Another FEMA forum grows heated

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A Department of Financial Services representative said that residents who are having problems with insurance companies or whose mortgage companies are withholding checks should call the department to register a complaint.

Substantial damage letters — the document sent to homeowners by the city, detailing the extent of the damage to their homes and whether they have to raise or demolish them — was another source of contention. FEMA conducted 2,755 post-storm home inspections in Long Beach, and determined that 860 homes were “substantially” — more than 50 percent — damaged and would have to be elevated or demolished, according to the city.

Building Commissioner Scott Kemins said that residents who are unhappy with their evaluations can easily appeal them. Kemins said he wants to help residents seeking either lower damage estimates, so they don’t have to raise their homes, or higher estimates, so they can get the funds they need to cover the elevation or demolition.

“If there is any problem, we will help,” said Kemins. “We will stay late. We will come in early. The days of 9 to 5 are over.”

But many people also asked him why it took so long for them to be made aware of the different regulations, especially related to raising homes. “We can’t make proper decisions unless we’re [informed],” said one resident.

One woman said that if she had known earlier that she would have to elevate her home, that would have entirely changed the way she made repairs. Rather than repairing her first floor, and now having to put a two-story house on stilts, she would have turned her first floor into a FEMA-compliant basement, and built up. Kemins advised people not to be rash and to explore all of their options.

“Don’t rush into these decisions,” he said. “With funding from New York state and [Increased Cost of Compliance], you may get enough to raise your home. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Those who have raised their homes wanted a guarantee from FEMA that the agency wouldn’t raise the base flood elevation in a few years. FEMA Branch Director Michael Parker said he could not make that guarantee, but he added that FEMA does not redraw maps that frequently, and it is not in a position to do so in the near future.
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