Water Is Not The Only Thing Rising
Local Neighborhoods Brace For Increase in Flood Insurance Rates
By Ian Hicks, Staff Writer
WHEELING - Skyrocketing flood insurance premiums resulting from a
new federal law could be devastating for many local homeowners if
Congress doesn't act soon to correct the problem, area insurance
Legislation signed into law last summer extended the FEMA-run
National Flood Insurance Program through 2017, but also revamped
it - with potentially dire consequences for flood-prone
neighborhoods such as Wheeling Island and those along Big Wheeling
Created in 1968, NFIP is supposed to be self-sustaining, but is
mired in about $25 billion in debt, largely because of disasters
such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Ike in 2008 and
Superstorm Sandy last year that resulted in massive numbers of
The law basically eliminates lower, "subsidized" premiums for
flood-prone properties and phases in "full-risk" premiums - which
in some cases can be six to 15 times higher than
pre-Biggert-Waters rates, according to local insurance agent
Many of its provisions took effect Oct. 1.
There's a push to repeal the law - but for now, it's the law of
The impact won't be as sudden for people who continue to live in
their homes: The law caps annual premium increases at 20 percent,
unless an owner allows his policy to lapse. Where the law's
effects are most likely to be felt is in the real estate market,
because new policies automatically carry the full-risk rate.
Glenn said neighborhoods in Wheeling that can expect to be
impacted include Wheeling Island, portions of South and Center
Wheeling, southern Warwood and neighborhoods along Wheeling Creek
- Fulton, Pleasanton, Dimmeydale, Mil Acres and portions of Elm
"It's pretty bad for our community, and for a lot of other ones,"
he said "It makes your home unresellable."
Commercial properties will see annual premium increases of up to
25 percent until they reach full-risk rates, as will non-primary
residences such as vacation homes.
"Predictions in commercial rates are between $10,000 and $35,000 a
year," Glenn said. "These are people that are paying $2,000 to
$5,000 right now."
Another local insurance agent, Gayle Seidler, recently obtained a
quote of $6,000 per year to insure a home on Valley View Avenue -
a policy that would have cost about $1,000 annually before
Biggert-Waters, she estimated. But the house right next door might
only have gone up a few hundred dollars under the law. The only
way to know for sure is to pay a professional surveyor and obtain
an elevation certificate, which can cost $300 to $700, sometimes
"We can't even provide a quote without it," Seidler said of the
Most potential homebuyers won't be inclined to pay that kind of
money just to find out whether they can afford to insure a
property, so the onus is likely to fall on the seller.
"The trickle-down effect it's going to have is going to devastate
house sales if they don't do something to cap the increases,"
The federal government only requires borrowers to have flood
insurance up to the value of their loan - so if you're looking to
buy a home in an affected area, Seidler recommends financing as
little as possible. Banks may have their own requirements,
As property owners around the country see their bills swell, the
push is on to delay premium hikes for four years to allow for
study on how Biggert-Waters can be implemented effectively. Even
one of the bill's namesakes, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is
supporting legislation introduced this week in the House which
would do just that.
"They were supposed to complete a feasibility study before the law
was enacted, but they didn't have the money or the manpower to do
it, so they didn't do it," Glenn said. "The question is, if they
don't have to comply with the law, how can they expect everyone
Both Glenn and Seidler said they're telling their customers to
make their voices heard on the issue.
"Write your legislators - that's what I would recommend," Seidler
said. "I'm absolutely sure that when they passed this law they did
not have a clear picture of all the things that would be