PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Nearly one in 10 Rhode Islanders with flood insurance have dropped their coverage since December, Target 12 has learned.
The number of policies statewide decreased from 11,104 on Dec. 31 to 10,133 on July 31, which is a decrease of almost 10%, according to data from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.
The drop in policies comes after FEMA raised rates in April based on a new system called Risk Rating 2.0, which aims to charge higher premiums for riskier homes. But the result in Rhode Island is that almost 55% of single family homes will see an increase in cost between $12 and $120 per year. The graphic below shows increases and decreases per month.
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Jon Nelson, professor of environmental studies at the Rhode Island School of Design, told Target 12 he wasn’t surprised by how many people have dropped their policies.
“Folks might be saving $100, $120 a year, but the risk they’re taking on by doing that is really quite substantial,” Nelson said. “Especially if you live near a river, you should be reconsidering dropping that policy.”
Nelson said areas with rivers, streams or creeks like Pawtucket, Foster, Providence, West Warwick and Hopkinton have seen the biggest increases in premiums.
This suggests FEMA is concerned about areas that flood easily during significant rainstorms, according to Nelson.
Conversely, areas along the coast like Westerly, Warwick, Newport and Portsmouth have seen the biggest decreases.
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Nelson said homes at risk of flooding near rivers, streams and creeks “usually belong to the poorest people, because those are high-risk areas and were traditionally centers for industry and their workforce.”
The end result, he said, is that FEMA’s increased rates target Rhode Island’s most disadvantaged communities.
And if low-income residents are choosing to drop their policies, Nelson said they may not be able to afford the cost of rebuilding when disaster strikes.
“The lower your income, the more of your wealth is held in your home,” Nelson said. “The wealth of their family is accrued through paying off their mortgage—that could be wiped out during a single event.”
Nelson said when too many homes don’t have policies, it’s a trickle down effect: People won’t be able to rebuild their homes, cities and towns will lose their tax base and municipalities won’t be able to afford to build schools and maintain roads.
“We need to be thinking longer term in the state about these questions of resilience,” Nelson said. “Unless folks come out and support their municipal officials in starting to tackle this problem, it’s not going to happen.”