‘It Was Like a River’: Flood Insurance Gains Access for Gulf Coast Residents Who Need It Most | KQED

“That’s going to be the No. 1 thing we’re working on,” he said.

California’s recent hurricanes hit places like Rollingwood and other low-lying, lower-income communities of color especially hard-hit, where few homeowners have flood insurance.

And while homeowners insurance can cover property damage from rain and wind, but flood damage is rarely covered.

Despite its uneven markings on FEMA maps, the Flood risk in Rollingwood neighborhood rated “severe” on the Risk Factor online tool, which predicts a 99% chance of flooding at least once in the next 30 years.

Laura Cisneros, a neighbor who has lived in Rheem Creek for about two decades, said flooding has surrounded her home about a year – including twice during recent storms.

“This really scares me because if it rains again, we might have to leave our house,” he said, in the middle of three weeks of flooding at the beginning. this month.

Kathleen Schaefer, who oversaw the creation of FEMA insurance maps for California over the past five years, said people in unincorporated areas often feel restricted because they “don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it.” and these storms.”

But with storm surges of air expected to dump more rain – making the Bay Area as 37% more at the end of the century, according to some predictions – Schaefer strongly encourages people in places like Rollingwood to buy flood insurance.

But the problem, he added, is that it is often too expensive for those most affected by floods.

Carla and Denyss Villalta stand in front of their home in the unincorporated Rollingwood neighborhood outside San Pablo, on Jan. 6, 2023. The couple said the floodwaters have already surrounded their home. house at least twice since they moved in about two years ago, and are now trying to find the right flood insurance. (Ezra David Romero/KQED)

“Californians are already burdened with their housing costs,” said Schaefer, who is pursuing a Ph.D in mechanical engineering at UC Davis.

The cost of an insurance policy can range from a hundred to a thousand dollars a year, and it depends on the height of a building, the year it was built, and the proximity to a body of water.

According to Schaefer, a policy in the Rollingwood neighborhood can cost between $700 and $800 a year.

With more than 60,000 people living in the 94806 ZIP code — which includes Rollingwood and several other unincorporated communities, as well as parts of San Pablo and Richmond — only approximately 300 homeowners have flood insurance. And while the majority of people are living in rent, the number of people who hold insurance cards here shows that thousands of homeowners are largely unprotected from flooding.

People of color do things more than 80% of the population in this ZIP codeand the family income is about $74,000.

According to Schaefer, flood insurance should be more affordable and accessible to low-income communities, because the power of storms causes the cost.

“One solution could be a community insurance program, which would be cheaper and offer more protection,” said Schaefer, who is in the process of creating a pilot for this example.

For a program like this to be effective, he said, a government agency – whether it’s the district or a local research district – needs to be directly involved. Homeowners will pay that agency a low rate and receive a fixed amount of payment in the event of a trigger event, such as a flood.

“It will be pre-planned, and … a homeowner will know going into the storm, if something happens, they will have the money to find a safe and comfortable place, ” he said.

A front door opens onto a flooded street
Floodwaters from Rheem Creek creep dangerously close to Carla and Denyss Villalta’s front door on New Year’s Eve. (Courtesy of Carla Villalta)

A higher, or more traditional, will also be available under Schaefer’s proposed plan, but will be limited to 1% of family income.

“In the case of San Pablo, for example, the insurance is kind of anything you can buy for $520 a year,” he said. In contrast, some San Pablo residents pay triple that amountaccording to the Policygenius site.

Schaefer said he would also like to see insurance companies, local governments and community members work together to implement long-term solutions, such as building more basins. clean up, add more channels and restore severely eroded streams.

Some flood relief works are currently underway in the area, including a $1.6 million in government funding to widen the channel and rehabilitate parts of Rheem Creek by deepening the channel and planting native trees along its edges to lock in the soil.

“Currently, the river floods several times a year, and we hope that after the completion of this project, it should flood every five to 10 years,” said Anne Bremirez , the director of the program and The Watershed Project, one of the non-profit groups leading the initiative.

But Cisneros, who said he can’t afford flood insurance, has a hard time believing the project will be enough to protect his family.

“They have repeatedly told us (they will solve the flooding problems),” he said, adding that if the creek continues to flood, they may consider moving it to higher ground.

“I want to see when it’s done. Otherwise, I don’t believe it.”

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