The Path Forward
Shortly after Katrina, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote, “Floods wash away the surface of society, the settled way things have been done. They expose the underlying power structures, the injustices, the patterns of corruption and the unacknowledged inequalities.” Floods are more than economic disasters, they have proven to be social and cultural disasters as well.
💫 Prioritize flood insurance for those who would have the hardest time bouncing back — There are two ways to think about flood insurance, given a limited pool of money — (1) we can dedicate more funds to people with more expensive properties, or (2) we can dedicate more funds to people who are in greater need of those funds. While FEMA’s flood insurance often focuses on the wealthiest homes , these tend to also be owned by those with the most funds to bounce back. Policymakers in Houston tested a program in 2019 that focused more on equity to support those struggling with floods and saw tremendous benefits to communities.
🌊 Require sellers to provide flood risk information —21 states have no flood disclosure requirements. In New York state, sellers can pay a $500 fee to hide information about whether the property is in a designated floodplain. These sellers see this as a small price to inflate their value of their home. Louisiana has just greatly improved its flood disclosure policies. The state now requires sellers to disclose whether and how frequently the property or building has flooded, whether the property is in a FEMA-designated flood zone, and whether the seller or previous owner received federal disaster aid that would require any new owner to buy and maintain flood insurance for the property. Other states should do the same.
🎩 Remove FEMA guidelines that favor the wealthy — FEMA transitional shelter assistance currently requires grantees to have credit cards. In addition, FEMA must find housing damage to be at least $8,000 or personal property damage of at least $3,500 for HUD Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) to kick in. As a result, following Hurricane Harvey, nearly two-thirds of very low-income households in Texas were cut out of support. These policies favor families with higher property values since it is easier to reach these thresholds, and also those who are able to get a credit card at all. FEMA instead should make the damage a percentage of property value and should eliminate the credit card requirement — transitional shelters are not hotels where we have to cover incidentals.