New flood plain maps, higher insurance premiums will affect homeowners

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The city’s administration scheduled a town meeting with FEMA representatives Tuesday evening, Dec. 11 at the Brigantine Beach Community Center. The meeting’s agenda dealt with the new federal flood plain maps which will affect many homes in Brigantine. City officials have estimated more than 2,000 homes on the island have been affected by flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, expecting answers regarding the need to raise their homes based on expected new federal requirements in order to avoid onerous flood insurance premiums. However, the plan is still under review by the state and has not been released.

The city scheduled the meeting thinking the new elevations would have been approved and released by then, but Mayor Phil Guenther explained that the new flood plain height requirements were still waiting on state approval.

“We expect the state to release the information early next week,” Guenther said. “We will release the information as soon as we can.”

Property owners were able to get information about ICC federal grants, which pay as much as $30,000 toward raising a building to base flood elevation requirements.

To be eligible for this grant, the flood damage from Sandy must be “substantial” – at least 50 percent of the building’s value (not the total property value). Whether the damage meets the 50 percent requirement is a local decision, based on inspections by Brigantine’s Construction Official Richard Stevens.

FEMA representative Stephen Melnick answered questions from homeowners who were looking for direction before undertaking the repairs needed to rehabilitate their homes.

“Even if properties did not suffer enough damage to qualify for the Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage (ICC),” said Melnick, “homeowners should still find a way to raise the first floor to save on insurance costs.”

Even before Sandy struck, Melnick said, the federal government had already drafted plans to increase flood insurance premiums over the next few years by as much as 25 percent, part of legislation passed in July to help stabilize financial deficits with the National Flood Insurance Program. Insurance premiums for second homes and businesses will be higher than premiums for primary residences.

The ICC program will be phased in over a four-year period. Residences which are grandfathered in will lose that qualification if they allow their flood insurance to lapse.

Federal flood insurance will cover primary residences up to $250,000 for buildings and $100,000 for contents. However, homeowners who receive the maximum insurance payout will not qualify for ICC coverage.

The federal government also has SBA loans for property owners ($250,000 for buildings and $40,000 for contents), renters ($40,000 for contents), and businesses (up to $2 million).

All property owners whose properties were affected by the storm are strongly encouraged to contact the city’s construction office, arrange for inspection and start the ICC process.

Stevens gave an example of a $150,000 property pre-FIRM (before 1982) that had an annual flood insurance premium of $1,079. If this property was substantially damaged by the storm and not raised to meet the new base flood elevation requirements, its flood insurance premium would increase to $12,694. Very few owners would be able to pay $1,000 a month for flood insurance, so addressing this issue proactively should be a high priority.

The city’s administration is aware of the potential for some owners who are “upside-down” with their mortgages – owing more on a property than the property is worth – to simply walk away from their homes after calculating the combined costs of repairs, remediation and possible need to raise its foundation. City officials say they are carefully watching for any residences that may be abandoned, as well as bank-owned residences.

Another meeting with FEMA is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18 at the North School auditorium, and the new flood plan elevations are anticipated to be available for homeowners.

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