New Flood Insurance Law Only Slows Rate Hike for 14K Conn. Property Owners

By Stephen Singer | March 27, 2014

Stephen Nelson and Mary Anne Mayo are still struggling with the destruction from Superstorm Sandy, nearly 18 months after it swept through their Westport, Conn., home, taking their first-floor belongings into the Saugatuck River.

The couple, relying on federal flood insurance, has made repairs while considering major reconstruction work such as raising the house to comply with federal rules. The latest plan is to tear down the house, beginning in late summer or next spring.

“The entire experience was just awful,” said Nelson.

While the recovery continues, thousands across Connecticut who have federally subsidized flood insurance caught at least a short-term break last Friday when President Barack Obama signed a law providing relief from significant immediate premium increases.

The new law reverses parts of a 2012 overhaul of the National Flood Insurance Program after homeowners protested that premium increases were expected to rise sharply. In Connecticut, property owners, real estate agents and federal, state and local officials said skyrocketing insurance premiums would have prevented homes from selling.

Instead of facing large increases immediately, more than 14,000 property owners in Connecticut will be hit with annual premium increases as high as 18 percent, until the policyholder switches to a risk-based rate, according to a review of federal data by The Associated Press. Nearly 4,200 policyholders, including business owners and vacation houses, face mandatory annual 25 percent increases.

In Westport, Conn., 486 policies face annual increases of up to 18 percent until the policyholder switches to a risk-based rate.

In Fairfield, Conn., 1,464 policies face annual increases of up to 18 percent, the largest number in Connecticut. More than 1,000 homes along the town’s beachfront — about one-fifth of the total number — were damaged by Sandy, said Fairfield First Selectman Michael C. Tetreau.

“Flood insurance didn’t work great with the old rates,” he said. “The whole process is broken.”

Mayor Ben Blake, of Milford, Conn., which boasts the longest shoreline in Connecticut, said 2,000 properties were affected by Sandy, which pounded southwest Connecticut and New York City in October 2012. He said 250 properties were substantially damaged and more than 50 percent were destroyed.

Hundreds of city residents are still displaced, he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s a long recovery. It’s not measured in days and weeks, but years,” Blake said.

In Milford, 825 properties face annual increases of up to 18 percent. Without the federal fix, people buying homes where the previous owner had paid just a few hundred dollars for insurance might find themselves immediately hit with a bill for thousands. But even with the relief law, policyholders could see rates just as steep phased in over time.

It’s not just residents in shoreline communities who are affected. In New Britain in central Connecticut, 164 policies face annual increases of up to 18 percent. As much as 75 percent of policies there face increases, a proportion higher than in Fairfield.

Rep. Jim Himes, whose district includes Connecticut shoreline towns, said the legislation helps ease the burden for policyholders.

“It makes the increases in premiums much easier to handle for a lot of people without ultimately compromising our objective of making the flood insurance program self-sustaining,” he said. “Most people would agree we shouldn’t be subsidizing coastal living.”

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