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South Florida Business Leaders Strategize Responses To National Flood Insurance Plan Crisis

Rep. Ted Deutch
Caitie Switalski
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch met with Broward and Fort Lauderdale business leaders to talk about sea-level rise and the National Flood Insurance Plan Tuesday afternoon.

The National Flood Insurance Program is in trouble. After paying claims to cover damages from storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Matthew in 2015, it is more than $25 billion in debt.

And after being extended in July, the program is set to expire at the end of November if Congress doesn't reauthorize it.

That's a problem for South Florida, where millions of people have subsidized insurance through the program. If it expires, they won't be able to renew or purchase policies.

Broward County business leaders from the Broward Workshop and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce met with U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch Tuesday afternoon to brainstorm steps South Florida can take to respond to the program's financial instability. The more the region invests in making infrastructure, homes and businesses resilient to flooding and sea-level rise, they said, the less risk the National Flood Insurance Program has to take on. 

Among the ideas pitched to Rep. Deutch: privatize the flood insurance market and change building codes.

Privatizing the market for flood insurance might take some of the financial burden off the national program, they said, by getting more private companies to underwrite some of the risk that the federal government is trying to take on. In other words, it could help spread the risk.

Changing state building codes to mandate more resilient building methods could bring down insurance premiums that consumers would have to pay, they said.

But Deutch said the program's debt is a sign of a much deeper problem.

"That's really just a symptom of the broader challenge that we face as a result of sea-level rise and climate change," he said.

South Florida's day-to-day flooding already has banks considering whether to stop lending for 30-year mortgages because of the rising risk. 

"If you price policies with the risk, people are not going to be able to afford to live here," said Keith Costello, the president and CEO of First Green Bank.

Read More: Study: Consumer Are Still Waiting To Pay More For Houses In Flood Zones

Alec Bogdanoff, the co-founder of Fort Lauderdale engineering consulting company Brizaga, looks at resilient infrastructure and also is the Florida resilience manager for the Seawall Coalition.

He reccomends residents check their home's flood risk with a tool like FloodiQ.com.

"Any time we can bring the business community together and educate them on something that has economic consequences for our community - it's important," he said. "We're not going to solve it with one conversation."

Deutch said any plans discussed among local business leaders will have to be adapted over time to fit the growing effects of climate change.

"Ultimately ... over time, we're going to have to do a better job addressing those challenges," Deutch said.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, currently leads the WLRN Newsroom as Interim Managing Editor. Prior to transitioning to leadership from production, Caitie reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News for four years.