Energy & Environment

FEMA’s new flood insurance program goes into effect today. Here’s how it will impact Harris County residents

In Harris County, some 89% of federal flood insurance holders could see increases of up to $60 per month in the first year of the new program.

Flooded Home After Harvey
An American flag hangs outside a flooded home in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

The revamped federal flood insurance program went into effect Friday, making way for some 86% of Texans to see their premiums go up in the coming months, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA has restructured how it calculates flood risk for the first time in 50 years to better assess a property's risk of flooding and to “adapt and re-adjust rates based on a changing, unpredictable climate,” according to the agency.

In Harris County, roughly 89% of flood insurance holders could see increases of up to $60 per month in the first year, while the remaining 11% could see immediate decreases to their premiums, according to FEMA.

On the extreme end of the spectrum, some policy holders in Texas could see an increase of more than $100 a month.

The updated rates go into effect for new policies beginning Oct. 1, while remaining policies up for renewal will see the changes starting April 1, 2022.

Annual rate increases are capped at 18%, though some policy holders could continue to see yearly increases until they reach the premium established by the new program.

Sea-level rise, heavier rainfall, and stronger, wetter hurricanes attributed to climate change continue to cause increased flooding in Houston and other flood-prone areas in the gulf and along the coasts.

Previously, flood risk was largely based on a property’s elevation and whether or not it was located in the 100-year floodplain. Under the restructuring — known as Risk Rating 2.0 — risk is more tailored to each individual property by taking into account factors such as flood frequency, distance to a water source and the cost of rebuilding, according to FEMA.

The agency is also billing the program as more equitable, by lowering rates for less-expensive homes that don’t cost as much to rebuild, while raising costs for more affluent properties with high flood risk.

"The new rating methodology has exposed inequities in pricing whereby some policyholders have been unjustly subsidizing other policyholders," the agency wrote in a press release.

The October rollout comes despite concerns from some coastal-area lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum that it would put too much financial stress on their constituents.

In a letter to FEMA, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas asked for the rollout to be delayed.

"Our nation is still recovering from the pandemic, and thousands of families are struggling to make mortgage payments and keep food on the table,” he wrote. “FEMA should consider the impact implementing RR 2.0 would have on these families and provide a forum for comment and review from the public.”

Houston-area congressmen Al Green and Troy Nehls signed a similar letter sent by 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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