Last August, a family in California came home to find their house on fire. Five months later, they live in a rented house down the street while still paying their mortgage and flood insurance, but the house isn’t being rebuilt because there is no way they could afford to meet new FEMA flood zone standards.
At first, reports Reason.com, the family thought they could simply rebuild the home with the insurance money. But that’s when they found out that, as a result of the huge FEMA overhaul that happened following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the floodplain designation for their area had been changed from moderate-risk to high-risk. And it will remain that way until the nearby levees are repaired and recertified by the Army Corps of Engineers.
For homeowners in these high-risk zones, a home renovation that costs more than 50% of the property’s value requires that the home be elevated above the base flood level.
So that means these homeowners would need to build a new house a full 20 feet above ground, or be limited to only spending $35,000 (half the $70,000 value of the house) on the renovations. Alas, reconstruction was already estimated at $200,000 before any talk of putting the whole thing up on stilts.
The city couldn’t help because failure to comply with FEMA policy would mean removal from the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA told the homeowners it had no authority to grant a variance on its own policy. Their mortgage company actually suggested they walk away from the loan. They have also started a Facebook page about their predicament.
Meanwhile, their local Congressperson, Doris Matsui, is working on legislation that would give FEMA the authority to grant a variance to homeowners stuck in similar situations.
Thanks to Matt for the tip!