Few D.C. Residents Affected in Flood-Insurance Debate

While the federal government wades through a complicated effort to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent, the capital city has very little at stake in the debate.

That could be changing, though.

Data compiled by The Associated Press show that the District of Columbia has fewer policies issued through the flood-insurance program than any of the 50 states. And it has fewer of the policies that are at the heart of a debate over the flood insurance program’s future — subsidized policies that do not reflect the true risk of insuring them.

The district has only 185 subsidized policies. That is less than half that of next smallest state — Alaska — and far less than even the desert states of Nevada and Wyoming.

Under a plan recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, 128 policies on primary residences in the district could face annual rate increases of up to 18 percent. The other 57 subsidized polices, for businesses and vacation homes, will see rates rise 25 percent per year until the cost of the premium reflects the true market risk of insuring them.

The 185 owners represent just 8 percent of the more than 2,000 flood-insurance policies in force in the District. That is a lower percentage than all 50 states.

But a recent redrawing of the flood plain maps could draw more of the district into the flood-insurance program.

Crystal Sullivan, general manager of the Georgetown Suites hotel and chairman of Georgetown’s Business Improvement District, said the hotel on 29th and K Streets N.W. has never been required to hold flood insurance. But when the hotel explored a potential redevelopment project, it learned that new flood plain maps meant that a new mortgage holder would require flood insurance. And it would be expensive.

Sullivan said the hotel decided against redeveloping for reasons unrelated to the flood insurance, but she anticipates that it may be required eventually on the property regardless of redevelopment. The coverage would be expensive, she said.

“For us, it’s sticker shock not just because of the price of the premium but because we had never been in a flood plain before. I’ve been here 25 years, and it’s never flooded,” she said, noting that the hotel is on the side of K street farthest from the water.

The issue of flood insurance hasn’t been a major one in Georgetown she said, in part because “a lot of people don’t know the maps have changed.”

Donna Henry, spokeswoman for the District’s Department of the Environment, said the maps were redrawn in 2010 to reflect new technical data and the decertification of the levee system on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, something that has happened at communities throughout the country.

Although the Potomac River has been known to flood, along with some areas of the Georgetown neighborhood, much of the land along the Potomac is federal park land or otherwise controlled by the government. Along the Anacostia River, older neighborhoods like Deanwood and Kenilworth have older homes with paid-off mortgages, which generally eliminates the requirement for a property owner to hold flood insurance.

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