Official: Delayed flood rates not answer

Councilman Ladouceur says homeowners will be forced to abandon houses


With some Rhode Island residents saying they won’t be able to continue living in their homes, members of Congress who touted the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act when they voted for it last year, are now co-sponsoring legislation that would delay increased insurance rates for four years.

But while the legislation – the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act – could bring some temporary relief, if enacted, it doesn’t promise to eliminate premiums that could go as high as $25,000 for $250,000 of coverage.

The situation has Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur seeing red.

“Right now they’re reacting to the public outcry,” Ladouceur said of lawmakers. “All this talk should have happened before they passed the law.”

“Unless they repeal it, it’s not going to change anything,” he said. “If they can’t get this thing rectified, people are going to walk away from [their] property.

He said Congress “needs to come up with a permanent fix to this … Let them come up with it because we can’t pass it at the local level.”

Until the specifics of the new legislation are outlined, even those closest to the issue can’t predict what it is going to mean. Michelle Burnett, state floodplain coordinator with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA), was of the opinion that the law won’t apply to secondary properties – vacation and summer homes – or businesses that will still feel the full impact of non-subsidized rates. She couldn’t say how many of the 16,123 Rhode Island policyholders would be affected. Of that amount, 43 percent are considered subsidized, she said. Flood insurance premiums for the state total $21 million. In Warwick, 1,867 property owners have flood insurance. Banks require the insurance to mortgage properties within flood zones as defined by the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

In addition to secondary houses and business, Burnett doubts the new legislation would apply to severe repetitive loss situations. She qualified these as policyholders who have experienced $5,000 in losses more than once.

According to a release issued Tuesday by Congressman James Langevin, the bill also calls for a two-year affordability study and would apply to primary residences sold after July 6, 2012.

“Homeowners in Rhode Island coastal communities are already seeing significant increases in their flood insurance rates, rates that, for some, are unsustainable,” Langevin said in a statement. “These families have already been through enough, seeing their homes damaged and memories destroyed by the rising floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. I understand that reforms are needed in the federal flood insurance program, but those changes should not come at the cost of someone losing their home.”

Ladouceur has called on the state’s Congressional delegation to roll back the Biggert-Waters legislation. He said last week that the measure would trigger an exodus from the city and force families that have lived in Conimicut, Oakland Beach and other costal neighborhoods for decades to leave their properties. Ladouceur also asked Tax Assessor Evelyn Spagnolo to extend the Oct. 15 deadline for property owners to appeal their property valuations, as the new insurance rates will depreciate real estate values. Spagnolo noted the deadline is set by state law and further said, until there is evidence that the rates are impacting values, there would be no way of determining the effect.

Mayor Scott Avedisian questions what can be accomplished with a four-year delay.

“It’s just freezing it [the rates] from here to here. It doesn’t solve it,” he said.

He called the effect of the Biggert-Waters Act “too dramatic and all at once.” He sees part of the issue is that new homes that meet the flood building codes are subsidizing rates for older homes that pre-date the codes and flood maps. What he is saying is borne out by the accounts of Conimicut residents in earlier stories about this issue. In one case, the owner of a relatively new house, built 14 feet above the ground with all utilities above flood elevation, is paying $9,000 for insurance, the owner of a single-story house on the water, only a block away, was paying $800.

Avedisian doesn’t have a solution. Nonetheless, he doesn’t think it right that an older couple living in a house for 50 years would be forced to leave because they can’t afford flood insurance.

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