By Eugene Paik/The Star-Ledger
on February 05, 2013
Q. What is a base flood elevation?
A. Base flood elevation is the height calculated by FEMA that indicates the level of floodwater during a 100-year storm. The flood elevation height along with the actual height of your home, play a major role in determining your flood insurance rates.
The base flood elevation and the actual elevation of your house play a large part in determining your flood insurance rates.
Q. How can I find out what my current base flood elevation is?
A. Check your local municipal building department or property records to find the current base flood elevations for your property. To find your new advisory elevation, type in your address at FEMA’s advisory elevation website.
Q. What are advisory base flood elevations, and what changes will they bring?
A. The advisory elevations are the new base flood elevations recommended by FEMA as the agency works on an updated Flood Insurance Rate Map for New Jersey, FEMA spokesman Darrell Habisch said. That insurance rate map is what determines your insurance premium — not the advisory elevations themselves, which are more like “a preview,” Habisch said.
That means there might be some changes to the elevations after FEMA unveils its preliminary insurance map later this year, though the agency doesn’t anticipate major differences. Until that map goes into effect, possibly in early 2015, insurance premiums will not be affected.
So far, FEMA is calling for changes that will drastically alter homes along New Jersey’s barrier islands and the shores of Raritan Bay, with many buildings needing to be raised to help prevent future flood damage. In communities such as the Ortley Beach section of Toms River and Union Beach, that could mean elevating your house more than four feet.
Q. What is a Flood zone “V” zone?
A. The most vulnerable homes are in the flood zone “V” zones, which are waterfront areas that are at highest risk for flooding and 3-foot breaking waves. But houses may still need to be raised in the coastal “A” flood zone A and coastal “AE” flood zone AE, which aren’t as vulnerable as the flood zone V but flood zone AE is still subject to major damage.
The advisory elevations show that more houses have been included in the flood zone “V” zones, but FEMA spokesman Chris McKniff wasn’t able to say exactly how many, since nothing is final until the flood maps go into effect. However, he said any changes in the zones were being planned before Sandy struck and took into account decades of flood data.
Q. Are towns and residents required to obey the advisory elevations?
A. The state adopted the federal government’s advisory elevations, but ultimately it’s up to the municipalities to make them a requirement, Hajna said.
Whether they will is still unclear. Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said he’s heard from several towns that were worried the elevations could cause revenues from property taxes to plummet.
Dressel did not know if any municipalities have decided to enforce the advisory elevations, but Hajna said Long Branch recently adopted the higher elevations.
Dressel called for patience as everyone tries to make sense of the new standards. “There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of pieces of the rebuilding puzzle that need to be put in place,” he said.
Q. What happens if I don’t comply with the new elevations?
A. You will pay more in flood insurance. According to FEMA, a property that’s four feet below the advisory elevation in a high-hazard area could cost the owner roughly $31,000 a year for flood insurance. The premium drops to $7,000 if the home is at the new standard, and falls to $3,500 if the house is built two feet higher.
Should municipalities choose not to adopt the flood insurance map, they will be barred from the federally subsidized National Flood Insurance Program, McKniff said.
Q. What if I can’t afford to raise my house?
A. According to FEMA, there are three ways the federal government can help: low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, FEMA grants and Increased Cost of Compliance coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program.
The Increased Cost of Compliance coverage, commonly called ICC, can provide up to $30,000 to homes insured under the National Flood Insurance Program. However, property owners are only eligible for ICC if their property suffered damages totaling 50 percent or more of the pre-storm market value, or if they suffer repetitive flooding,
The costs of raising a home differs for each situation, but a $30,000 ICC payment might cover the costs of elevating a small home, according to the New Jersey Builders Association. More money would be required to raise a larger house.
If you don’t qualify for ICC, you might be eligible for grants from FEMA. The agency provides up to $31,900 to hurricane victims registered in its Individuals and Households Program. However, the program only pays for repairs that aren’t covered by insurance.
FEMA also has a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is only available to state and local governments. Individuals cannot apply, but they can ask their governments to apply on their behalf. Property buyouts and structure elevations can be covered through this program.
If those options are ruled out, low-interest disaster loans from the SBA are available. A homeowner can borrow up to $200,000 for 30 years at 1.67 percent interest to repair or replace a primary residence to its pre-storm condition. A business owner can borrow up to $2 million at 4 percent interest.
Q. I’m already raising my house. What if the advisory elevations change again when the flood insurance rate maps come out, and my home falls short of the threshold for lower insurance premiums?
A. Either you can build even higher, or you can absorb the financial loss. Hajna said the state does not anticipate significant changes, but FEMA officials recommend raising your home even higher than the advisory elevations just in case there are any alterations.
Q. If I choose not to comply with the new elevations, will that affect what I receive from FEMA in the future?
A. There won’t be any repercussions from FEMA, Habisch said, but be prepared for higher insurance premiums.