Thursday, June 21, 2018
Business

Poll: Opposition to flood insurance rate hikes is strong

Living on high ground in Brandon, David Noll doesn't worry about flooding.

"It would probably take a pretty whopping hurricane" to cause flood damage in his neighborhood, he figures.

Nevertheless, he thinks some flood insurance rate hikes taking effect now are ridiculous, particularly when someone buys an older home in a flood zone and finds out later the annual flood premiums are jumping from a few thousand dollars to $15,000 or more.

"Times are tough for everybody right now," said Noll, 29, who owns a car detailing business. "It's hard to ask someone to pull out another $10,000 or $12,000. … There should be a limit what they can charge."

Noll speaks for the majority, according to a new Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News poll.

Whether they live in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, whether they live in homes that were losing lower, subsidized flood rates or not, a clear majority of registered voters polled earlier this month oppose the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood rate hikes that started earlier this year.

Only 13 percent of those surveyed said those in flood zones should pay the increased rates. About 10 percent suggest the increases be phased in over a longer period to lessen the impact. Most respondents, 65 percent, want the government to come up with a new way to make the flood insurance program financially sound.

About 25 percent of those quizzed thought they were affected by the new law; 59 percent said they weren't affected; and 16 percent weren't sure.

But that made little difference in their opinion. Only nine percent of respondents affected by the flood rate hikes said they approved of FEMA's actions. Among those residents not affected directly, just 15 percent supported marching forward with the rate hikes. The majority of both groups said the government should try a different approach.

The trigger for the rate increases was the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, a law passed by Congress intended to keep the National Flood Insurance Program afloat. At the time, the NFIP was swamped with losses from Hurricane Katrina, forcing it to borrow nearly $18 billion from the U.S. Treasury.

To help the flood program's finances, FEMA is eliminating subsidies for older homes in flood-prone areas that have benefited from lower rates for decades. For many, rates are increasing about 20 percent a year; in some cases, like a home sale, the subsidy is being stripped immediately.

Florida has paid four times more into the flood program in premiums than it has received back the past 35 years through claim payouts. Despite that, the state, which has 40 percent of all federal flood policies, is bearing the brunt of the rate hikes. Pinellas County has about 50,000 properties targeted to lose their subsidized rates, more than any other county in the nation.

"I feel like we're subsidizing the rest of the country, and I don't think it's fair," said Wade Hoy, 69. "Last year, they had a terrible flood in Colorado. You think all those people were paying flood insurance?"

He suggests FEMA phase in any rate hikes slowly until it can redraw its flood maps nationwide, figure out what's fair, and make more people across the country pay into the flood program.

Hoy, who lives in a waterfront home on a street called Paradise off Coquina Key in St. Petersburg, is bracing for a big jump in flood premiums. "If it got too nasty," he said, "I'd pay my house off and not buy insurance."

Eileen Wilkinson moved into her home in Seminole Heights 28 years ago, in part because it sits on one of the highest elevations in Hillsborough County.

Yet, she worries about the rate hike hitting others in modest homes that happen to be in a flood zone.

"I feel sorry for people who have been in their houses a long time," said Wilkinson, who turns 80 in February. "I'm a widow. I can understand older people in older homes trying to make it work with Social Security checks or whatever might come in."

As for those who live in nice homes on the water and knew what could happen, "I really don't feel badly for them," she said.

Shannon Williams, 47, who lives in an apartment in South Tampa, initially said he supported the rate hikes, figuring it did not affect him.

But after taking the poll, he acknowledged conflicting feelings. Like Wilkinson, he supports making a distinction between raising rates for people near the water who knew the risk and raising rates for less expensive homes inland.

"They should be judged on the area where they live and their income," said Williams, who described himself as a street minister. "If it will cause them to lose their homes, they need to think" twice about raising the rates.

Judy Vargas is a newcomer to Tampa Bay on a short-term assignment with the Department of Defense. She moved to an apartment in Pinellas Park in July and, as a renter, has little exposure to the flood insurance saga.

But she's heard enough to know people are being hurt. "I think the government should (continue to) subsidize it," she said.

Vargas, 54, said she was at one point thinking about coming back to retire in Tampa Bay. Hearing anecdotes about soaring flood insurance made her rethink her golden years.

"After that came out, I said, 'Bump that idea,' " she said.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or [email protected]

Comments
Tampa tech firm Newgentek hiring 20 following expansion

Tampa tech firm Newgentek hiring 20 following expansion

TAMPA — Information technology company Newgentek plans to hire 20 new employees over the next two years following an expansion of its Tampa headquarters."In the last 90 days, the Newgentek team has grown 24 percent and is now operating at 80 percent ...
Published: 06/21/18
A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay home sales while prices keep rising

A tight supply cuts into Tampa Bay home sales while prices keep rising

Tampa Bay’s two largest counties showed anemic home sales in May as prices continued to rise due to a tight supply. In Pinellas, sales of single-family home plunged nearly 12 percent from the previous May, the second-worst showing in a year. P...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Could Lucky’s Market move in to Clearwater’s old Albertsons?

Could Lucky’s Market move in to Clearwater’s old Albertsons?

Lucky’s Market is considering a move in to the old Albertsons box space in Clearwater, according to preliminary plans filed with the city. Lucky’s master broker, Rick Lewellyn, was listed on an agenda as discussing renovating the existing property wi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Passengers on fatal Southwest flight sue airline and manufacturers of plane and engine

Eight passengers who were aboard a Southwest Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia after one of its engines blew apart filed suit Wednesday against the airline, Boeing and the companies that manufactured the eng...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Former employee sued by Tesla says he was a whistleblower

Tesla sued a former employee Wednesday, accusing the man of hacking the automaker’s computer systems and stealing company secrets, shedding light on what chief Elon Musk had suggested was the work of a secretive internal saboteur.But the employee, Ma...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Seminole Heights restaurant Mortar & Pestle files for bankruptcy reorganization

Seminole Heights restaurant Mortar & Pestle files for bankruptcy reorganization

TAMPA — Mortar & Pestle, a fledgling Seminole Heights eatery with a mom-and-pop pharmacy theme, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Seacoast Bank was listed as the creditor with the largest unsecured claim: $1.4 million.The restaurant...
Published: 06/20/18
Developer proposes Sprouts Farmers Market for Land O’Lakes

Developer proposes Sprouts Farmers Market for Land O’Lakes

LAND O’LAKES – A Sarasota developer is proposing to turn a vacant Winn-Dixie store in central Pasco into a Sprouts Farmers Market or similar specialty grocer.Benderson Development filed preliminary plans Monday with Pasco County to redevelop the form...
Published: 06/20/18
Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

Clearwater’s Clegg Insurance Group buys Advanced Insurance Brokerage

CLEARWATER - Clegg Insurance Group of Clearwater announced on Wednesday it has bought Brandon-based Advanced Insurance Brokerage.The merger creates a firm with more than 2,000 customers and more than $10 million in annual premiums. Terms were not dis...
Published: 06/20/18
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Published: 06/20/18
Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens considers hiking homeowners insurance rates about 8 percent

Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s is weighing another round of hefty rate hikes.Staffers with the state-run insurer of last resort have proposed raising the average rates for homeowners by 7.9 percent — just under the legislative cap of 10 percent ...
Published: 06/20/18