US Congressman John Tierney was a guest at the Lynn City Council Tuesday night and he brought with him an update on the controversial FEMA flood plain maps and the Biggert-Waters Act, which will raise flood insurance premiums for homeowners living in the flood plain over the next several years.
Tierney, who was asked to provide an update by the Council, gave a brief presentation on recent congressional efforts to deal with the most severe impacts of the Biggert-Waters Act and provided the Council with some options for challenging, or appealing the related but separate issue of the new flood plain maps.
Following the presentation, Ward 4 Councilor Richard Colucci made a motion to have the city’s law department look into the city’s options with regard to appealing the new maps and report back to the city council. The motion was adopted unanimously.
As for the new flood insurance rates themselves, Tierney told the Council that Congress has essentially reset the clock on how the Biggert Waters Act will be implemented and established a new timeline and table of increases that will make the impact of the new higher rates less severe by spreading them out over a period of five years.
“New owners will be treated the same as current owners, in that if they are buying a property where the seller was grandfathered and had kept current on insurance premiums, the new buyer will be given the same grandfathered rate, as long as they stay current,” added Tierney.
Essentially, the moves by Congress delay the full implementation of Biggert Waters and requires FEMA to conduct a study of what the new rates will look like and report back to congress on how to roll the program out over a period of years, as opposed to all at once.
The Biggert Waters Act began as an attempt by Congress to help FEMA, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), address a deficit in the NFIP funding stream. Several severe flood and storm events – Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, for instance – had left the NFIP in deficit.
Since flood insurance rates had always been partially subsidized by the federal government, the deficit in the NFIP fund was exacerbated by the grandfathered rates for homeowners in the flood plain who had owned their homes for several years, decades in some cases.
FEMA, following the passage of Biggert Waters, determined that the best was to address the deficit was to do away with the subsidized rates and start charging people an amount that more closely reflects the k of living in the flood plain.
“The problem with that,” says Tierney, “is that the law was never supposed to make homes unaffordable for their owners.
In fact, Tierney told the Council that FEMA’s rate changes were supposed to have gone before Congress before being rolled out, but said they never did.
The Congressman said that FEMA is now on notice to provide the study they were supposed to provide to Congress in the first place and they have been directed to implement proposed rate increases over a five year period, with no single year increase to be higher than one-percent of the home’s mortgage value, and be no more than a 15-percent increase per year.
Simultaneously, the proposed new FEMA flood maps, which were not part of Biggert-Waters but simply a part of a regular map recalibration that is carried out by FEMA every five to ten years, have already been challenged as inaccurate by several Massachusetts cities and towns.
Tierney told the Council that homeowners are able to challenge the maps, and their placement within the floodplain, on an individual property by property basis, but that process is often quite expensive and requires hiring outside engineers and surveyors.
He also told the council that the city could choose to challenge the Lynn floodplain map in whole or in part, which likely prompted the motion by Councilor Colucci.