5 ways to reduce impact of higher-cost flood insurance

Many New Yorkers will soon face higher costs.

NYC homeowners are seeing flood insurance rates go up. Next year, they’ll go up again. Many of them could see their rates jump from about $1,500 a year to about $10,000 in the next several years.

This isn’t just an added burden for homeowners whose lives were upended by Superstorm Sandy. Many more New Yorkers will soon face these costs. Why? Risk is increasing and FEMA is updating its flood insurance rate maps, expected to go into effect in 2016. The changes are expected to double the number of New Yorkers living in high-risk flood zones to 400,000, including neighborhoods like Canarsie, Midland Beach and the Rockaways.

The rate increases are due to changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires most homeowners in high-risk areas to purchase flood insurance. The long-term impact of these rate increases raises serious concerns. Homeowners in the city’s flood-prone neighborhoods are largely working and middle-class New Yorkers. How will they bear these costs? Will it tip more homeowners into foreclosure? How many will be forced to leave their communities?

Confronting the challenges posed by rising tides and rising costs will require a long-term effort to find ways to protect communities. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods is working with government partners to implement the following recommendations:

Inform residents in flood-prone neighborhoods about their flood risk and expected rate increases.

Ensure that FEMA develops new flood-risk mitigation options that work for dense, urban neighborhoods like NYC. For example, FEMA could lower rates more for homeowners who take steps short of elevating their homes (moving costly mechanical systems upstairs where they’re not at risk of flood damage).

Create a resiliency fund to finance home elevations and other measures so residents can keep insurance affordable.

Explore new flood insurance subsidies for low- and moderate-income people.

Continue targeted acquisition opportunities for those who wish to relocate.

If the added burden of rising flood insurance costs is not confronted head on, the affordability and stability of many neighborhoods near the coast will be put at risk.

Christie Peale is executive director of the nonprofit Center for NYC Neighborhoods, which promotes affordable housing. Learn more at FloodHelpNY.org.