Dauphin County Commissioners Call on Congress to Delay Flood Insurance Rates Hikes That Devastate Communities

HARRISBURG, PA (January 29, 2014) – Unless Congress acts to stop massive hikes in flood insurance premiums, the impact could drive as many people from their homes as any storm, Dauphin County Commissioners Jeff Haste, Mike Pries and George P. Hartwick, III warned today.

At issue is the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 that calls for removing subsidies from federal flood insurance so residential and commercial property owners eventually will pay the full-risk rate. But an affordability and economic impact study that was supposed to be done as part of the act was never done, and rate increases that started last year threaten to undermine communities in Dauphin County and across the nation.

Before any changes are made to the flood insurance premium program, the economic impact on communities must be fully assessed, said the commissioners.

Chairman Jeff Haste, who serves as the 2014 President of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, which also supports a delay in the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act, said in addition to hurting those living in flood zones, devaluing the properties through the rate hikes will mean local governments and school districts will be looking at significant property tax increases just to maintain current services.

“At the federal level, lawmakers say they are now aware of the unintended consequences that are resulting from Biggert-Waters and even its co-sponsor, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, is calling for its repeal,’’ Haste said. “Congress and the president need to take immediate action to roll back increases that have already happened and prevent further financial heartache for residents.’’

Some property owners are already seeing annual flood insurance premiums increase from hundreds of dollars to thousands – at times equaling the amount of mortgage payments and threatening to drive residents unable to afford the increases from their homes.

“We understand that the National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in debt as a result of having to pay claims for unprecedented storms like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, who also serves as one of two representatives from Pennsylvania on the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) Board of Directors, which also supports delaying the implementation of flood insurance premiums until a study is completed. “But Biggert-Waters threatens to unleash a financial storm that has the potential to be just as destructive to people’s lives.’’

Currently, there are several bills before Congress that would either postpone the increases pending further study or repeal Biggert Waters.

According to a study done by the county and real estate development firm WCI Partners LP, an average residential property in the city’s 100-year flood plain, with an assessed value of $150,000, would see annual flood insurance premiums increase from $1,200 to $6,000 annually. Such an increase would essentially lower the property’s value to $71,056.

Extrapolated for the entire county, premium increases under Biggert-Waters could shave off $1.3 billion of assessed value, according to the study. The annual property tax revenue hit to local government would be enormous: $3.3 million in lost municipal taxes, $20.8 million in lost school taxes and $9 million in lost library taxes.

Harrisburg alone has 2,500 properties in the 100-year flood plain – about a fifth of the city -- including some of its most valuable residential and commercial real estate.

Commissioner Mike Pries said any strategy for dealing with how to manage the cost of future storms and flooding must include a combination of mitigation efforts and perhaps buying people out of high-risk areas, as has been done in Middletown and other areas.

“For most of us, our home is our most valuable asset; more than just a place to live, many of us look at our home as eventually providing the income we will need to help us in our retirement,’’ Pries said. “It is simply wrong to now strip that away. Federal lawmakers have said that was not their intent, so now is the time for them to make things right and stop the premiums increases called for in Biggert-Waters.’’

The commissioners encourage property owners in Dauphin County who are affected by premium increases to contact their office at 717-780-6300 to share their concerns.

Editor’s note: Facts about the threat posed by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 and the potential impact to Dauphin County and its 40 municipalities are provided below. 

Facts about the Threat Posed by the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012

  • The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act will affect municipalities nationwide in multiple areas such as real estate markets, banks and mortgage companies, elderly citizens living on a fixed income, and policyholders who built their communities with the best available information.


  • Under Biggert-Waters, property owners will see 25 percent increases in their flood insurance premiums for the next four years (in some cases a 20 percent increase over five years).


  • These increases, designed to place the full risk cost of insurance on property owners, will devalue all properties receiving subsidized insurance premium rates. In some cases, annual premium rates may be as much or more than monthly mortgage payments.


  • Pre Biggert-Waters, subsidized properties were rated on flood risk assessments made when the structure was constructed. Now, even though these structures have never received substantial flood damage, their owners will struggle to pay premiums to keep flood insurance on these structures.


  • Property owners are required to purchase flood insurance as a condition of receiving any form of federal-related financial assistance, such as mortgages, unless repealed. Biggert-Waters will make many properties in flood zones only affordable to cash buyers who can choose not to have flood insurance.


Potential Impact to Dauphin County

  • Within Dauphin County, there are 13,205 parcels of land in a 100-year or 500-year flood plain, 11.89 percent of the total parcels of land within the county. There are residential or commercial structures on 10,544 of those parcels with an average building value of $365,651.


  • In Harrisburg, approximately 1/5 of the city’s real estate is in the 100-year floodplain, including much of the city’s most valuable residential real estate located in Midtown, Uptown, and Shipoke, as well as much of its valuable commercial real estate located along Front Street.


  • This represents an estimated total of 2,500 properties. With an estimated average value of $150,000 per property (many commercial properties are much higher), the city has approximately $375 million in flood-insured real estate.


Contact: arichards@dauphinc.org