Previous efforts to increase flood insurance rates have been delayed or withdrawn in the face of public pressure. In 2012, Congress passed law that would have adjusted interest rates based on people’s full risk. Two years later, the legislature resigned, replacing these changes with more modest increases.
FEMA’s new flood insurance system has raised similar concerns. The new rates were originally supposed to go into effect last October, but members of Congress warned FEMA of the impact an increase would have on their voters. The Trump administration delayed the new rates until this year, partly fearing that an increase in the premiums shortly before the election would damage President Trump politically, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
According to Roy Wright, who led the insurance program through 2018, the agency could theoretically find ways to further moderate these rate hikes. For example, FEMA might decide that insurance premiums should be structure tied to a home rather than a homeowner so that the annual limit price increases would still be in effect if the home changed hands.
And experience shows that despite rising insurance costs, home values continue to rise in the most desirable coastal areas, Wright said, since people’s desire to live near water is often not affected by whether it makes financial sense.
“Will it depress property values?” said Mr. Wright, who now heads the Business & Home Safety Insurance Institute, a research group. “We haven’t seen that in attractive real estate markets.”
Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a Washington research organization advocating market-oriented policies, said the government cannot ignore the financial burden on people already living in flood-prone homes.
But instead of shielding these people with low insurance rates, Teacher argued that Congress should offer direct subsidies only to people on modest incomes who would otherwise have difficulty staying in their homes. Everyone else, he said, should bear the full cost of the risk they face.
“We subsidized people to live in areas that were dangerous when they moved there and that have become more dangerous,” said Lehrer.