Property owners in Suffolk County, including Boston’s booming Seaport District, are bracing for the release of FEMA’s new flood zone maps, which could force hundreds of owners to get costly insurance for the first time and jack up rates for those who already have it.
Next month, the federal agency is expected to begin reviewing and approving Suffolk County’s maps, which include Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop. Suffolk is the last of the Bay State’s coastal counties not remapped.
In Boston, which boasts more than $460 billion in waterfront real estate assets, officials are girding for the impact of the new flood zones on property owners. Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s office has enlisted an independent consultant to review the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s preliminary maps, which could be released as soon as Nov. 15.
“Our primary concerns are ensuring that the maps are accurate and that people are aware of the financial impact,” said Brian Swett, Menino’s Chief of Environment and Energy.
Under legislation Congress passed last year, FEMA is required to remap flood-zone boundaries and phase out decades-old flood insurance subsidies for owners of homes in high-risk areas. The move is aimed at shoring up the National Flood Insurance Program, which is more than $24 billion in debt.
Statewide, thousands of property owners could be affected, including many in areas not previously considered at risk for floods.
Vivien Li, president of the Boston Harbor Association, an environmental advocacy group, caught a glimpse of FEMA’s preliminary flood maps a few months ago and said there will likely be a backlash from property owners when the new zones are made public.
“When the maps come out, you’re going to have a lot of angry people,” she said.
FEMA officials plan to hold community meetings to discuss the maps with property owners, who will have 90 days to appeal their inclusion in flood zones.
“It’s going to be a long process,” FEMA spokesman Dennis Pinkham said.
Municipal officials, real estate brokers, lenders, and several Bay State congressmen want FEMA to postpone approval of the maps and rate increases until a long-awaited study on the financial impact of the new law is conducted.
Winthrop Town Manager James McKenna estimates 500 homes will be moved into high-hazard flood zones, many of them in neighborhoods with working-class families and seniors living on fixed incomes. Federal flood insurance can cost $400 a year to more than $8,000 in high-risk zones, FEMA said.
“This is going to hurt a lot of people,” McKenna said. “They need to take a serious look at what this will to do to families.”
Courtesy of the Boston Herald