Sunday, March 10, 2013

After Sandy, government lends to rebuild in flood zones

Robert Lewis and Al Shaw in ProPublica:  ...A WNYC and ProPublica analysis of federal data shows at least 10,500 home and business owners have been approved for $766 million in SBA disaster loans to rebuild in areas that the government now says could flood again in the next big storm. The data, which shows loans approved through mid-February, was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. More loans could be going to flood-prone areas. The analysis did not cover Long Island or Connecticut.

The loans require borrowers to get flood insurance, which in turn could encourage some to rebuild properties to be more flood-resistant. However, for many owners there’s no requirement they raise their properties to the heights FEMA recommends.

The result: the federal government is helping people rebuild despite the risk that flooding will again destroy the properties.

The SBA says it’s not their job to assess whether it’s smart to build in flood-prone areas. “Our mission is to help these homeowners and business become whole again,” said Carol Chastang, an SBA spokeswoman. “We really aren't in a position to tell people where or where not to rebuild.”

Such a hands-off approach worries a diverse coalition of advocates -- including conservative groups, environmental organizations, insurance associations and housing coalitions. These groups are urging government at all levels to change the way it builds in disaster-prone areas and insures such properties.

Environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation say the best flood protection are wetlands and to leave stretches of the coast undeveloped.

“Ideally we’re going to help people move away from the flood zone and not give them assistance to rebuild exactly as is,” said Joshua Saks, the federation’s legislative director. “But we recognize it’s a very personal decision, it’s a local decision.”....

A home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The house was located on Cedar Grove Avenue, in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island. Shot by Thomas Good, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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