With No Flood Insurance, Residents Are Left To Foot The Bill

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(HOST) Federal Emergency Management Agency crews have been in Vermont over the past week, looking at homes damaged in this spring’s floods.

But as VPR’s Jane Lindholm reports, not everyone affected by the flooding will get financial relief.

(Lindholm) Paul Hinman sits in a wicker chair in what’s left of his front lawn.

(Hinman) "Right now our house is totally surrounded by water.  There’s sandbags probably coming out 15 feet from the front of the house.  And at the highest, which was, I believe May 6th, the water was 10 feet the lake side of the sandbags.  So it was getting precariously close of danger there."

(Lindholm) Hinman is one of the lucky ones.  He and his wife and daughter were displaced for nine days.  And now they have to use waders to get from the edge of the water across the driveway to their house.  But they’re right on the dry edge-there’s about a three-quarter mile stretch of road beyond the Hinmans’ house that’s still completely underwater.  Many nearby homes have flooded basements, at least.

Federal Emergency Management Agency crews have been assessing individual damage throughout the state in the past week.  But a federal declaration, should it come, isn’t likely to spell relief for most homeowners.  FEMA’s Lauren Pawlik says that although the current maximum payout for individual assistance is just over $30,000, the average in Vermont last time a disaster was declared was only $1,800.

(Pawlik) "Which is why flood insurance is really your best protection against flooding and the best way to make you whole again."

(Lindholm) It’s precisely that issue of flood insurance that’s now a big headache for some water-logged communities. 42 towns and villages in Vermont do not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, which means homeowners in those towns can’t get federal flood insurance. 

Some of those towns have no flood plains to worry about, but that’s not the case for Isle La Motte, which is surrounded by Lake Champlain.  Paul Hinman was shocked when he discovered the town wasn’t participating.  Just a couple of weeks before the flooding started he approached town officials to find out why.

(Hinman) "Basically they told me that it had been brought up once previously and people in the town did not want it at the time.  The town is a very independent town.  They don’t want zoning and planning, which I understand.  But I think this is a negative."

(Lindholm) Any federally backed mortgage on a home in a high hazard flood zone requires flood insurance.  Federal flood insurance averages $1,700 a year.  Insurance on the private market can easily be three times that.  And that’s all that’s available to homeowners in the more than 2,000 communities nationwide not in the federal program.

Paul Hinman’s home in Isle La Motte was built at 104 feet-technically out of the high hazard flood zone.  But that was before the lake rose to 103.2 feet-more than a foot higher than had previously been recorded.  Now, with water still covering his front lawn, Hinman is even more determined to try to encourage Isle La Motte to join the national program.

(Hinman) "Tomorrow or next week, who knows what could happen?  We could, for one reason or another, decide that we want to sell the house.  And that would be a pretty substantial obstacle in selling your home if somebody said you couldn’t get flood insurance or the town did not participate in the program."

(Lindholm) Hinman points out that some of his neighbors have significant water damage to their homes.  And they may not be able to repair with a loan from the bank unless they purchase flood insurance.

For VPR News, I’m Jane Lindholm.

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