FEMA’s action causing many homeowners to drop flood insurance

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Devine St. and Crowson Rd., Columbia, SC during the “1000-year flood” of 2015

If you have clients who are complaining about the rising cost of flood insurance, there may be a good reason for those complaints. This issue came to my attention through The DIRT listserv which I have recommended to South Carolina dirt lawyers several times. If you haven’t already, subscribe to this listserv for interesting discussions of current real estate topics.

In 2021, FEMA announced that the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was shifting to a risk-based premium system. The new system is called Risk Rating 2.0, and it attempts to base premiums on the actual characteristics of individual properties rather than simply referring to “flood maps”. I’d like to refer everyone to this article from ClimateWire dated August 27, 2022.

According to the article, FEMA’s shift was intended to encourage more homeowners to buy flood insurance by showing more precisely the risk that each property faces of being flooded. The shift has apparently caused the opposite result. Many homeowners have dropped FEMA flood insurance based on increasing premiums. It should be noted that many premiums were also reduced.

Closing attorneys understand all too well that properties in high-risk flood zones require flood insurance if the property owners obtain federally backed mortgages. The individuals who are dropping the coverage are not those who have such mortgages. Many of the individuals opting out of flood insurance because of increased costs are low-income individuals in coastal areas.

The article states that the number of NFIP policies dropped from 4.96 million in September of 2021 to 4.54 million in June of 2022. The declining numbers cause concerns that owners whose homes are flooded will not be able to rebuild or recover financially, and that low-income households will suffer the most.

FEMA told the reporter that many factors could influence the drop in policy holders, including the economic impact of the pandemic, inflation, the housing market, and the affordability of purchasing flood insurance from the private market. It is not clear how many people who dropped NFIP policies have bought flood insurance through private insurers. In other words, FEMA does not consider that its change in premium calculations is the sole cause of the problem.

We need to pay attention to this issue as Congress wrestles with possible solutions. It is certainly dangerous to have flood insurance priced in a way that fails to protect low-income homeowners who live in the most precarious areas geographically.