Hope for flood zone homeowners

Feds weigh flood insurance relief bill


With flood insurance rates set to rise for more than 800 Valley Stream homeowners who will remain in the high-risk flood zone, a bill currently making its way through the U.S. Senate could delay those increases for at least a year.

The 2014 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill includes a provision that would delay the implementation of flood insurance increases for a year. It would apply to all structures that were built in compliance with the requirements of a specific flood risk zone, then moved into another — meaning that Valley Stream homes that were added to the high-risk flood zone in 2009 would be able to take advantage of the break.

A similar Homeland Security bill passed in the House of Representatives, but an amendment extending the lower flood insurance rates did not. This does not mean the provision is dead, however. If it passes the Senate, it could be included in a final bill developed by a Senate and House conference committee. Stuart Chapman, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, said a resolution is still weeks, if not months, away.

“Congresswoman McCarthy has repeatedly fought to reduce the cost burden that flood insurance has caused for the people of Long Island,” Chapman said. “She is very disappointed that the House did not pass the amendment to freeze rates, but she will work with her Senate and House colleagues to fight for that provision. We need to make sure that Americans have access to reasonably priced flood protection to combat the horrible destruction caused by storms that rage across the U.S., whether you live on Long Island or somewhere else.”

More than 1,500 homes in Valley Stream will be removed from the high-risk zone after the village approved a new flood map on July 15. The map, created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was a revision of the controversial map that was approved in 2009.

However, 855 homes in the village that were added to the high-risk zone in 2009 will remain in it. Homeowners with federally backed mortgages are required to purchased flood insurance, and premiums for those in the high-risk zone could exceed $3,000 per year for maximum coverage.

In response to the outrage fueled by the implementation of the 2009 maps, FEMA offered a Preferred Risk Policy to homes that were added to the high-risk zone, for about $400 per year. That rate is set to expire with the implementation of the new maps, but the Senate bill would freeze the lower rate, at least temporarily.

Sen. Charles Schumer, who has been to Valley Stream several times to lobby for accurate flood maps, said he supports the legislation. “These homeowners, through no fault of their own and despite the fact that they purchased properties that were up to code, now face flood insurance premiums that are so high, some will be forced to consider leaving their homes,” Schumer said. “We simply can’t let that happen, which is why I’m co-sponsoring legislation that will provide a one-year moratorium while we develop a longer-term solution.”

Mayor Ed Fare said that the village has been lobbying for lower flood insurance rates for the past few years. He added that premiums of $2,000 or more per year are absurd, but annual rates of $400 to $500 are much easier to stomach.

“I’d like the homes that are in the flood zone to be able to get flood insurance, and to be protected in case there’s a flood, and for that protection to be affordable,” he said. “Everyone should be entitled to flood insurance.”

He said he also hopes that the federal government will work to create legislation that permanently extends the lower rates.

At the July 15 public hearing on the new flood map at Village Hall, residents learned that they are paying a wide range of rates for insurance, even though premiums are set by FEMA. Some homeowners said they were being charged amounts that were inconsistent with the Preferred Risk Policy rates that FEMA offered.

Blendi Koroveshi said he has spent about $7,500 on flood insurance since he purchased his home a few years ago, and estimated that he would spend $120,000 on premiums over the life of a 30-year mortgage. “It’s not chump change,” he said at the meeting. “I could put my son through a very good school for that money.”

Fare said that based on what he heard at the hearing, it appears that some residents are paying higher rates than they should, and the issue still needs to be addressed with insurance companies.