Flood insurance act reinstates grandfathering
Sen. David Vitter accepted a container of keys from Lisa Taylor as her husband Robert spoke out against the Biggert-Waters Act to a crowd that gathered in the Taylor residence driveway in May 2013.
The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act received overwhelming support passing the House 306-91 and the Senate 72-22.
Buddy Boe, St. Charles Parish’s chief administrative officer, said President Obama has already given assurances that he will not veto the bill.
Repealing or modifying the Biggert-Waters Act became the most important issue in St. Charles Parish following last year’s March meeting in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that under new flood risk maps a large part of the parish would be considered at risk for flooding for the first time. They also said that homeowners would no longer be subsidized through the National Flood Insurance Program.
At the time, FEMA provided flood insurance rate estimates to some residents, who were only paying a few hundred dollars per year, that were as high as nearly $28,000 per year. Although those projections were later lowered, those most at risk were provided rates between $17,000 and $23,000 per year.
If allowed to stand, the Biggert-Waters Act was anticipated by many to destroy the economy of St. Charles Parish and other coastal communities.
The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act does away with many parts of the Biggert-Waters Act. Most importantly it reinstates grandfathering, meaning homes that were built to standard before they were considered flood risks will continue to receive subsidized flood insurance instead of being required to pay huge flood insurance bills.
Under the new law, residents living in the highest risk areas in Bayou Gauche who are currently paying the maximum flood insurance rate of $435 per year are expected to see a gradual increase over a number of years that will eventually see them paying around $2,000. However, that is much more affordable than the $23,000 that homeowners in the area where most recently quoted.
The legislation also removes flood insurance rate increase triggers that remove grandfathering upon a home’s sale, provides refunds for those who have already been affected by rate hikes, expedites an affordability study for flood insurance rates and calls for increased protections when new flood maps are produced.
“St. Charles Parish was one of the first localities to really wake up to the realities of the Biggert-Waters Act,” St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said. “I am so proud of the effort put forth by our residents to ultimately bring about this legislation. It’s not perfect, but it does allow time for Congress and FEMA to get this right for the sustainability of the program. We’ll be watching implementation moving forward, but for now we’re happy that we’ve got more affordable flood rates to deal with in the interim.”
Robert Taylor, whose Bayou Gauche home was the site of a press conference held last May in which U.S. Sen. David Vitter and several state and local lawmakers gathered in opposition to Biggert-Waters, said the most difficult part of fixing the legislation was getting Congress to admit it was wrong, especially when all of Louisiana’s congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill.
“When the ramifications came out they all looked like fools, especially legislators in Congress from Louisiana. How could you possibly vote for this?” he said.
Despite their initial vote for the Biggert-Waters Act, Taylor said he was appreciative of the efforts of Louisiana’s federal lawmakers in shepherding the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act through passage. However, he said it would not have been possible if local homeowners had not come together and brought awareness to those on the federal level.
“All of the folks involved in the Bayou Gauche Citizen’s Action Committee who took a great deal of personal time writing letters and making personal calls, that was a great personal sacrifice here and the winners here are the people of St. Charles Parish,” he said.
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