Fight for Flood Insurance Grows Dire as Sea Levels Rise

Florida REALTOR® Brandi Gabbard, left, said Tuesday that the federal government needs to be more involved in helping communities nationwide protect against flood threats.

The city of St. Petersburg, Fla., is in a predicament. Surrounded by water on three sides, sea levels there have risen by about an inch per decade since the 1940s—and are expected to rise several more feet in the next 80 years. What does that mean for the viability of the city? More broadly, with hundreds of other communities in the United States facing similar threats, what kind of investment now makes sense to keep communities facing environmental challenges thriving in the years ahead?

Brandi Gabbard, a sales associate with Smith & Associates Real Estate in St. Petersburg and chair of the National Association of REALTORS®’ Insurance Committee, joined a panel of engineering experts Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to explore these issues with lawmakers as they decide what to do with the National Flood Insurance Program.

Last year, the House passed a long-term reauthorization of the NFIP, including NAR-backed reforms to improve the program’s soundness. The reforms would make funds available to cities to address flooding and to owners to make their properties less susceptible to damage. NAR is seeking passage of the legislation in the Senate. In the meantime, a short-term extension of the existing program expires in a few weeks.

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“Is real estate still a good investment in a world in which environmental impacts are evolving and there’s a chance that what is affordable and sustainable today might not be so in the future?” Gabbard said at the event. Gabbard, who is newly elected to the St. Petersburg City Council, said her city is taking the threat of sea level rise seriously by developing a plan to increase long-term resiliency against flood risks. But it can only do so much without federal involvement. She called for passage of the NAR-backed flood bill as a necessary first step to helping communities in all parts of the country prepare for environmental change.

“While it might appear more of a coastal problem, we have areas all over the country that have floods, including in the heartland,” she said before the event. “Indiana gets floods all the time; it’s not just coastal states. Inland areas might not have the surge problem coastal states have, but they have flash flood problems.”

—Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine

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