High Cost of Flood Insurance Is Ruining Our Neighborhood

Reviewed: May 31, 2024

Visitor Question: The cost of flood insurance has just about tripled in the last year around where I live. We did have a destructive flash flood that was just rampaging through the streets for one night, but many neighbors had to rip out their floors and drywall, and basements were damaged, often meaning that hot water heaters, furnaces, washers, and dryers had to be replaced.

So I do understand that there were claims against the flood insurance, if people even had it, but still, the purpose of insurance is supposed to be preventing the catastrophic financial losses that I see some of my neighbors suffering.

Since we had never had anything like this happen, many people did not have flood insurance. If they have owned their homes for quite a while, they probably bought them before their houses were even shown on any floodplain maps. Some had been in the family before there was even such a thing as a federal flooding map.

The consequence for our neighborhood goes beyond the tragedies of individual families though. Enough people are moved out that we are starting to have the problems that go with vacancy, including homeless people becoming squatters, rats taking over the place, and even one house apparently being used to store stolen goods.

This means that our property values are really taking a hit, but even so, it looks bad enough that people aren't eager to buy.

Is there anything we can do to save our neighborhood, or should we just give up like many other people and move out? We had put money into remodeling and landscaping, and it would be sad to see all of that go to waste.

Editors Reply: Indeed this is a sad situation for many, and your neighborhood is not alone in facing this challenge.

There is no immediate solution to the high cost of flood insurance, and in your situation, I would encourage my neighbors to purchase it if at all possible.

However, we strongly suggest that you and other concerned neighbors begin to inquire about why your streets and homes were flooded. This might turn out to be a work-intensive idea, but moving and digging yourselves out of a financial hole is pretty work-intensive too!

The first task would be to figure out where the flood water was coming from. Are the storm sewers on your streets clogged with litter and silt? If you don't have any curb and gutter system, or something similar, the drainage ditches alongside the street probably need to be cleaned out and deepened.

Next, check for bottlenecks on the way from your local drainage system on the way to the stream or other outlet. Again, you are looking for silt, sediment, trash, or fallen trees, branches, or rocks that could be blocking the outlet.

Third, ask around until you figure out if the stream or river itself overflowed, if you don't know this already. If so, again you and your neighbors can do some detective work to find out where debris is blocking drainage, where someone upstream has put up a levee or other artificial constraint on the stream bank, whether the channel needs to be deeper or wider, and where the stormwater runoff has increased dramatically because of a new development or other large paved area.

Maybe a detention pond for a subdivision is supposed to be preventing rapid runoff, but it has not been maintained and therefore is full of silt, trash, and whatever vegetation will grow there.

Or is the stream simply incapable of handling the drainage because climate change is making the storms more extreme?

Once you begin to have some answers to these questions, you may be able to see where the solutions lie.

Sometimes in this answer, it seems like we are in favor of moving the stormwater out as fast as possible. This would be an inaccurate perception of our intent though. You may also need to look at retention and detention of stormwater near where it falls, simply to cause rain to soak into the ground or evaporate before seeking its outlet. So be sure to take into account possible solutions in this vein as well.

Please know that we think you should seek whatever professional help may be available to you. If you live in an incorporated town or city, ask the city engineer for advice, and ask the public works director to schedule appropriate maintenance.

If you are in a strictly rural area, perhaps your county or an extension agent will have an expert who can both help to diagnose the problem and recommend a solution.

If you live near a university, find out if there is a faculty member who is interested in water resources, urban development, agriculture, or engineering who might be able to offer some opinions and suggestions.

Ask your state and federal representatives for an investigation of the problem and recommendations for solutions.

So despite our glib statement that you can't do much about the cost of flood insurance, you can try to figure out what is causing the problem and therefore help your neighborhood discover solutions.

In the meantime, use the search bar on this website to look for solutions to specific environmental and social problems that vacant buildings and disinvestment are causing your neighborhood.

Start a neighborhood association, or strengthen an existing one too.

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