There are three ways to build back smarter after a storm
Recovering from Hurricane Ian’s Flooding: How Many Communities Will You Need? A Staten Island Community Study in Lee County, Fla.
In September, Hurricane Ian destroyed more than 5,000 homes in Lee County, Fla., and damaged nearly 30,000 more, raising concerns among local residents about housing affordability and changes to their communities.
I’m not talking about the total cost of human suffering, but about the damage done by brick-and-mortar establishments. That is almost incomprehensible. It is hard to know for now. Much of the area is impassable.
There were roads and bridges laid to waste. Our article states that businesses and homes are covered in wood and broken concrete on barrier islands.
That’s bad news for multiple reasons. “Communities need to recover from disasters,” says Lin. If people are being hit by flooding and wind damage over and over, there’s less time to recover.
The professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University said there isn’t any point in repeating the same mistakes in the same way. When it comes to rebuilding, he said, “there is a tendency for people to look in the rearview mirror” and assume that what we built before is still tenable.
Local officials and housing advocates worry about what the damaged housing stock will mean for people with low wages or fixed incomes. In interviews, some people said staying in water-ravaged homes is their only option.
“Cities will rebuild,” said Edward Murray, a housing expert and associate director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University. Is it possible that there are poor communities? What about individuals?
“Hurricanes are making their way northward. They’re making it latitudinally up to places they haven’t before,” said Matthew Eby, founder and CEO of the First Street Foundation. “The second thing that comes along with that is they’re stronger.”
Florida Landowner Robert McLain, 35, Was Leaving the Winter Springs Neighborhood When Hurricanes Met: Insurance insolvency in a Poor Neighborhood
In Winter Springs, a city of strip malls and subdivisions, Robert McLain sat in the garage of his rental home, a military veteran and retired construction worker. With foot-high water marks in his home, there was no way he could move back in. Mr. McLain, who lives on social security and disability benefits, figured there were few options but to live in his car for a while. He said he wasn’t going to go live in thehilton, you know what I mean. I am completely screwed.
Three hours’ drive southwest in Arcadia, an inland agricultural community in one of the state’s poorest counties, Joann Hampton, 50, stood on a raised pool deck, crying. The nearby Peace River had drenched much of her neighborhood. It submerged her backyard and house where water from the river continued to seep in, days after the storm passed.
Like many people in Florida, Ms.Hampton didn’t have flood insurance. In 1998 she bought her ranch-style home for $44,000. Her only income is a disability check and for now, she will live with a relative nearby. We lost everything.
If rates continue to rise by 30% or more, as they have done for many Floridians in recent years, some Florida homeowners may end up paying more for insurance than they do for their mortgage, said Brandes, the state legislator.
The fear is that companies will not want to do business in Florida if the payouts from one storm are as large as they are.
Six insurance carriers have declared insolvency so far this year. Some have stopped writing policies or dropped customers. As a result, the number of policyholders on the state-backed insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance, has ballooned.
Jeff Brandes, a state senator and the representative for part of Pinellas County in the Atlanta region, thinks that there isn’t a need for property insurance rates to go up in states that are less prone to hurricanes.
The insurance industry in Florida recorded net losses of $1 billion each year despite the fact that no hurricanes hit the state in 2020. Even before Ian, 2022 was already projected to be the same.
A Case Study in Litigation: From Roofing Contractors to Interior Designers: The Effects of Florida’s Growth and Capital Reserves
The lawsuits often originate like this: A contractor contacts a homeowner about potential damage, perhaps to their roof. The homeowner signed an assignment of benefits agreement that gave the contractor the power to handle the insurance claim. The insurance company can deny the claim or dispute the amount, and the contractor can file suit against them if they don’t know the existence of the policy.
Attorneys’ fees can dwarf the size of the disputed claim. The III estimated that excess litigation cost Floridians 16 billion dollars. The number of lawsuits has risen even higher over the past two years.
Florida’s population growth is another factor. No state in the eastern U.S. is growing as rapidly as Florida. All of the areas affected by Ian are in its fastest-growing metro areas.
Smaller companies can’t have the same type of capital reserves as larger ones. As a result, they often rely on their own form of insurance – known as reinsurance – to pay out claims during major costly events.
Private insurers raising costs or dropping customers caused Citizens to increase the number of policies it sells by more than doubling from two years ago.
Wind, storm surge, and insurance: How big was the home of Charley, the homeowner, when the hurricane hit? A perspective from the Homestead area
It’s not clear yet how much the claims will cost. One analytics firm estimated that wind and storm surge losses would be between $28 and $47 billion. The total loss to private insurers could be as much as $63 billion according to another estimate.
Legislators in the state legislature passed a bill addressing some of the issues with roofs during a special session in May. Afterward, some Democrats complained that the bill did not do enough to provide immediate relief to homeowners.
Brandes, who is a Republican, said that he hoped another session could be convened before January because the May session treated the cancer in the property insurance market.
He said that this was the perfect time to make tough decisions. “You’re going to have to do some things that historically have just not been on the table, but have to be on the table in order to save this market going forward.”
A man in his 70s looking red and holding a beer in a koozie surveys the ruination that was once his home. The decapitated home is in a trailer park 30 miles north of Ft. Lauderdale. The name comes from the famed barrier island just offshore.
In 1994, two years after Hurricane Andrew pulverized the Homestead area, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development toughened wind standards for mobile homes. About the same time, the industry started calling them manufactured housing. And they became more expensive.
The wind was so strong. I never seen anything so strong,” says Borren, a retired construction worker from Massachusetts. “They claim it was stronger than Charley. I think it is true now.
This area had a Category 4 Hurricane in 2004, with 150 mph winds, that was the previous record. But Charley didn’t spare the girl. Life went on.
When John Borren and his family moved to Florida, he found a place to live: A way to escape the urban horrors of Florida
Borren would take his wife and motor out to the island in his skiff, where they collected shells and fossilized shark’s teeth. They owned their 1972 trailer free and clear. The rent on their lot was only $580 a month. They received a monthly social security check of $2,500 and used it to buy a piece of paradise.
“This trailer’s been here for 40 years. I mean, it’s a ’72 trailer. (I’ve put) thousands of dollars in it and they won’t pay me nothin’. Very few people had insurance. They lost everything.”
“They would rather see a mobile park gone,” Ayotte says. They feel that it’s a stain on the community. They don’t really look at that as an affordable housing source. They want to get rid of it.
But tell that to retirees on fixed incomes like John Borren, low-wage earners and farmworkers who cannot afford to live anyplace else in a booming real estate market like Florida’s. The state is enjoying some mild summers, year-round sunshine and sugar-sand beaches due to the people from up north streaming in.
“The pressure on affordable housing in Florida is just excruciating,” says Gladys Cook, director of Resilience and Disaster Recovery at the Florida Housing Coalition. Construction costs went up 30 percent in the last couple of years.
“Yeah, they’re ugly and square, they don’t belong here, they looked a lot better as beer cans,” croons the singer/songwriter who fell in love with Key West.
A Hurricane That Demolished Parkhill Estates, California: Robert Murphy, 82, a retired retiree in a baseball cap
Ask the residents of Parkhill Estates. It’s a 55+ community where people like to play cards, golf, and bridge, and they also like to cruise on golf carts.
“Hi Denny, how are ya?” says Bob Murphy, 82, to another T-shirted retiree in a baseball cap. Murphy is the genial president of the residents’ co-op that owns the park. He’s driving around catching up with his neighbors.
“It demolished all the older homes,” says Ernie Parent, a 74-year-old gas company retiree from Zanesville, Ohio, who had moved in only months before the storm hit. Over 100 new homes were brought in after Charley. Ian was bad, but the hundred new homes all stood up.”
Murphy winters in Punta Gorda and uses the summers in Cincinnati, and he says the structures are pretty durable compared with the damage done by the storm. Almost all of the structures are still standing. There’s some siding off and some roof damage. The skirting came off of a number of ’em. But for most part, they held up well.
Still, Murphy says he’s too old to go through another major hurricane like Charley and Ian. He won’t come back if his home doesn’t hold.
Florida’s Citizens: Small Insurance Companies, Big New Businesses, Big-Bangs, Big Bumps: A Case Study in Lee County, Florida
(In Florida, like the rest of the country, flood insurance is sold separately from homeowner’s insurance; the vast majority of flood coverage is sold or underwritten by the federal government.)
Those quasi-public entities include Citizens, a state-mandated company meant to cover homeowners who can’t find private insurance. Citizens is funded by premiums but if it needs more money to pay out claims, it adds a surcharge to the private insurance bills of homeowners around the state.
Most large national insurance companies stopped writing policies in Florida since Andrew. In their place emerged a network of smaller insurance companies. But their small size isn’t the only thing that sets those companies apart from other insurers.
The expansive sandy beaches in Fort Myers for years have attracted people from colder states, like Beth and Ralph Sampson. They call Michigan home, but spend much of the year in Florida.
Lee County isn’t as upscale as many of Florida’s coastal areas. It’s a county in which almost 30% of the people who rent there are low income or paying more than 40% of their income to rent.
On Floridas Gulf Coast Developers Eye Properties Ravaged by Hurricane Ian: A Fort Myers Beach, Fla, Homebuyer’s Dream
There is a home owned by the Sampsons in Fort Myers Beach. In October, one month after Ian hit, their neighborhood was in a state of disrepair, with lots of homes that were no longer standing.
“One double lot has already sold – and we don’t know to who, or for how much – on the street behind us. It’s like, oh boy, that’s fast,” Sampson said. “I’m afraid … We are going to lose all the beauty that we shared.
In 2021, Florida’s real estate industry accounted for $294 billion, or 24% of the gross state product, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. 300,000 people move to Florida each year.
Brad Cozza, the owner of a southwest Florida real estate agent, said that out of state investors are looking at new investments in the region.
Cozza added that his firm has already been involved in acquiring 39 properties since Hurricane Ian. A client bought a damaged waterfront home in Cape Coral, across the bridge from Fort Myers, for $670,000. After renovations, Cozza expects it to sell for almost $1 million.
“You’re going to see values jump, and you’re seeing a lot of new players that are now in the area that would not have been in this area pre-storm,” Cozza said.
This, Cozza said, is just plain market dynamics. Many homeowners did not have flood insurance, so they cannot afford to rebuild, and that’s an opportunity investors are seizing.
Michelle Meyer, director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M University, said it’s expensive to build new structures up to code – most of which has been rewritten to make houses better able to withstand disasters.
“Older houses, in general, are more affordable,” Meyer said. “And so when you wipe out an older housing stock, even just building new, period, is going to be more expensive.”
Zoning a Fort Myers Beach, Florida, apartment complex with a single family home or an oceanfront condominium for low-income homeowners after a hurricane
Federal disaster recovery money to help homeowners rebuild does exist. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the states after previous hurricanes to provide loans to lower-income homeowners.
Meyer doesn’t think it will happen in Florida until at least one or two years after the state submits a funding plan to HUD. Until then, officials can encourage homeowners not to sell out of desperation; instead, they can find a way to keep them in the home, she said.
Zoning for single family homes can also help maintain the housing stock for lower-income residents, Meyer said, by preventing larger high-end complexes.
The Local Planning Agency’s meeting was attended by one of the town of Fort Myers Beach’s independent Zoning Consultants, Jason Green. He said he doesn’t expect local zoning regulations in the town to change significantly in the coming months.
“There are some duplexes, there’s a few triplexes and quads worked in there over the years,” Green said in reference to zoning in Fort Myers Beach. “But for the most part, you’ll see that there are single-family homes.”
A woman who’s lived near Fort Myers Beach for more than 50 years has been trying to stop a project. She lives steps away from the town’s commercial fishing docks and working waterfront, and she’s the president of the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center, a local environmental nonprofit organization.
Semmer and her brother sued Lee County in 2020 after it rezoned a high-rise apartment complex across the street from her home. An administrative judge ruled in Semmer’s favor because of the reason that the development would increase the time it takes to evacuate during hurricanes.
The 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season: What Happened, When Did It Happen, and What Did It Mean? A Re-visited Report by First Street Foundation
In early September, a lot of people who live in hurricane-prone parts of the United States started noticing that it had been an eerily quiet summer. On average, there are 14 storms each year in the Atlantic between June 1 and December 1.
But federal forecasters were adamant: the apparent 2022 lull meant little, they warned, because the number of storms tells you little about the severity of any given hurricane season. It only takes a storm to cause a lot of destruction.
The quietest part of the Atlantic Hurricane season was when Jamie Rhome was the acting director of the National Hurricane Center. “I felt like people were letting their guard down.”
It was justified that the dread was justified. By the end of September, two deadly storms had hit the U.S. and killed more than 150 people: Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Ian in Florida.
In the end, the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season was among the most deadly and damaging in modern history. It was the third-most expensive Hurricane season to date, with total losses expected to be $110 billion according to estimates by the reinsurance company.
Hurricanes are getting stronger, bringing flooding rain inland and tracking farther north as the planet warms, because they are getting stronger faster.
Flooding was the most lethal cause of death and destruction from both hurricanes. Much of the inland flooding from Ian was caused by extreme rain. According to Rhome, a warming climate can produce more rain.
The other major source of flooding was from storm surge – the wall of ocean water that storms push onto land, like an extremely high tide. The more powerful the storm, the more water it pushes inland. The storm surge can be worse due to rising sea level.
“This next generation of hurricane strength will bring unavoidable financial impacts and devastation that have not yet been priced into the market,” Matthew Eby, CEO of First Street Foundation, the nonprofit research organization that published the report, said in a press release today.
First Street is known for analyzing flood risk that comes from more rainfall, rising seas and higher storm surge, but Eby said the group also wanted to capture how many properties were at risk to increased wind damage from stronger storms fueled by climate change – and where in the US they were.
The other issue is that hurricane models aren’t good at taking climate change into account. Emanuel created a model of hurricanes based on physics and used First Street’s report to build it.
The probability of a hurricane in the North Atlantic strengthening into a major storm – a category 3 or higher – has increased from 10% in the 1980s to 40% today, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stated that current and future hurricanes have a chance to form a little bit north in the Atlantic.
Charleston was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, which caused a storm surge that pushed water levels 3 to 5 feet above normal. Hurricane Hugo was the costliest disaster in US history when it slammed into the city as a category 4 with 140-mph winds in 1989.
The increase in hurricane wind speeds for Florida “will be fairly mild compared to the increases in the mid-Atlantic states and New England,” Emanuel told CNN. “In Miami, 100 mph wind is serious but not devastating because they’re used to it.”
The problem with many hurricane models used by the government, insurance companies and banks to assess risk is that they’re out of date and lack sufficient historical data, according to Emanuel.
The insurers have woken up recently to this, Emanuel said. “The estimates of risk they use to price properties and premiums are 50 years out of date, and the climate has changed enough to make their data useless.”
“We’re really hopeful that our data can do that, to have the risk illuminated for them to make the right decisions,” Eby said. “Now they’re armed with that data, they can make those smart decisions. That is really the hope.
Another sobering trend: How tropical hurricanes might not hit the United States in a decade or two: What will they teach us about the future?
Lin and her colleagues also found another sobering trend. Although storms can hit the same place in quick succession, they are not likely to happen again in the 21st century.
When hurricanes happen in a row, it is fatal, like when Hurricanes Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Donna hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 or when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas last year.
It could also overwhelm the government’s emergency response. Millions of people were left in the dark when the FEMA struggled to respond to three major storms at the same time.