Previous efforts to raise flood insurance rates have been delayed or canceled in the face of public pressure. In 2012, Congress passed a law that would have brought rates in line with all of the risks people face; two years later, lawmakers backed off, replacing those changes with more modest increases.
FEMA’s new flood insurance system has raised similar concerns. The new tariffs were originally supposed to go into effect last October, but members of Congress have warned FEMA about the effect the increases would have on their constituents. The Trump administration has delayed the new rates until this year, in part fearing that the increase in premiums shortly before the election will politically harm President Trump, according to a person familiar with the talks.
According to Roy Wright, who ran the insurance program until 2018, the agency could theoretically find ways to further blunt those rate hikes. For example, FEMA could decide that insurance premiums should be tied to a structure rather than a homeowner, so annual limits on price increases would still be in effect even if the home changed owners.
And experience suggests that home values continue to rise in the most desirable coastal areas despite rising insurance costs, Wright said, as people’s desire to live near water doesn’t is often unaffected by whether it makes financial sense.
“Is this going to lower property values?” said Wright, who now heads the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a research group. “In attractive real estate markets, we haven’t seen this.
Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a Washington-based research organization that advocates for market-based policies, said the government cannot ignore the financial burden on people already living in flood-prone homes.
But rather than protect these people by keeping insurance rates low, Mr Lehrer argued that Congress should offer direct subsidies, and only for low-income people who would otherwise have difficulty staying at home. Everyone, he said, should bear the full cost of the risk they face.
“We subsidize people to live in areas that were dangerous when they moved there and which have become more dangerous,” said Lehrer.