Hurricane Irma over the Virgin Islands at peak intensity on September 6, 2017 as the second most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of sustained winds. MODIS image captured by NASA’s Aqua satellite - EOSDIS Worldview. Public Domain.Government-backed mortgage holders in high-risk areas are required to maintain a policy. But federal agencies are playing “not it” over who has to hold them accountable.
Sept. 13, 2017 (Bloomberg) -- As the floodwaters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma recede, they may reveal more than moldy drywall and fetid trash. They could lay bare the federal government’s failure to police a basic tenet of its own disaster policy: that properties with government-backed mortgages in risky areas carry flood insurance.
The government has known for decades that homeowners in flood zones often don’t have the insurance they should. Just two years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated that as few as half of the 1.5 million residential structures required to carry flood insurance actually do. It can’t be sure, though: FEMA isn’t responsible for tracking that kind of data—nor is any other agency.
“This is a huge blind spot,” says Samantha Medlock, a senior adviser to President Obama on flood insurance policy. Homeowners with lapsed insurance could “mistakenly believe that if their luck runs out, the federal government will come in and take care of them,” she says.
The magnitude of the risk is revealed partly by the numbers of uninsured homes in the paths of the recent storms. More than 80 percent of homeowners in the Texas counties hit by Harvey lack flood insurance, according to a Washington Post analysis. In Florida, FEMA estimated in 2015 that as many as 43 percent of those required to have coverage didn’t. And as climate change and coastal development increase the number of homes at risk, it’s becoming harder for the federal government to keep ignoring the problem.