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  1. Opinion

When it comes to flood risk, more data equals better decisions | Column

Congress can finally put an end to the continued financial heartache for American families and straighten out the flawed National Flood Insurance Program.
Flood waters from the Alafia River are almost up to the Christmas lights left on this detached garage on River Drive in East Hillsborough because of Hurricane Irma in 2017. [O'DONNELL, CHRISTOPHER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Flood waters from the Alafia River are almost up to the Christmas lights left on this detached garage on River Drive in East Hillsborough because of Hurricane Irma in 2017. [O'DONNELL, CHRISTOPHER | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Aug. 27, 2019
Updated Aug. 27, 2019

In the fight to enhance consumer protections, there is no argument – more information is always better than less, or none at all.

This simple and common-sense statement applies regardless of circumstance but is especially true when families seek to secure what is arguably their largest and most important asset, their home.

Now, with Congress on deadline to pass legislation reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) by Sept. 30, our elected leaders have a golden opportunity before them to do the right thing and protect American home buyers by requiring that prospective buyers and renters are given current data about a property’s flood risk and history as they consider a purchase or lease.

Just as important, Congress can also finally ensure that the information home buyers use to evaluate the potential for flooding is accurate and up to date by strengthening flood mapping programs with additional funding.

Mapping is the foundation of pre-disaster mitigation and massively important to understanding the playing field before us as we make decisions from what investments to prioritize, to where to live.

With new attention to the need for a required flood risk and history disclosure by sellers to home buyers, and the critical mapping that is essential for disclosures to reflect real and current risk, Congress can finally put an end to the continued financial heartache for American families and straighten out the flawed NFIP.

While it is still incumbent on families to make smart choices and do their due diligence by hiring an inspector and researching property records during the home-buying process, these actions may not be enough to unveil the home’s full history and potential flood hazard.

Without actual disclosure by sellers or lessors of flood danger and history, families can easily be left in the dark and unaware of the potential cost and risk ahead. This creates a dangerous domino effect that has negative outcomes for families and the government alike.

Uninformed homeowners are more likely to not take seriously the potential impacts of flooding, leave themselves under-insured or uninsured completely, and then in need of federal financial assistance and government programming when disaster strikes.

This is a lose-lose situation that is happening across the country nearly every day.

The good news for lawmakers is that while required disclosure is clearly good policy, they can also expect support from their constituents in taking this action. Predictably, Americans overwhelmingly favor being informed.

According to a poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 74 percent of Americans support a requirement that sellers inform would-be buyers if a property has flooded repeatedly, as well as a condition that those properties are covered by flood insurance.

While some states, like Texas, have taken significant action to pass extensive disclosure laws protecting their residents, others like our home state of Florida have not. This is especially troubling when you consider that more than 1.3 million Floridians live in flood-risk areas and our state has more than 14,000 repeat loss properties according to Pew.

It’s time to end the costly and dangerous cycle of providing a false sense of safety and security to families by leaving them uninformed on the true issues associated with certain properties that have repeatedly been impacted by floods.

Congress must add disclosure requirements to the NFIP, back up that action with funding for mapping, and finally prove to the more than five million homes and businesses covered by this federally backed program that their protection is worth the fight.

Amanda Bryant is the director of operations for My Flood Risk, a free, interactive, web-based platform to help property owners determine their true flood risk using comprehensive, up-to-date factors. The goal of My Flood Risk is to change the perception of true flood risk in America by raising awareness and providing vital tools that empower property owners to protect themselves and their property from rising waters.

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