More than half the properties in New Orleans will see their flood insurance premiums drop under a set of maps released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week, with the average reduction coming in at about $460 a year, officials said Friday.
The new National Flood Insurance Program maps, which are expected to be officially adopted later this year, come after years of appeals by the city aimed at reducing rates in New Orleans.
The revised maps take into account the $14.5 billion in improvements to the levees and pumps designed to protect the area from storms, as well as other drainage improvements in the city, such as the massive Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Program.
“A lot of work we’ve done in Washington has yielded a tremendous result for the taxpayers and homeowners of New Orleans,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said at a news conference to discuss the new maps. “We are going to realize a substantial reduction in the amount of money that homeowners will have to pay for flood insurance.”
The new maps reclassify about 53 percent of properties in the city from so-called “special flood hazard areas,” high-risk zones where flood insurance is more expensive, to “nonhazard areas.” Another 44 percent of properties will not see their classification change.
“To the citizens, I hope this is one time you can sit back and say, ‘Yeah, the city fights for us and fights to save us money and to make it a city in which we can afford to live,’ ” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said.
While the new maps are good news for most properties in the city, that isn’t the case for everyone. About 3 percent of the properties in the city are being reclassified into the higher-risk zone. Those properties are largely concentrated in Lower Coast Algiers and Venetian Isles, areas outside the levee system.
While technically FEMA is required to update the maps every five years, the ones now being used date back to 1984. They have gone through several rounds of appeals in which the city argued that FEMA wasn’t taking into account various flood protection improvements or geographic features.
“We applaud FEMA for giving in and understanding the investment we’ve made,” U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said at the news conference.
The City Council is expected to approve the new rate maps soon, setting the stage for them to go into effect in June. The lower rates, however, won’t take effect until Oct. 1.
Officials urged residents to contact their insurance companies to get more information on their rates.
Richmond said his office was working with FEMA to get answers to common questions that he will send out to residents in his district.
Officials also urged all residents to maintain flood insurance on their properties, even though the new classifications will mean that, in some cases, it is no longer mandatory.
Jefferson Parish’s flood maps also are being updated, though they aren’t quite as far along in the process. The parish, which also has been engaged in a long series of challenges to FEMA’s maps, is now waiting on FEMA to open another 90-day comment and appeals process. The parish is not expecting to appeal the latest map revision, which could clear the way for the maps to be finalized later this year.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.