Rising flood insurance rates will affect many inland homes

Published Sept. 19, 2013

So you thought soaring increases in flood insurance rates would affect only wealthy beachfront home­owners?

Think again.

A new map created by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office shows that thousands of inland home­owners — including many in modest neighborhoods — will also be hit by a new federal law that takes effect in two weeks.

"There's been a theme of, well, if the rich people want to live on the beach, let them pay for their own insurance,'' appraiser Pam Dubov said Wednesday. "But this map would indicate that a great number of these parcels are not the million-dollar beachfront ones. There are great big areas on this map that are inland from the waterfront.''

By overlaying county parcel maps on federal flood zone maps, Dubov's office calculated that Pinellas has 33,114 single-family homes old enough to qualify for discounted flood insurance rates. Condos and businesses can also be affected but are not shown on the map.

Come Oct. 1, most of those home­owners will see their premiums increase up to 25 percent a year. And anyone who buys one of the affected homes will have to pay high, full-risk rates, which in some cases will be five to 10 times what the previous owner paid. Penny Lee, for instance bought a $200,000 inland home in St. Pete Beach and saw the annual premium soar from $1,339 to $8,859.

Only about 1,000 of Pinellas County's older houses are in Flood Zone VE, areas directly on the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay that are subject to flooding caused by wave action, in addition to rising water. Thousands of other homes with discounted rates are on canals or lakes.

But the map also shows large areas of older homes that sit in flood zones even though they are far from the bay or the gulf — among them, Kenneth City and several parts of St. Petersburg, including the Tyrone area and the Gateway area around 62nd Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

"I'm not surprised, but I think the public will be surprised,'' Dubov said.

Some 300 to 400 homes in the Gateway vicinity are near a tidal creek that flows into Tampa Bay. Likewise, scores of homes close to Tyrone Square Mall are vulnerable to flooding from a creek that empties into Boca Ciega Bay.

Many inland homeowners in Gulfport, Pinellas Park, Seminole, Largo, Oldsmar and Tarpon Springs will also be affected by the new law.

In all, Dubov's analysis shows that 13 percent of the 246,684 single-family homes in Pinellas could see their rates rise dramatically as a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, a 2012 law intended to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent by phasing out lower, subsidized rates for older properties in flood zones.

Unless Congress acts soon, flood-prone homes built before 1974 throughout the United States will lose their subsidized rates as owners renew their policies, let them lapse or sell the property.

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter

We’ll break down the latest business and consumer news and insights you need to know every Wednesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Thousands of homes in Hills­borough, Pasco and Hernando counties also will be affected by the law, though Pinellas, with more miles of coastline, will be among the hardest hit in the nation.

Concern about flood coverage has put a damper on the Tampa Bay real estate market.

Pat Lins, a Coldwell Banker agent who specializes in the flood-prone Shore Acres area of northeast St. Petersburg, said the insurance crisis helped scuttle two recent contracts.

"You can't get a quote from an insurance agent,'' Lins said. "Nobody knows what's going on.''

Though the new law has yet to have a measurable impact on home sales, Dubov said her office will closely monitor the numbers this fall and winter. Flood insurance is required on all homes located in flood zones and financed with federally insured mortgages.

"It has the potential to have a big impact on the real estate market, tax base and business properties that are affected,'' Dubov said. "Some of those properties are employers, and I just think that there's been an assumption made by a lot of people that this is a problem isolated to wealthy beachfront homeowners, and this map suggests otherwise.''

Times news researcher Connie Humburg contributed to this report.