A combination of factors including stronger storms brought on by climate change, a strained insurance industry and ineffective state regulations has put millions of low-income Floridians at risk of a
The crisis in Florida’s insurance industry has escalated with the closure of seven companies since February of last year, leaving countless people vulnerable to the devastating effects of flooding.
The urgency of addressing this issue is underscored by the fact that more than a third of Florida properties are at risk of severe flooding in the next 30 years.
Many, however, are unaware of the risks facing their homes.
It hit last September as a catastrophic Category 4 storm, causing more than 150 deaths and causing more than $100 billion in damage, making it the costliest storm in state history.
Many residents, like 56-year-old Diana Mercado of Fort Myers, are still struggling to rebuild. She claims that realtors or insurance agents did not inform her that her property was in a FEMA flood zone. In those areas, residents are federally required to carry flood insurance.
“If they had told me you needed to have it, I would have gotten it. But I didn’t know that,” Mercado said.
When Hurricane Ian struck, Mercado evacuated and expected to return home to find only the front trees damaged. Instead, the home of her 26-year-old’s was devastated, leaving it as a construction site. Waist-high floods destroyed everything in its path.
Despite having home insurance, Mercado did not have flood insurance and quickly realized that he could not afford the out-of-pocket costs of the repairs, which were estimated to be between $50,000 and $70,000.
Dr. Rick Knabb, former director of the National Hurricane Center, stressed that even a few inches of water can cause significant damage.
“It only takes a couple inches of water in your home to cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Just think what it does to the carpet. If it gets down to the level of electrical outlets, what does that do to your system?” electric?” system,” Knabb said.
Florida is one of 21 states that do not have requirements to disclose flood risks to homebuyers, according to the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. Sellers do not have to say if the property is in a flood zone, if they are required to carry flood insurance, or if the home has flooded before.
Low-income residents, who are disproportionately affected by this lack of information, often struggle to afford flood insurance, especially as premiums continue to rise.
In Florida, the average cost of flood insurance is nearly $1,000 per year and is projected to rise due to recent changes in the way premiums are calculated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Rob Moore, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the impact of the flooding is being felt most among low-income people.
“In many major cities in the US, those areas marked in red are the most flood-prone areas of those cities. So, through no fault of our own, we’ve funneled black and low-income people into areas that are pretty high risk,” Moore said.
Florida lawmakers are considering changes to state law that would require sellers to disclose flooding, with the goal of ensuring homebuyers have access to critical flood risk information when making purchasing decisions.
In addition, FEMA’s own flood maps, which play a vital role in determining flood zones, are out of date. The agency acknowledges that climate change has made the maps less accurate and is actively working to update them.
For residents like Mercado, the post-Hurricane Ian rebuilding journey has been a long one. The slow rebuilding process has relied heavily on do-it-yourself efforts and online tutorials. He keeps salvageable belongings in the garage of his daughter, whom he has trusted during this difficult time.
“I can’t say I’m homeless, but I think it feels like, ‘Okay, you’re homeless.’ I got it. She has been great to me,” Mercado said.