A potent mix of intensified storms triggered by climate change, a beleaguered insurance sector, and inefficient state rules has put millions of Florida’s low-income residents on the brink of a significant insurance coverage deficit.
Florida’s insurance industry crisis has seen a steep escalation with the closure of seven companies since February of the previous year. This abrupt closure exposes countless individuals to the ruinous repercussions of flooding.
One-Third of Florida Properties at Severe Flooding Risk
More than a third of Florida properties are at severe flooding risk in the upcoming three decades, underscoring the pressing need to address this issue. Despite this impending threat, many remain oblivious to the risks their homes are up against.
Last September, the destructive Category 4 Hurricane Ian led to over 150 fatalities and caused more than $100 billion in damages. This makes it the most expensive storm in the state’s history.
Insurance Lapse and Costly Rebuilding Process
Among those grappling to rebuild is Fort Myers resident, Diana Mercado, 56. Unaware that her property sat within a FEMA flood zone, Mercado was left unprepared for the hurricane. In such zones, it is federally mandated to have flood insurance.
Her home of 26 years was severely damaged by the waist-deep floodwaters, leading to estimated repair costs of between $50,000 and $70,000 — costs she couldn’t cover out-of-pocket, as she lacked flood insurance.
The Hidden Dangers of Flooding
Dr. Rick Knabb, ex-director of the National Hurricane Center, highlighted the substantial damage even a small amount of water can cause. He warned that even minor flooding can lead to thousands of dollars in damages, including ruining carpets and impacting electrical systems.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Florida is among the 21 states with no requirement for flood risk disclosure to prospective home buyers. Consequently, sellers aren’t obliged to inform if a property is in a flood zone, has been flooded previously, or if flood insurance is required.
Low-Income Residents Face the Brunt
The lower-income segment, already burdened by this information gap, struggles to afford rising flood insurance premiums. The average flood insurance cost in Florida is close to $1,000 annually, a figure set to rise due to FEMA’s recalibration of premium calculations.
Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, acknowledged that lower-income individuals bear the brunt of flooding impacts.
Towards Better Disclosure and Updated Flood Maps
Florida legislators are mulling changes to state laws to mandate flooding disclosure, thereby ensuring potential homebuyers access to vital flood risk data. Additionally, FEMA’s flood maps, which inform flood zones, are outdated. The agency is currently working on updating these to reflect changes brought about by climate change.
Residents like Mercado have a long road to recovery. Rebuilding efforts are slow, and heavily reliant on self-initiated measures and online guidance. Despite the struggle, she finds solace in the support of her daughter.
“It feels like, ‘Okay, you’re homeless.’ I have her. She’s been great with me,” Mercado reflected.