Texas officials are struggling to enforce part of a flood insurance program that aims to elevate or remove severely damaged properties from flood plains, according to a newspaper investigation.
The Houston Chronicle analyzed more than 36,000 insurance claims of properties that are frequently flooded and determined that about 16 percent of the properties had evidence of being substantially damaged by flooding at least once before.
The taxpayer-subsidized National Flood Insurance Program says officials should require home demolition or elevation if flood damage assessments are at least 50 percent of a home's value. But the newspaper found that state officials often undervalue damage estimates, which allowed people to move back into homes that are in vulnerable places without making changes.
Properties that didn't meet the program's 50 percent requirement have cost at least $1.1 billion in insurance claims, according to the analysis. In Houston alone, seven properties have had more than 100 damage claims totaling $9 million -- even though the combined value of the buildings is just $426,000, according to the newspaper.
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"Nobody wants to tell a flood survivor, after they've lost everything, that, oh, by the way, you have to raise your house four feet," explained Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers, a national organization that promotes education and policies that aim to mitigate flooding issues.
Following Hurricane Harvey, Houston officials notified more than 2,200 homeowners that their homes were substantially damaged. That accounts for just 1 percent of the more than 200,000 Houston homes that were flooded during the hurricane and the heavy rains that followed the storm.
Lynda Bates' 2,000-square-foot house on Galveston Island was flooded in 7 feet of water during Hurricane Ike in 2008. The city of Galveston found that her home was 44 percent damaged, while appraisal records show that it lost 67 percent of its value. Bates said she and her spouse rebuilt their home without any instructions from the city to raise it.
Galveston officials said they did what they could under difficult circumstances.