Homes under water

Walking on what was once water: Onlookers check out what Hurricane Sandy left behind on the Coney Island shoreline.
Photo by Paul Martinka

Brooklyn’s coastal skyline is poised to grow taller — or face sky-high insurance rates.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has released a draft of its Advisory Base Flood Elevation map, which shows revised flood zones across the borough where many property owners will have to spend thousands of dollars to raise their buildings or face astronomical rates for flood insurance.

The new interactive online flood maps have reclassified parts of several Brooklyn neighborhoods — including Red Hook, Gowanus, Manhattan Beach, Sea Gate, Gerritsen Beach, Bergen Beach, and Mill Island — with “zone A” flood designations, requiring property owners with federally backed mortgages to buy flood insurance, according to FEMA spokeswoman Hannah Vick. Banks or mortgage companies will enforce the requirement, and Brooklyn property owners should consult with their lenders to see if they will be on the hook for the extra insurance.

That insurance is going to cost thousands of dollars a year unless affected homeowners raise their houses high enough off the ground to meet new standards, according to a government pamphlet titled “Build Back Stronger; What You Need to Know.”

The pamphlet details insurance rates for a home worth $250,000 — a low-ball figure for most of the borough. For that hypothetical house, it would cost $427 a year for a home three-feet-above FEMA’s base flood elevation, $1,410 a year at base flood elevation, and a staggering $9,500 a year for a home that’s even an inch below guidelines.

That means many property owners will have to raise their homes by five feet or more to qualify for the lowest insurance rate. Here’s a breakdown:

• In Gowanus, homes on Union and Carroll streets between Nevins Street and Third Avenue are around eight feet above the Gowanus Canal, but need to rise by as much as five additional feet.

• In Bergen Beach, homes along Avenue Y are between eight and nine feet above sea level, but need to be raised as much as six more feet.

• In Mill Island, folks living along E. 66th Street between Strickland Avenue and Whitman Drive are between six and nine feet above the coast, but need to be elevated as much as eight extra feet.

• In Red Hook, Van Brunt Street buildings between the water and Dikeman Street are between four and eight feet above the shoreline, but in some cases need to be put on stilts as tall as 11 feet.

• In Gerritsen Beach, homeowners on Noel Avenue between Lois Avenue and Brooklyn’s southern coast are as low as six feet above the coast, but must at least 16 feet.

The federal National Flood Insurance Program provides up to $30,000 in assistance for property owners attempting to raise their home or business, but many civic leaders have estimated the costs of doing so to be far in excess of what the government is willing to provide.

“Thirty thousand dollars will not even cover the basic costs,” said Michael Taylor, founder of Gerritsen Beach cares. “Raising a home could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. I know friends and family who have raised their houses and the least expensive was $50,000,” he said. “Everything adds up, just raising the house can cost 50 grand, then you have to change your plumbing and move your utilities up.”

Furthermore, Brooklyn’s sturdy rowhouses aren’t suited for stilts, according to state Assemblyman Alan Maisel.

“FEMA has a good grasp on situations along the Gulf Coast and Florida, but this is the first time they’ve come to New York, and they have no experience with it,” said “They don’t understand that you can’t raise brick houses, and I very much doubt they have brick attached houses all over the Gulf.”

The fed maps will undergo a two- to three-year regulatory process before being ratified — but an agency spokeswoman said they’re unlikely to change much in that time.

Civic leaders are already envisioning an exodus of residents who suddenly cannot afford the costs of living in a flood zone A, especially among those already struggling to make ends meet.

“It seems like they’re weeding out the poor and only the rich will be able to survive this,” said Taylor. “I know that there’s going to be a significant amount of people moving out because they can’t afford to recover, and they will move to less expensive types of housing.”

“Some will be moving to shelters and I’m still not sure how the seniors on fixed incomes are going to be able to handle this.”

According to FEMA, however, these measures are the only way to mitigate the damage created by catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy.

“I can tell you that flood insurance is the best way to protect your property,” said Vick. “We did see with Hurricane Sandy what can happen with flooding, and these strong storms. It does make sense now to look at ways as a community how we can rebuild back stronger.”

See elevation information for your own home at http://www.region2coastal.com/sandy/table.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

It’s not Venice: Van Brunt Street in Red Hook was completely under water on Tuesday morning.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

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