SARASOTA - U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R – Longboat Key) got an earful from people who say that skyrocketing flood insurance rates could force them out of their homes.
“Will anything be done this year?” A man who showed up to a town hall meeting Buchanan hosted at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Aiport Friday pressed him.
“I'm hoping,” Buchanan told him.
“What does hope mean?” The man replied.
It means that Buchanan knows the urgency, but doesn't know if the rest of congress will go along.
“I'd like to think so. That's our goal,” he said afterward. “We're going to do everything we can.”
Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform act to resolve a deficit in the National Flood Insurance Program, in part by making people with older homes in flood zones pay more.
“My flood insurance for this year is $16,945,” says Mike Burk of his 780 square-foot home on Manasota Key. It was about $2,000 last year. Burk is just one homeowner whose flood insurance suddenly jumped by hundreds of percent. And most are not millionaires in waterfront mansions.
“This is a lot of people (in) $200,000 homes that might lose them,” Buchanan says.
And as a panel of people, that included a banker and a realtor explained, the insurance hikes have begun to paralyze Florida's housing market. "Our buyers are on the fence," says Joe Adamaitis, Vice President of Residential Lending at Insignia Bank. "Many don't want to make a move."
“What we're getting hit with right now is just dramatic changes, substantial changes, thousand percent increases, things that people can't live with,” says Sarasota realtor David Clapp.
Buchanan has made his name as a fiscal conservative who preaches about the danger of our national debt. But he says, when the problem can risk economic catastrophe, the country must spend the money to fix it. “Bottom line: if this crashes the economy,” Buchanan says. “You're going to have less receipts into the treasury, so you're going to pay one way or the other.”
Congress has just over two weeks left in this legislative session before its holiday break. The bill Buchanan co-sponsored would delay the Biggert-Waters act by four years. Buchanan says that would give congress enough time to find a better way to make the flood insurance program more solvent without creating a wave of price hikes that would put many people out of their homes.