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The Uncertain Flood Zone

Communities need accurate maps and more access to data to increase flood resilience—but right now FEMA's not providing that.
May 22, 2019, 8am PDT | LM_Ortiz
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Across America, millions of families live in homes that are susceptible to flooding. And millions more could be at risk by the end of the century as the seas continue to rise and extreme weather events become more common. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), for better or worse, plays a central role in the nation’s ability to address this growing threat.

Unfortunately, the federal flood insurance program has severe shortcomings—it has inaccurate and backward-looking flood maps, it’s not overly transparent about its flood risk and flood history data, and it doesn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of mitigation. These issues undermine everyone’s ability to accommodate and prepare for the damage wreaked to people’s homes by floods that are exacerbated by climate change. Homeowners and renters are left in the dark about their flood risk. This affects the community development field as well—affordable housing developers don’t have all the information they need to make siting and design decisions, and affordable housing lenders don’t have the information they need to appropriately underwrite flood-risk. This information gap distorts market signals, hinders fully informed decision making, and can lead to families being trapped in a nightmarish version of Groundhog Day: flooding, rebuilding, and repeating.

Congressional reform of the NFIP could help alleviate these problems, beginning with modernizing maps.

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Published on Monday, May 13, 2019 in Shelterforce Magazine
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