NYC Officials Warn of Flood Insurance 'Crisis'

The city's mayor wants Congress to reform FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program.

Saying the cost of flood insurance could reach crisis levels for low-income New Yorkers and other low-income Americans if Congress does not reform FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials released a RAND study this week about the rising risk of flooding.

"This report underscores the challenges we face as we build a more resilient and fair city. If Congress doesn't act, rising flood insurance rates will put a critical tool to build more resilient communities out of reach for too many New Yorkers," said de Blasio. "In the meantime, we're making strides in the fight to keep flood insurance affordable by working with FEMA to revise New York's floodplain maps. I am proud to unveil this report, a key part of the city's innovative, multi-layered resiliency program to help communities across the city prepare for the threat of rising seas."

Flood insurance is already difficult to afford for nearly two-thirds of extremely and very-low-income households in the study area. Higher premiums would probably price flood insurance out of reach for New Yorkers who need it most, it suggests.

The NFIP is the nation's primary source of residential flood insurance, and Congress' current authorization of the program expires on Sept. 30.

"A key initiative under New York City's resiliency program is to ensure that residents in the floodplain are prepared for coastal storms and rising seas, which requires that the right tools, like flood insurance, remain available and affordable," said Daniel Zarrilli, senior director, Climate Policy and Programs and chief resilience officer at the New York City Mayor's Office. "The findings by RAND underscore the urgency with which we must act with our partners in Congress to reauthorize and improve the National Flood Insurance Program to better serve our coastal communities as we seek to build a more resilient city."

Jainey Bavishi, director of the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency, pointed out that NYC has more than 520 miles of coastline. "Flood insurance is an important resource for protecting the most valuable asset most New Yorkers will ever own—their home," Bavishi said. "Proposals to withdraw special NFIP rates without replacing them with financial assistance to protect affordability for low-income homeowners will destabilize neighborhoods and turn back or slow down the recovery we have seen since Hurricane Sandy."

FEMA's flood maps require homeowners in the highest flood-risk areas to purchase flood insurance to cover the cost of flood damage, if they have a mortgage.

The study, "The Cost and Affordability of Flood Insurance in New York City," is based on research conducted by the RAND Center for Catastrophic Risk Management and Compensation, part of the RAND Justice, Infrastructure and Environment research division of the RAND Corporation.

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