Though many said they were aware of the funding and the need to mitigate, they appeared surprised when they were told about the potential consequences of not doing so if they are in a high-risk area. Due to flood insurance reform passed by Congress last year, the owner of a house that is four feet below base flood elevation will pay $9,500 a year in flood insurance.
And audience members clearly were not happy about the timeline for receiving mitigation aid. “It’s a lot of moving pieces,” said Phillip Parr, FEMA’s deputy federal coordinating officer. “It takes a least a year after the event.”
Parr tried to assuage the angry crowd by saying that FEMA would try to expedite the process. But one woman pointed out that many people cannot afford to rebuild their houses, and make the necessary structural changes, without the mitigation aid. If it takes longer than 18 months to get the money, she said, they will lose rental-assistance funding, and what living options will they have then?
After the forum, attendees expressed their frustration with its ineffectiveness. “A lot of it was, ‘We’ll take your name and we’ll call you back,’” said one Canals resident. “The whole process is very frustrating, very stressful.”
City Council members Fran Adelson and Eileen Goggin agreed. “We were extremely disappointed in the program they presented,” said Adelson. “We feel that FEMA did not do a great job of answering the questions.”
Adelson explained that the city had asked FEMA to take part because residents were still confused and had many unanswered questions. But she and Goggin both said that the panel was unprepared and, overall, the meeting was unproductive.
“Some people walked away with more questions and more confused than when they walked in,” said Adelson. “It was standing room only, a packed crowd. This is affecting more than half of the city.”
She said that the city would call on FEMA to make another presentation, this time with two more participants: a second National Flood Insurance Program representative, and a mitigation expert.
“People are frustrated, people are angry, people are frightened,” Adelson said. “And they need their questions answered.”