In particular, the rise of flood insurance premiums has added expenses and headaches for homeowners in high-risk flood zones.
A new $8 million program, funded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) and led by the nonprofit Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN), is offering some assistance.
The Home Resiliency Audit program, which is free for homeowners, sends an engineer to individual homes to conduct an on-site inspection. The assessment tells homeowners how vulnerable their homes are to future storms.
After the audit, residents are connected to a housing counselor, who then goes through available options for mitigation to prevent flooding in the future.
Homeowners will receive a free elevation certificate, valued at approximately $1,800, which is used to give insurers a more accurate flood insurance quote.
“The problem is, a lot of homeowners have high flood insurance costs and are vulnerable to losing their homes because of those costs,” said Cristian Salazar, deputy director of communications with CNYCN. “Having somebody go out there and measure these things and provide an elevation certificate, which they can hopefully get a lower rate through, and having all this information at their fingertips when they go to talk to a broker, it can save them hundreds of dollars.”
The program launched last October, and has 50 homeowners signed up for audits. Salazar said their goal is to enroll 1,500 homeowners through the program by the end of the year.
They’re specifically looking to help moderate and working-class homeowners in Canarsie, Gravesend, Bensonhurst, Howard Beach, Lower Manhattan, Red Hook, Rockaway East and the Southeast Brooklyn waterfront.
The initiative features the launch of a new website, FloodHelpNY.org, as a resource for homeowners. The interactive site includes a free rate calculator where residents can see what their flood insurance costs may be.
“It’s a consumer-facing site trying to educate homeowners on flood insurance rates and resiliency and what they can do to fix their homes, make it less vulnerable to storms and possibly lower insurance rates in the future,” Salazar said.
The website has tabs that break down and explain flood insurance, flood hazard zones, current programs and benefits for homeowners, and other resiliency efforts.
It also provides several mitigation options, such as filling in the basement, elevating the house, raising mechanicals, installing flood vents or abandoning the first floor altogether. Salazar said some options are easier to accomplish, while others are more costly.
“You can consider abandoning your first floor. Obviously if you have an apartment you rent out in that first floor, that may not be an option because you might be making part of your income on that,” he said. “Installing flood vents is a basic step people can do, but you have to have funding for that.
“It really depends on your current situation, that’s why this program is so helpful for homeowners,” he added. “That’s why we’re trying to pair engineers with these housing counselors to really walk through what these options might be and what’s the cost-benefit analysis here.”
Joseph Sant, director of homeowner services for CNYCN, said he’s gone on a few audits at different stages of the recovery process. One theme he’s noticed is that homeowners are looking to make “practical, feasible adjustments” to prevent storm damage.
Part of the program’s goals is to educate homeowners about the “macro issues” affecting them, especially after the federal government passed new legislation eliminating subsidies for homeowners.
It also redrew flood maps to show higher risks in waterfront communities following Superstorm Sandy.
“One of the big crises right now is that many people’s flood insurance premiums, based on these reforms, could go through the roof,” Sant said. “That level of increase was very alarming to us. It requires public policy intervention. We want to educate people about that, and we knew people in the community had questions about flood insurance.”
As they continue their outreach to affected homeowners, Sant said one central challenge is that many people just don’t want to participate in any more government resiliency programs.
“There’s been a lot of people who’ve worked with the full range of disaster recovery programs that have come out, and they’re fatigued,” he said. “They don’t want to go through another eligibility screening. They’ve told their story to so many people. It’s exhausting.”
Sant said he “definitely respects” where people are coming from. The challenge for the Home Resiliency Audit program is communicating and engaging with people who have questions in a respectful, easy and accessible way.
“How do we provide something that’s new and relevant?” he said. “How can we explain in really simple terms what’s happening? That’s the approach we’re trying to take.”
He pointed out that this program is actually one that local communities requested. State officials spoke to people in neighborhoods, on community boards and in civic associations. Sant said they specifically asked for a program that provides individualized information and technical assistance.
That’s why the program is working specifically with local community-based organizations that are hyperlocal and “are known to people in these neighborhoods,” he said.
“People are tired of talking to government, but they trust their neighbors, especially in these Sandy neighborhoods that were hard hit,” Sant said.