Editorial: Katrina prompted needed flood insurance changes

Reforms enacted because of Hurricane Katrina may lead to dramatic changes in middle- and lower-income neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey.

It’s a sad but necessary reality.

For too long, taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance has encouraged building and rebuilding in vulnerable areas. But just this past summer, new rules went into effect to rescue the flood insurance program from the tremendous debt it incurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

The changes mean Hurricane Sandy’s victims face significantly higher premiums and more stringent construction standards if they rebuild, according to a report in The New York Times. Restoring modest areas in Queens, Staten Island, Long Island and the New Jersey shore may be impossible for longtime homeowners.

Flood insurance premiums are set to increase as much as 25 percent in January, and newly mapped flood hazard zones come with extensive building requirements. Within three to four years, premiums will double for some properties, and enforcement of requirements to carry flood insurance will increase.

Some critics have complained the changes could make seaside living possible only for the wealthy. In reality, taxpayers across the nation have been subsidizing the seaside lifestyle of those along the coasts. It’s hard to argue that living near the shore is a necessity the taxpayer needs to protect.

Environmental advocates and fiscal conservatives share the concern that past policy has exacerbated the problem and led to building that violates the public interest. But it is the harsh effects of Katrina’s costs that have prompted definitive actions that could begin to correct past errors.

The fiscal and environmental realities don’t diminish our sympathy for Hurricane Sandy’s victims, or our responsibility to help them rebuild their lives. But sound policy demands that those who re-build in vulnerable areas bear all the risks, without taxpayer help. That’s true whether the affected area is a modest neighborhood in Queens or a fancy high-end development on the South Carolina shore.