AT A LOSS
MUNCY – Eleven days.
That’s when Jeff Waltman may lose his home at 113 N. Washington St. because he’s being hit with a $9,000 flood insurance payment that he can’t afford – and says he shouldn’t have to pay.
This is a close-up of the effects rippling throughout the nation, Pennsylvania and here at home due to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The new law is hitting houses and businesses hard with this October’s premium renewals.
Waltman, county officials and others gathered at Muncy Bank & Trust Co. to tell U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, of the law’s effects here. Later in the day, Marino also visited Montoursville and Jersey Shore during a flood insurance walking tour.
When Waltman’s wife purchased the house last December after the act passed, no one informed them of the higher premium rates that would come. At that time, their rate was $592. This October, he was told an elevation survey must be done, which took the money he’d saved for his kids’ Christmas gifts.
They were told just this month of the $9,000 they must pay if they don’t want to lose their house, he said.
“This hits way too close to home,” Waltman said. ” … Why didn’t the PHFA (Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency) tell me?”
Tom Rishel, of 106 E. Water St., owns Rishel Window and numerous other buildings in town and said they only flooded once, in the 1972 flood caused by Hurricane Agnes.
He had paid annual premiums of about $600 apiece, but they now have jumped to $9,500 each.
He said he can’t afford that.
“I’ll board one up … I can’t pay that much out for flood insurance for a rental property,” Rishel said.
Even if the government bought the houses out, who could afford to buy them, he asked.
“I hope the government helps the banks out – they’ll get stuck with more houses than they’ll ever believe. Nobody will buy them,” Rishel said.
Rishel said he doesn’t have a pension or retirement fund.
“This house was my retirement,” he said.
Daniel C. Berninger, president and CEO of Muncy Bank & Trust Co., said 40 percent of houses in Muncy are in the flood plain, and about 230 mortgages are in the flood plain.
“That’s a big-time problem,” Berninger said. With skyrocketing premiums people can’t pay, he asked, “As a bank, where does that leave us?”
One of the main issues is that now, instead of only examining if houses are in the flood plain, premiums also are based on the houses’ base flood elevation. For every foot above the 100-year flood point, the rate drops, but for each foot below it, the rate increases, said Fran McJunkin, deputy director, Lycoming County Planning Commission, GIS and Assessment.
Thus, basements tremendously exacerbate the problem. Waltman said his house has a 4-foot-deep crawl space basement, saying it is unreasonable that should increase his rates so drastically. Plus, there have been no claims on the house since 1978.
“I’m giving away money when I know I’ll never make a claim,” Waltman said.
McJunkin explained the law primarily hurts old boroughs and townships in which homes were built before flood ordinances in 1981.
Brion Pepperman, 33, of Cogan Station, asked how the Federal Emergency Management Agency calculates the new premiums as the “true cost” of flood insurance when the premiums often are greater than the property value.
“Who’s doing the math here?” Pepperman asked.
A fix or a delay?
Marino said he’s co-sponsoring legislation that would delay the law’s impacts for three years, conduct an independent affordability study and grandfather in houses purchased in 2012 to rates prior to the legislation. He noted they have yet to specify the home purchase date in 2012 that would apply to this bill. He also wants to see these homes bought out.
Cindy Appleman, owner of the RE/MAX Edge real estate Muncy branch, said even with the three-year delay, there would be hesitancy to list homes for sale as it would be the same situation down the road for the new owners.
Marino said there is no blanket solution.
“There is no 100-percent cure-all, no matter what we do,” he said.
McJunkin said those in county government aren’t waiting for the Legislature to “stop this train wreck” but are “doing everything we can to help ourselves.”
The county is looking at its maps to ensure accuracy and is trying to secure funding to help residents, she said.
Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland said state Reps. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, and E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, also are seeking solutions, and Gov. Tom Corbett may be an ally in the effort.
But for people such as Waltman who can’t afford to wait much longer on the Legislature – what can be done now to help, Commissioner Tony Mussare asked Marino.
Marino said he would take the message back with him to Washington, D.C., and see what immediate action could be taken.