AP Exclusive: Most Florida flood zone property not insured

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, an Associated Press analysis shows a steep drop in flood insurance across the state, including the areas most endangered by what could be a devastating storm surge.

In just five years, the state’s total number of federal flood insurance policies has fallen by 15 percent, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data.

Florida’s property owners still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state — 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets — but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

With 1,350 miles of coastline, the most in the continental United States, Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. And yet, across Florida’s 38 coastal counties, just 42 percent of these homes are covered.

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Florida’s overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is just 41 percent. Fannie Mae ostensibly requires mortgage lenders to make sure property owners buy this insurance to qualify for federally backed loans, and yet in 59 percent of the cases, that insurance isn’t being paid for.

In the counties being under at least partial evacuation orders Wednesday (Collier, Broward, Monroe and Miami-Dade), where 1.3 million houses are estimated to be in flood hazard zones, the percentage is an even lower 34.3 percent.

Nationwide, only half the 10 million properties that need flood insurance have it, said Roy Wright, who runs the National Flood Insurance Program. He told the AP last week that he wants to double the number of policies sold nationally in the near future.

The declines in coverage started after Congress approved a price hike in 2012, making policies more expensive. Maps of some high-risk areas were redrawn, removing a requirement that these homeowners get the insurance. About 7 of 10 homeowners have federally backed mortgages, and if they live in a high-risk area, they still are required to have flood insurance. But many let their policies slip without the lender noticing; loans also get sold and repackaged, paperwork gets lost and new lenders don’t follow up.

FEMA, which is ultimately responsible for enforcing flood insurance requirements, did not respond to an email seeking comment from its Washington office on Wednesday.

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