LI flood insurance rates to rise despite law

Mastic Beach is among the Long Island communities Mastic Beach is among the Long Island communities vulnerable to flooding. This was high water caused by a storm surge after superstorm Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012. Photo Credit: Amanda Voisard

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Nearly 60,000 policyholders in New York, including as many as 26,000 on Long Island, are among the 1.1 million nationwide who could see their federally subsidized flood insurance premiums rise as part of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, according to a review of federal data by The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a measure to delay steep increases from a 2012 overhaul that aimed to shore up the cash-strapped program by phasing out subsidies and requiring policyholders to begin paying risk-based rates immediately.

While the law was widely hailed as a victory for people who had seen their bills triple, quadruple or even increase 15-fold overnight, pocketbook pain for many merely has been delayed.

Gay Alexander of Long Beach is one of them.

Superstorm Sandy "is not over," she said, describing the cost for flood insurance on her damaged, waterfront home.

The single mother of two said she can't afford to fix a hole in her house that was left by the October 2012 storm. Alexander's flood insurance bills are rising, she said, to $2,200 this year from a pre-Sandy price of $850.

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"And I can't move out because who will buy a house with insurance that keeps going up?" she said.

Long Islanders with subsidized government flood insurance still will be hit with steady rate increases, despite the law. While no one is sure yet how high rates will go, there is cause for worry in places such as Long Beach, Freeport, Babylon Town, Hempstead Town and elsewhere that rely on affordable policies to keep businesses afloat and prop up the local housing market.

For years, waterfront communities across the country have relied on insurance that was far cheaper than the risks warranted, and the federal government paid the difference. When Congress tried to stem the red ink by raising rates to reflect the real costs, people in the flood plains screamed -- and the politicians listened.

But at least 21,000 homeowners in Nassau and Suffolk counties still will be hit with rate increases of as much as 18 percent each year until the program is collecting enough revenue to cover a $24 billion shortfall created by the long-running discounts and a series of catastrophic storms. That includes 5,700 homeowners in the Town of Hempstead, 2,000 in the City of Long Beach and 1,500 in the Town of Oyster Bay.

Owners of another 800 businesses and 4,000 vacation homes will see their rates rise 25 percent each year until their premiums reach rates that match what building elevation surveys indicate is the true risk of flooding.

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Those increases could be crushing for business along Freeport's Nautical Mile and for homeowners in the middle-class neighborhoods of Babylon, Brookhaven, Islip and elsewhere on the Island.

If rates don't climb, taxpayers will have to spend increasingly vast sums to bail out a struggling flood insurance program that makes it easy for people to keep living in dangerous spots in an age of potentially stronger storms and rising seas.

Alexander said she's unclear exactly what her flood insurance will cost in the future.

"I'm scared," she said. "I have no idea what's going to hit me next."

With Joe Ryan

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