August is here, bringing with it summer holidays, spectacular temperatures – and stormy weather.
From now until October, New York City faces its worst hurricane season of the year, bringing with it the risk of coastal flooding and, increasingly, from heavy, sudden rain called cloudbursts.
Earlier this summer, the city has seen waterlogged subways, highways and roads after afternoon rains.
However, as climate change warms the atmosphere, allowing it to hold more moisture and threatening more homes with flooding, fewer city dwellers have flood insurance – often the only way to cover damage when properties are flooded from storms, rivers and streams. rising and swelling seas.
Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the flood insurance program, is pushing Americans to buy the policies, warning of the dangers to homes and offering fewer federal subsidies in an effort to keep the program solvent.
“There is an underappreciation of the risk of flooding, and a lack of understanding of the damage that can be caused by flooding,” said David Maurstad, FEMA’s deputy assistant administrator for flood insurance. “So we have a lot of work to do.”
Here’s what you need to know about flood insurance ahead of this year’s hurricane season.
I have homeowners or renters insurance. Am I covered?
Maybe not. It is a limited liability insurance policy for homeowners or renters that protects against damage to their home or property due to weather-related flooding.
If you think you’re covered by flood insurance, you’re not alone: In 2020, nearly a quarter of homeowners surveyed told the Insurance Information Institute, an industry research organization, that they have flood insurance coverage — the segment with the highest numbers reported by insurance.
“This may indicate that consumers think they have a flood risk when they don’t,” the agency concluded.
However, if you live in a FEMA flood zone – usually along the coast and rivers that flood – and you have a mortgage, you must have a policy with the National Flood Insurance Program.
In New York City, 53,346 buildings have such ordinances, with the majority coming from Queens and Brooklyn. In contrast, the city recently compared that approximately 8,000 homes are at risk of flooding within the area alone based on a storm that brings two inches of rain within an hour. Few of these buildings are required to have flood insurance.
Case in point: On July 18, more than three inches of rain fell in less than an hour in the Bronx.
How can I get flood insurance, and what does it cover?
There are two ways to get flood insurance in the US: Get a policy through a private insurer (Zurich Insurance Group and AIG write such policies) or get insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program from FEMA.
Private insurers run the FEMA program; to get a quote, Maurstad suggests calling your insurer to see if they’re part of the program.
This program covers damage to all material and property – but only if it is stored at level 1 or higher. Items left in the basement may not be eligible for publication.
In terms of maximum payouts, four-family homes can see up to $250,000 in one-time payments for physical damage, and $100,000 for home contents. This program has no lifetime payment limit.
And even if you sign up for flood insurance today, be warned: There’s a 30-day waiting period before the process starts.
What is the cost?
This year, FEMA changed its plan for the flood insurance policy, a controversial move that raised premiums for some — in some cases double the annual premium — and reduced the costs of about a quarter of enrolled families.
The change had many positives: the FEMA program has been in debt for many years; the new measurement system was meant to close the economic gap. It now estimates multifactorial cost: Whereas before the program only assessed risk if a home was located on the beach, it now takes into account the cost of the home, the area, the rate of the home and the risk to the general population. other types of flooding.
Now, the annual premium for single-family homes is $648, FEMA says, and $919 for two- to four-family units. For high-priced homes in New York City’s hot market, those rates may be higher, given the increased importance of home values in FEMA’s new hazard assessment system.
FEMA says the money is necessary, because just one inch of flood water can cause thousands of dollars in damage. The program also includes an annual increase of 18% – no more than the standard rates New Yorkers can use, but still, FEMA argues, a necessary check.
These fees seem expensive. Can’t the government give me help if I’m in a disaster area?
FEMA is well aware of the high cost of its insurance, Maurstad said.
“There is a buying problem here,” he said. “There was last year, five years ago, and 10 years ago.”
FEMA is asking Congress to extend the discount to low- and low-income families when lawmakers reauthorize the program this fall.
On the subject of aid: After Hurricane Ida, which killed 13 people in five homes and flooded countless basements across the city, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency that allowed homeowners to apply for $36,000 in federal aid.
In practice, however, the program was flawed, people say. In many cases, their incomes increased significantly, while at the same time they were paid a fraction of that amount. Some homeowners who received such money also sought interest-free loans from the Small Business Administration; Their FEMA money was only used for loans, which made the money soft and required many to dip deeper into their savings.
In contrast, flood insurance can be very profitable – but the new risk assessment program, while opaque, will not buy New York City houses fairly, said Upmanu Lall, director of the Water Center of Columbia University and a professor of architecture.
That’s because FEMA’s maps don’t accurately model the risk of inland areas from heavy rain, meaning that, in the absence of hard data, insurers may need to pay more.
“We know that these people are vulnerable to flooding,” Lall said. “If they buy flood insurance at market rates, they’re screwed.”
I can’t afford flood insurance. What else can I do?
Flood insurance isn’t affordable for everyone, even with the potential cost of repairing a home that has been severely flooded, Lall said. There is little you can do.
First, know what risks to expect. The city released a new map this year of flood risk across the city. Check here if your home is in a high risk area.
Residents also need to take action on problems that can clog up garbage and lead to street flooding, Lall said. He and his neighbors are now coordinating complaints with the city, through the 311 program, about storm drains and concerns about other sewer blockages.
The city itself is encouraging neighbors to clean their storm drains after they are done. Some buildings are also required to have free dams that can keep water from entering the street or leaking through basement windows through the city’s new program. The city is also asking homeowners who don’t qualify for free pools to purchase their own.
Ultimately, Lall said, homeowners need to push the city to move quickly on its promises to reduce the risk of flooding.
“Homeowners need to pressure the city to fix the problem because they can’t be expected to cover up this disaster, which was created by the city,” he said.