If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

A Class 10 is not participating in the Community Rating System and receives no discount. A Class 9 community would receive a 5 percent discount to a Class 1 community which would receive a 45 percent premium discount.

The Community Rating System classes for local communities are based on 18 creditable activities, organized under four categories:

  • Public Information
  • Mapping and Regulations
  • Flood Damage Reduction
  • Flood Preparedness

The table below shows the credit points earned, classification awarded and premium reductions given for communities in the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System.

CRS and floodplain management:

“Participating counties, municipalities and tribal nations can become stronger and more resilient by risk reducing actions, such as the following best practices:

  • Adopting and enforcing higher floodplain management standards than NFIP minimum requirements (e.g., higher freeboard, lower substantial damage ratios)
  • Maintaining rigorous enforcement
  • Promoting open space through property buyouts and community planning.
  • Encouraging responsible building practices (ASCE or IBC, for example, including IBC Appendix G)
  • Promoting the purchase of flood insurance”

I have tailored below the CRS rating system eligible communities spreadsheet to Virginia communities only.  You can see which Virginia communities participate and what percentage of monthly premium is saved by their residents starting October 1, 2020.

A flood insurance rate map (FIRM) displays the floodplains, more explicitly special hazard areas and risk premium zones, as delineated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

South Hampton Roads and the Virginia Peninsula are awash (to coin a term) in Special Flood Hazard Areas.

Loudoun County’s northern boundary is the Potomac river.  It has nearly as many flood hazard areas as golf courses. Loudoun County does not participate in the CRS at a level that earns its citizens flood insurance discounts.

James City County on the Virginia Peninsula, bordered by the James and Chickahominy rivers, does participate and has the best scores, thus the most discounted insurance rates in Virginia. Its residents who buy flood insurance will get discounts of 25% in October if they are in a special flood hazard area and 10% if they are not.

Pretty sure that the reason Loudoun County does not actively participate in CRS is not a lack of money.

If your county or city is not listed in the spreadsheet above, it does not participate in CRS at all.

You can ask your city or county manager to explain.

In the case of Virginia Beach where I live, that action finally got the ball rolling in 2019.  Of course Virginia Beach could afford it.  Some can’t.

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25 responses to “If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Loudon County is in Tennessee. Loudoun County is in Northern Virginia. An often typo error made by many. Both counties honor The Earl of Loudoun AKA John Campbell, who commanded the British forces in the French and Indian War or Seven Years War. Both Loudouns share a significant flood concern. The one in Tennessee saw massive floods prior to TVA. The one in Virginia gets flooded on a regular basis. Between Goose Creek and Broad Run there is no where for water to go.

  2. Always start with this,,, is Flood Insurance a function of the Federal Government.
    Well obviously NO since it’s not spelled out in the Constitution as a function of government,,,see Article 1 Section 8.

    • Yeah, probably, but ask State Farm which way they’d like it. Believe this, the American people didn’t lobby Congress to have flood insurance be Government funded. Wonder who did?

    • The Congresses that wrote and continue to authorize and fund the National Flood Insurance Program can answer for that. I don’t approve of the program because it distorts investment. The government is picking winners. If that program did not exist, however, I approve of flood plain management through zoning as a core function of government – public safety.

      But let’s say that private insurers wrote the policies without federal backup. Residents of locations where their county or city invested and used zoning to reduce the risk would still qualify for a discount. Same is true of building codes. It cost me a lot of extra money to build my house in Virginia Beach immediately after the switch to hurricane building codes. But it also made my house more valuable.

      Larry below argues that stricter building codes drive up the cost of housing, and he is right. The tradeoff between cost and safety is in the eye of the beholder. But let’s say we built low cost or public housing in a flood zone to keep the price down. Would that be the right thing to do?

      My article says if your county or city does the work to reduce risk, your citizens will get a discount. And be safer.

      Congress and the General Assembly write the laws, so the voters ultimately decide.

      • Okay , so this is a good, non-partisan, non-culture war, non-anti-science, non anti-govt thread!

        Unfortunately, when people build – they also expect government-funded infrastructure – roads, water/sewer and electricity.

        And when these things get damaged or destroyed, they have to be replaced also.

        It’s perhaps one thing to argue that Newport News Shipbuilding should be “saved” but how about all the non-strategic private property nearby?

        People who bought land or homes 30, 40, 50 years ago – will lose their assets unless other taxpayers reimburse them.

        I’ve heard that much of Nags Head would have to be abandoned if we strictly followed the underwriting data. NCDOT has also considered abandoning some of the roads that have now been flooded more than once.

        Ocracoke Island was almost wiped up by hurricane Dorian – but they are rebuilding…


        this is an excellent thread for discussing the role of government.

  3. In Manassas Park, there is an office building built in a 100-year flood plain. It was built right up against the bank of Russia Branch.

    Maybe someone can explain how, other than outright corruption, that would be allowed to happen?

  4. There are quite a few buildings built in flood zones because some did not participate initially. Also , the 100 year flood zones have changed considerably over time have gotten a lat larger as they found that floods are being and more frequent than prior.

    It still is an interesting function of government that the private sector insurance industry would not do if it were not for government subsidies.

    It does not pay for itself – it operates in the red so far.

    AND – if a county/city participates – some can argue that the government is taking away property rights..by not allowing building permits on flood-designated land. Indeed, the argument can be made that by refusing to allow land to be developed, it is making housing less affordable! Used to be and still is that land that is subject to flooding is a lot cheaper than land that is not!

    • See my response to TopGun above.

      Private insurers would write flood insurance without government underwriting, but the cost would reflect the risk and they would not write it at all in some locations.

      Forget flood insurance for a moment.

      Some, indeed most, home and business insurers have redlined coastal properties for years. It can be bought from a few insurers, but many, if they don’t have a mortgage that requires it, go without because of the expense. Those instances show up after every flood.

      • Most coastal/barrier island development would likely be limited to the rich if the government were not involved in flood insurance.

        As you point out, some folks have the financial means to build – and re-build without relying on insurance.

        The rest of the infrastructure – the roads, water/sewer, electricity, I’m not sure about… Originally, some places had none of that. Some of the grand homes built there had their own cisterns, and used wood for cooking and kerosene for lighting…

        here’s an example on Corolla, NC:

    • The flood plain that this particular building is built on is listed as such on maps dating over 10 years prior to it’s construction (1995 flood map I believe).

  5. From WSJ,
    “The six-bedroom house, which has an indoor swimming pool, sits along the San Jacinto River. It has flooded 22 times since 1979, making it one of the most flood-damaged properties in the country.

    Between 1979 and 2015, government records show the federal flood insurance program paid out more than $1.8 million to rebuild the house—a property that Mr. Harmon figured was worth $600,000 to $800,000 before Harvey hit late last month.”

    “Homes and other properties with repetitive flood losses account for just 2% of the roughly 1.5 million properties that currently have flood insurance, according to government estimates. But such properties have accounted for about 30% of flood claims paid over the program’s history.”


    • I saw that. I thought there used to be a policy that if your property flooded and was in a flood zone – they’d pay you the value but you had to leave and/or if you did not leave – you lost the insurance.

      It makes zero sense to continue to pay losses on properties that are clearly in a flood zone, yet apparently they still do.

      By the way – you don’t get the insurance from the government. You do get it from insurance companies… We near a creek which has a 100 year flood zone near the house and it is fully within a 500 year zone and we did check into it and it was available… but decided not to.

      FEMA is redrawing flood zones and in some places the 100 year boundary is way out of date and updated surveys are showing the flood zone to be far bigger than before.

      • There’s a house in Houston, the first such I had ever heard of, that was valued at less than $500k, but generated over $2M in claims.

        John Stossel owns a beach house. He did a story on his own experience. He built the house for a couple hundred thousand, and using his claims over a couple of hurricanes, doubled its size in rebuilds.


        Yes, the insurance companies profit from sales, and management, the government just underwrites and paysvthe claims.

    • That says the program is badly managed, but in that case it is badly managed at the direction of Congress.

      The worthies who actively seek and are assigned seats on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the appropriate subcommittees of the Appropriations Committees control everything we have been talking about in hurricane and flooding mitigation. And federally funded dredging. And everything in infrastructure bills.

      For a very long time, they refused to let FEMA kick repetitive flooding properties out of the program.

  6. There’s also a double whammy on some of these “prone to flood” properties — building houses and other buildings on highly productive land.

    So, not grow crops in favor of taxable structues that are rebuilt repetitively.

    “We are so smart! We are so smart! S-M-R-T! S-M-R-T!” — Homer Simpson

    • One hundred years ago, country folks farmed bottom land and lived on the hills above it. It took post-War prosperity, some level of hubris and frankly stupidity for people to think that rule did not apply any more.

  7. By the way, incredible as it sounds, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not a single member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure or the Appropriations Committees of either body.

    Virginia may be unique in that respect.

    So don’t expect any leverage for Virginia in an infrastructure or water resources development bill. Or from the Appropriations committees.

  8. Without subsidized flood insurance, many coastal locations would revert to places only the rich could afford.

    Whalehead in Corolla, NC (Duck) is an example:

    There was no bridge to it. No electricity. No water or sewer. It had a cistern and used kerosene for lighting and wood for heating.. Later a generator was installed.

    • Flood insurance had very little to do with the construction you’re discussing. It’s a Historic Landmark and was built in 1922.

      Furthermore, Corolla isn’t Duck.

      Flood Insurance came about in 1968, there were prior too that time people who were not rich that built on the Outer Banks and the like. People actually live in those places that others vacation.

  9. Could all of this be due to the idea that, in Virginia, adequate flood mitigation measures go about as far as a roadside sign telling you how high the water is?

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