NYC Homeowners Face Huge Unknowns as Flood Insurance Changes Loom

September 20, 2019


Article originally written by Olivia Schwob and taken from citylimits


If housing affordability and climate change resiliency are two of the most pressing challenges facing New York City, the flood zone marks their contested intersection. As heavy rainfall inundates subway stations, sewer mains, and even Staten Island buses, residents of the city’s low-lying, water-fronted, neighborhoods brace, unsure if an extreme storm will render their homes temporarily — or permanently — uninhabitable.

Yet for the largely middle- and working-class homeowners in these neighborhoods, another rising tide threatens their ability to stay put, even on dry and sunny days: flood insurance.

Owners on the city’s coastline and their advocates are bracing for impact as two more major anticipated changes to federal flood insurance policy promise to fundamentally alter the landscape of affordable housing in New York City.

Growing risks, and costs

Homeowners in “high risk flood zones,” as charted by the Federal Emergency Management Administration, are required by law to purchase flood insurance if they hold federally-backed mortgages. As flood damage isn’t covered by regular homeowner’s insurance, the majority of these homeowners purchase insurance from private companies at rates set under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.

Owners outside the high-risk zones who have received public disaster assistance from FEMA or participated in local programs like Build It Back are also required to insure their homes.

When Superstorm Sandy far overran the bounds of the previously mapped flood risk, flood insurance went from a tithe on the luxuries of beachfront living to a financial pressure on thousands of homeowners in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. Recently, that financial pressure has been intensifying.

The majority of homes in New York’s flood zones were built before 1983, when the adoption of risk maps began to dictate construction standards in the flood plain. Historically, such homes have been eligible for subsidized insurance rates.


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