flood insurance

People sit at a line of computers to learn about property risk
Kerry Sheridan/WUSF Public Media

Coastal flood zones across Florida are changing, and many property owners across Florida are seeing their flood risk go up – or down – for the first time in 40 years.

These Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps recalculate the risk of what’s often called a 100-year flood.

Congress has passed two spending bills to fund the federal government. President Donald Trump is expected to sign them, avoiding a shutdown.

One provision in those bills is a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. With the president's approval, the program will be extended through Sept. 30, 2020.

Floridians have another year of reprieve before they face a likely hike in their flood insurance premiums, thanks to political pressure from Congress over a potentially drastic revamp to the National Flood Insurance Program.

Officials estimate there are still years of recovery left after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Panhandle 12 months ago.  But for many who are living in tents, or doubled up in homes still in disrepair, that’s too long, and insurance companies are bearing part of the blame for what some see as a slow recovery.

Coastal flood maps for Hillsborough County are being revised for the first time in 30 years.
Hillsborough County

Residents and businesses may see changes to their flood insurance rates as Hillsborough County coastal flood maps are updated for the first time in 30 years.

Insurance companies must include bold font text detailing what they do and do not cover, thanks to new law.

Pinellas County Flood Information

The Federal Emergency Management Administration has released a new preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) to reflect the flood risk of areas in Pinellas County with more accuracy.

Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

Nearly 17,000 flood insurance claims connected with Hurricane Irma have been filed, and more are expected in the coming weeks.

Most Florida Flood Zone Property Not Insured

Sep 7, 2017
Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa routinely floods during thunderstorms.
WUSF Public Media

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, an Associated Press analysis shows a steep drop in flood insurance across the state, including the areas most endangered by what could be a devastating storm surge.

In just five years, the state's total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 percent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

Florida's property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

At the end of September, the National Flood Insurance Program will expire unless Congress acts to re-authorize its funding. Many in the real estate and insurance industries say they're cautiously optimistic the federal flood insurance subsidy will be kept in place, but there’s no guarantee amid the chaotic climate in Washington. 

Flooding in Key West Caused by Hurricane Wilma
Marc Averette / Wikipedia Commons

Anywhere it rains, it can flood.

That was a warning from Pinellas County’s Floodplain Management Program, which is working to keep county residents informed about the dangers of flooding.

Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa routinely floods during thunderstorms.
WUSF Public Media

Ever since the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was founded almost 50 years ago, Congress has been tweaking the federally backed program.

The U.S. Senate passed the House flood insurance bill that is intended to curb the huge rate increases experienced by homeowners.

According to a release from Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the legislation caps flood insurance rate increases at no more than 18 percent. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is charged with finding ways to keep flood insurance affordable.

“It’s not everything I wanted for homeowners, but it’s significant protection from unconscionable rate hikes,” said Nelson in the written release.

Tuesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would repeal portions of the Biggert-Waters Act after hearing from numerous homeowners about soaring flood insurance rates.

As Congress wrangles over whether to delay huge increases to flood insurance premiums, Pinellas County homeowners are living with the reality of flood insurance they can’t afford and homes that no one will buy.

Statewide in Florida, home sales were up 8.6 percent in December according to John Sebree, vice president of the Florida Realtors Association.

Yet, Sebree told the Florida Cabinet Thursday that for that same month of December, Pinellas County home sales dropped 8.4 percent and there was an 11 percent decrease in November.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Senate has easily passed a bill to delay premium hikes for years for hundreds of thousands of homeowners who buy flood insurance from the federal government.

Thursday's sweeping 67-32 vote reflects widespread concern about changes enacted two years ago to shore up the program's finances. The changes are in many cases producing unexpected, sky-high insurance rates that are unaffordable for many homeowners in flood-prone areas whose insurance has historically been subsidized by the government and other policyholders.

The bill was muscled through the Senate after angry constituents, the real estate and homebuilder lobbies inundated lawmakers with complaints.

Sen. Nelson Pushing Flood Insurance Reforms

Jan 9, 2014

Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is helping lead an effort to rollback rate increases on flood insurance policies. Matt Laslo reports from Washington proponents say the bill, which could come up for a vote soon, is vital for the state.

After Hurricane Katrina the federal flood insurance program became saddled in debt. To get back to solvency lawmakers passed the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012. It requires the government to raise insurance premiums in flood prone areas. Thousands of homeowners are now furious, arguing new insurance prices are making their homes worthless.

Now lawmakers want FEMA to hold off on the rate increase until it conducts an affordability assessment, which would take about three years to conduct. Nelson says flood insurance rate hikes are drying up Florida’s real estate market.

Millions of American property owners get flood insurance from the federal government, and a lot of them get a hefty discount. But over the past decade, the government has paid out huge amounts of money after floods, and the flood insurance program is deeply in the red.

Congress tried to fix that in 2012 by passing a law to raise insurance premiums. Now that move has created such uproar among property owners that Congress is trying to make the law it passed disappear.

Bay Area Lawmakers Take On Flood Insurance Issue

Dec 17, 2013

Two Tampa Bay-area legislators said Tuesday that they are proposing a bill to give Florida's homeowners relief from rising flood insurance premiums.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Larry Ahern said during a news conference that the bill would allow private insurance companies to offer flood insurance policies to Florida homeowners.

Far from just a problem for rich people who live on the beach, steep flood insurance rate increases approved by Congress last year largely will hit middle- and working-class homeowners who can least afford the higher costs. The average single-family home facing a large flood premium increase in Manatee County is worth $122,019 and has 1,442 square feet of living area, while in Sarasota County the average is a home worth $169,700 with 1,567 square feet.

Gov. Scott accused President Barack Obama of failing to show leadership in the flood controversy. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater alluded to Obama's national health care act, saying the president didn't know what was in the flood insurance act before he signed it. In a short conversation with the three state officials after a Cabinet meeting, Attorney General Pam Bondi said she is filing a "friend of the court" brief supporting the case Mississippi brought against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency, rather than suing separately. But she said her office is consulting the state Office of Insurance Regulation and "we're not ruling anything out at this point."

A bipartisan proposal to delay federal flood insurance rate hikes that take effect today is being stymied by a bitter congressional dispute over President Barack Obama's signature health care law, Sen. Bill Nelson said.

Nelson, D-Fla., along with U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; David Vitter, R-La.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, sponsored legislation last week to delay implementation of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act until next year.

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser

We've already read that nearly one-third of all homes in Pinellas County may see their flood insurance rates rise because of pending changes in federal rules. Now, the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office says more than 21,000 homes in that county could see their rates rise, as well.

The flood insurance reforms, known as the Biggert-Waters Act, in part require all new home buyers pay full rate for flood policies ending any subsidy the previous home owner enjoyed.

As rain pounds the Tampa Bay area, Florida realtors are worried that changes in the federal flood insurance rates - scheduled to kick in October 1st - will dry up home sales.

The flood insurance reforms, known as the Biggert-Waters Act, in part require all new home buyers pay full rate for flood policies ending any subsidy the previous home owner enjoyed.

Florida’s private homeowners’ insurance market is “the worse it’s ever been” in the past five years according to Michael Letcher, president of the Home Insurance Buyers Guide.

“To me, the health of the market isn’t how many policies are available in the private market but what kind of choice does a customer have and what kind of ability do we all have to shop our policies,” Letcher said.

Letcher had his home insurance canceled after Hurricane Wilma when his insurance company left Florida.