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Flood insurance town hall packs Yacht Club

Councilmember Tate asks impacted residents to send premium bills that show an increase

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Oct 13, 2021

“I’ve seen this movie before. We have to go to Washington and convince our senators and congressmen that Florida is getting an unfair shake. When we went to Washington in 2014, it was $14 billion Florida paid in premiums, $4 billion were paid out in claims. I’d write that business every day of the week. Why wouldn’t I?” — Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane

Proposed changes in the way FEMA determines flood risk and the corresponding rate increases on flood insurance could have much greater impacts than just making homeowners pay more money.

It could drive many people to decide to live and/or buy elsewhere, since they won’t be able to afford flood insurance, and potentially cripple the housing market as a result.

Those were the warnings residents heard from speakers during a town hall meeting at the Cape Coral Yacht Club ballroom Tuesday regarding the impending changes.

Cape Coral City Councilmember Gloria Tate hosted the event. Speakers included Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane, Wyatt Daltry, city planning team coordinator, representatives from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, and Brian Chapman of the Chapman Insurance Group.

It will take a village to get their message across in Washington, where this is set to be a bi-partisan issue to save Florida (and other coastal states) from insurance calamity, Ruane said.

“I’ve seen this movie before. We have to go to Washington and convince our senators and congressmen that Florida is getting an unfair shake,” Ruane said. “When we went to Washington in 2014, it was $14 billion Florida paid in premiums, $4 billion were paid out in claims. I’d write that business every day of the week. Why wouldn’t I?”

Ruane added that his son would have to pay $4,000 for a flood policy on a starter home off Skyline, calling it “criminal.”

“You know what’s going to happen? The economy is going to crumble. Every single trade that builds a home is going to be affected, and one builder lost six contracts in one week. We’re going to feel it in Lee County,” Ruane said.

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program unveiled a new rating platform called Risk Rating 2.0 which, as of Oct. 1, replaced the system used for 50 years for new business. Existing policyholders will see the new system on April 1, 2022.

While NFIP sent a letter saying that most people would see a modest rate hike, according to Chapman, all the policies he has prepared for new policyholders has seen at least a 150 percent increase, with an average of 300 percent.

While rates for exisiting policy holders cannot increase more than 18 percent per year, those rates will continue those sharp rises pretty much indefinitely, officials said.

Chapman said that these increases are happening although Lee County flood insurance policyholders have paid FEMA an average of $94 million annually for the past 50 years, while FEMA has paid out about $135 million in claims over that same period.

“When that policy was $1,200 and now it’s $5,000, what’s changed? Nothing, other than the insurance policy they can’t afford. So, they don’t buy the house. Maybe they leave,” Chapman said.

Reaction from the public echoed those sentiments.

John Caplin said the meeting was informative and found the politics behind it very interesting.

“They are rather disconnected to the flooding issues. It will be interesting to see how this evolves,” said Caplin, who doesn’t need flood insurance. “Whether it’s a benefit to be is an ongoing evaluation.”

Diana Stieber said it felt like they were getting hit with something that should have been talked about before FEMA pushed it through.

“It isn’t fair. We’re paying enough as it is and now, we’re going to pay for the rest of the nation and it’s going to chase out a lot of working-class families who want to buy here,” Stieber said.

John Bashaw, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Association, said he was also concerned about the impact the risk rating could have.

“The impact on someone building a house and on existing homeowners is significant. I’m hopeful our guests will be successful in delaying the implementation and changing the overall impact on people’s lives,” Bashaw said. “The policy on a home built this year could be three times as much than had you built it last year.”

Officials are documenting the economic impact of the new risk policy.

Tate asks that any policy owner whose premium is increasing by more than 18%, and anyone who is building new, or buying new, and receives a higher quote, to email her at gtate@capecoral.gov , providing a copy of both the new and the old bill.

“We are trying to document everything to fight this, just like with COVID when we documented loss of revenue,” she said.

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