House passes bill to limit flood insurance hikes

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

Homeowners in Southern Brooklyn could be in for a flood of relief.

A long-delayed bill offering a break on flood insurance premiums finally passed the House on March 4, as thousands of property owners braced for massive rate hikes triggered by new, post-Sandy federal flood-zone maps.

“It’s a big help for Gerritsen Beach,” said Linda Cupo, a vice president of the Gerritsen Beach Property Owners Association, noting that worries about higher premiums dominates conversations in the storm-struck area more than talk of the city’s recovery programs.

“Most people have been talking about insurance more than Build it Back or anything else,” she said.

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act would cap flood insurance premium hikes at 15–18 percent, provide subsidies for policies based on the old flood maps, and reimburse homeowners who experienced large premium hikes after buying or selling a home.

Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) co-sponsored the bill, which passed the House with bipartisan support on March 4, and he is confident that the Senate will adopt the bill and the president will sign it into law in coming weeks, a spokesperson said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is responsible for administering the federally subsidized flood insurance program and is in the process of updating flood maps nationwide. New maps for Brooklyn that expanded the areas considered highest risk were released a year ago — just three months after superstorm Sandy ravaged the region.

The exact amount and duration of the bill’s new subsidies would depend on an individual’s insurer, said Richard Hoffman, a Grimm aide to who helped write the bill. But he said that homeowners could count on more than a few years of relief.

“It’s going to take a very long time for the subsidies to erode,” Hoffmann said.

The bill offers special protections to homeowners in Southern Brooklyn whose homes were built before the first federal flood maps were adopted in the late 1970s, according to Hoffmann. Those provisions would make it easier for them to sell their homes.

The government requires homeowners with federally backed mortgages living in flood zones purchase flood insurance, but many in Southern Brooklyn own their homes outright, meaning they can choose whether to purchase insurance.

They are nonetheless concerned they would not be able to sell, because hefty insurance requirements would scare potential homebuyers — most of which would finance their homes with federally backed mortgages.

Under the House bill, individuals who buy pre-1970s homes would not be on the hook for the full flood insurance rate, Hoffmann said, since the additional subsidy would go to the property, rather than the owner.

“It’s a big relief,” said Cupo. “That’s what everyone was talking about — ‘I can’t sell my house.’ ”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.

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