By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Recent Hurricanes and severe weather events should be a wake-up call to U.S. housing consumers and policy makers.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports exponential increases in flood insurance claims since the 1970s. But FEMA insurance claims reimburse policy holders only a small fraction of actual flood damages. So each time a property floods, it takes a huge bite out of the typical household budget.
It’s obvious that floods are responsible for billions of dollars in property damage annually, regardless of the underlying cause of severe storms and flooding.
So the political debate needs to move beyond the divisive climate change issue.
While policy makers cannot control the forces of nature, they can rewrite U.S. housing policy to prevent devastating property damage and financial hardship to millions of Americans affected by floods.
Keep housing out of harm’s way
When local governments allow developers to build entire communities in low-lying areas, in or anywhere near flood plains, wetlands, and storm water reservoirs, flood damage is inevitable.
As reported in the New York Times, for decades, policy makers have been willing to sacrifice the property rights of one group of Houston-area constituents over another — devastating working and middle class households to the advantage of wealthier urban commercial and residential property owners.
Meanwhile, the U.S. federal government continues to insure mortgages for more “affordable” housing intentionally placed in harm’s way — whether new construction or resale — and fails to protect the interests of taxpayers and homeowners, by requiring full disclosure of flood risk.
As a result, economic injustice has become the norm, as many homeowners lose so much equity in their properties, they are forced to walk away from their homes — and homeownership — for good.
According to a new class action lawsuit, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers enabled this economic crisis for hundreds of homeowners, by intentionally flooding Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in order to save properties in downtown Houston.
Other enablers of private property flood damage
Whose interests have been served by allowing development of planned communities — most of them developer-created association-governed (HOA) common interest developments — within the boundaries of reservoirs designed to prevent downstream flooding?
Obviously, Houston area developers and real estate brokers have amassed multimillions of dollars in profits from the sale of homes constructed in one of two reservoirs.
But let’s not forget that local governments issued construction and occupancy permits for each home located in both Addicks and Barker reservoirs. For two decades, those same governments have collected billions of dollars in property taxes from homeowners, and, at the same time, provided a lower level of services to private, HOA-governed communities.
Perhaps that explains why housing consumers have never been told the truth about the flood risks they faced.
Read the class action lawsuit here: