By COREY WILLIAMS/Associated Press
DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) – Katherine Calhoun gets nervous this time of year. She nods toward the rear of her home, where Ecorse Creek moseys through Dearborn Heights.
“We check the creek height whenever we’re outside. We worry all the time, especially in the spring because of the rain and melting snow,” she said.
Living so close to the creek in a flood plain has been costly – not the least because it’s flooded twice and once caused $19,000 worth of damage they had to pay after their insurance claim was rejected. When the Calhouns bought the house 22 years ago, they paid $300 annually for flood insurance. That bill is now $800.
It will only get worse for the Calhouns and people around the nation when federal flood insurance premiums go up soon as decades-old subsides through the National Flood Insurance Program start to end. The program, which made low-priced insurance policies available for houses built before 1975 and near bodies of water, is $24 billion in debt.
In 2012, Congress passed a law requiring about 1.1 million policyholders to start paying rates based on the true risk of flooding at their properties. It scaled back that law recently, but annual premiums will still increase by as much as 18 percent year after year until the government collects what it needs to pay out claims.
Owners of businesses and second homes face mandatory increases of 25 percent a year until the owner drops out of the program and gets a new rate based on the actual risk of flooding.
In Michigan, there are about 11,500 federal policies for primary residences and 2,600 businesses and vacation homes.
Higher premiums for people living close to Ecorse Creek would be an extra burden on an area that has yet to recover from the national mortgage crisis and home foreclosures, Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko said.
“Flood insurance is equal to one or two mortgage payments for people in the flood insurance program,” said Paletko, adding that the cost makes it nearly impossible to sell some homes in the flood plain.
“In order to get a mortgage, they have to have the flood insurance,” Paletko said. “I would suspect when people see a home they want and find out they have to pay $2,000 a year in flood insurance that right away they look somewhere else.”
How the rate hikes will be set has yet to be determined, but any amount is more than Alexander and Sharon Farino want to pay.
They’ve lived about a block from Ecorse Creek for 12 years, and haven’t been affected by flooding. Yet, they pay about $700 a year in flood insurance, Sharon Farino said.
“If it comes to where the premium skyrockets, we’ll pay the house off anyways,” she said. “After my mortgage is paid off I don’t have to pay for the insurance. We’re close. We’re one of the lucky ones.”
About 85 miles northwest of Detroit, the small community of Zilwaukee straddles the Saginaw River.
“We have close to 800 parcels in the flood plain, but we’ve never had a flood affected by the Saginaw River,” City Manager Jeff Zittel said. “We’ve gone through numerous years of rainfall, but we’ve never been a disaster area.”
Zilwaukee residents in the federal program collectively pay about $200,000 per year in flood insurance premiums. A large spike in premiums would make mortgages unmanageable for many people, he said.
“We’re an elderly bedroom community. We have residents in their 90s. Now they are being forced to say, `Am I having to use my retirement or my savings to help pay for my insurance premiums.’
“The system is broken, and forcing residents from their homes by increasing the premiums is not going to fix the problem.”
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