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New Flood Insurance Rates Have Sandy Victims Worried They'll Lose Homes

By Nicholas Rizzi | April 1, 2015 4:32pm
 Residents in neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Sandy worry the new federal flood insurance hikes will make them unable to pay their bills.
Residents in neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Sandy worry the new federal flood insurance hikes will make them unable to pay their bills.
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DNAinfo/Janet Upadhye

STATEN ISLAND — Retired NYPD officer Diane McNamara, 53, bought her Midland Beach home in 1999 and paid around $1,300 a year for flood insurance.

Hurricane Sandy sent four feet of water inside her home, climbing up to her kitchen counters. After she made repairs and moved back in, her insurance shot up to $3,000.

Now, under new federal flood insurance rules that start Wednesday, McNamara faces a yearly increase of 18 percent on her policy, plus a $25 surcharge. By her calculations, in eight years she'll be paying almost $10,000.

"Even if I can squeeze out the $9,500 a year, within 10 years I’m over $10,000," McNamara said. "I just don't have the money. I'm quite sure I'm not unique in that."

The new Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 kicks in on April 1 and slowly raises premiums for renewals or new policies each year.

Residents in flood prone areas across the city could see rates climb up to 18 percent for their primary home or up to 25 percent for second houses, businesses or properties that received significant damage in Sandy each year.

By law, residents who live in flood prone areas who have a mortgage must have flood insurance, and rates are set by the zone they're in on FEMA flood maps. 

The nonprofit Center for New York City Neighborhoods has created a website where residents can check their flood zones under current maps and proposed maps that start in 2017 — which nearly doubles the amount of homes in high risk areas.

The group works to retain affordable housing in the city, but worries that the new insurance rates will force a lot of residents into foreclosure because they can't pay their premiums.

"Over the course of five years, it will be a huge impact for homeowners, most of them would be unable to afford their flood insurance," said Caroline Nagy, policy manager for the group.

"This could really drastically impact homeowners and lead to foreclosure and the loss of homes."

Aside from the hikes, the new program also tacks on a $25 surcharge for renewals or new policies. However, if the property is a business or a secondary home the surcharge jumps to $250 and many people get defaulted to that rate, Nagy said.

"People are getting rate renewal notifications that just have the $250 addition," Nagy said. "They don't even know there’s a surcharge there."

The group suggests homeowners closely study their policy renewals and ask their providers if they see a huge jump. She said it's as simple as bringing a piece of ID or a bill the proves it's your primary residency to go to the $25 rate.

McNamara, the recording secretary for the Midland Beach Civic Association, asked her group to push local elected officials to set a cut-off where residents can ditch their flood insurance if the rates get too high.

"Even if they half the premiums they will not be affordable in 10 years," McNamara said. "When you're looking at that kind of thing, we have to look for a different remedy."

For Rosemary Vasquez, 65, a lifelong Midland Beach resident who owns her home and six rental properties, the new hikes and surcharges could put her in even more financial strain.

Vasquez retired from her job as a school bus driver right before Sandy hit, and while the majority of her home survived the storm, the bills piled up for repairs and forced her to take a job as a senior citizen aide.

"Either you eat or you pay insurance," Vasquez said. "That's how insane it is, and I'm one of the better ones."

She sits on both the Midland Beach Civic Association and the 122 Precinct Community Council and said she invested in the neighborhood as her nest egg. However, the storm and already increased rates forced her to consider leaving.

"If there was a way out, I’d take it," said Vasquez, who tried to sell her home already but couldn't find a buyer. "I really don't know my next step is. I'm just taking a deep breath."