeal of the law. To that end, I have created a Flood Insurance Reform Task Force that includes State Senator Jeff Brandes, Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala, City Administrator Tish Elston and other city and county staff involved in housing, public works and economic development. We will rely on Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov to provide the data needed to plead our case to Congress. With 33,000 homes impacted in Pinellas County, of which 15,000 are in St. Petersburg, we are at ground zero. We must be at the table when it comes to reform or repeal of this legislation. We will work with our friends in Washington to ensure we are at the forefront of the discussion.
What should you do now?
First, determine if the law impacts you. You can do that in several ways, but the easiest is to contact your flood insurance provider. If you are currently not required to carry flood insurance, chances are you will not be affected by this legislation.
Second, if you currently do have flood insurance, DO NOT LET YOUR POLICY LAPSE, even if it is paid as part of your mortgage. Lapsed policies, even if exempted in some other way, will be subject to full increases at the time of reinstatement.
Third, come to us for assistance. We are available in a couple of ways.
Rate increases are based on your home’s Base Flood Elevation. Elevation Certificates for approximately 3,800 St. Petersburg properties are available online at www.stpete.org/development/construction_services/elevation_certificates.asp. If you can’t find yours, there is also a kiosk available in the Construction Services and Permitting lobby at the Municipal Services Center at One Fourth Street North. Our staff would be happy to assist you in your search.
Finally, contact your federal legislative representatives to ask questions and share your concerns.
U.S. Representative Bill Young – 727-392-4100 or 202-225-5961
U.S. Representative Kathy Castor – 813-871-2817 or 202-225-3376
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson – 813-225-7040 or 202-224-5274
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio – 813-977-6450 or 202-224-3041
Even if you are not directly impacted by increased premiums, all of St. Petersburg will be affected if we experience another housing crisis or economy bust brought on by this legislation. Stay informed and be heard.