Matsui Seeks Waiver To Rebuild Homes In Natomas After Fires

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Congresswoman Doris Matsui introduced legislation today to help homeowners living in flood-hazard areas like Natomas rebuild their homes after major damage from fire.

The Fire Damaged Home Rebuilding Act of 2012 would amend the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 and require FEMA to create a waiver process to consider on a case-by-case basis allowing these homeowners to rebuild their homes without elevation requirements, while ensuring flood insurance costs remain the same as their neighbors.

“Homeowners who have played by the rules but have had the tragic misfortune of having their homes burn down should have the ability to rebuild with the fabric of their neighborhood intact,” Matsui said. “This is a common-sense issue and must be rectified so that these homeowners can move forward, rebuild their homes, and return to a sense of normalcy.”

As more communities across the nation are remapped into Special Flood Hazard Areas, FEMA-imposed building restrictions are implemented. These restrictions apply to new development, home renovations and families trying to repair homes after sustaining major damage.

FEMA rules prohibit the issuing of building permits for improvements to homes that cost greater than 50 percent of the home’s market value prior to the damage.

“The City of Sacramento is restricted from issuing homeowners in Natomas permits to rebuild after a fire that has destroyed more than fifty percent of their home because of the current FEMA restrictions,” said Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby, who represents the northern portion of Natomas. “The rule has been devastating to a half dozen home owners who are currently facing this frustrating scenario. If Congress provides an exception the city would be able to issue the restoration permits and help families get back in their homes.” 

A small number in the Natomas-area of Sacramento have been unable to rebuild their fire-damaged homes because cost to repair a home is often more than what the actual structure is worth, and far above the 50 percent threshold. To get a permit to rebuild, homeowners must agree to elevate their structure which often is not practical given the cost or community design.

“We bought our home 14 years ago, because FEMA had certified the levees as 100-year flood protection,” said Jennifer Taylor, a Natomas homeowner whose house burned down and is unable to rebuild. “We’ve always paid our mortgage on time, had more than adequate homeowner’s insurance, and purchased flood insurance. It is not financially feasible to require victims of home damage to demolish what remains of their home and elevate the entire home if they want to repair it.”

Under the legislation introduced by Matsui, FEMA would be required to review homeowners’ situations on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration criteria including: the history and frequency of flooding in the area, the cost to the homeowner of elevating the structure to bring it into compliance, whether elevating is feasible given the surrounding community, and whether granting a variance would help avoid blight in the neighborhood caused by the presence of a burned down home. 

If a variance was deemed appropriate, the homeowner would be allowed to rebuild without elevating the structure as currently required.
   
“Creating a waiver process to the FEMA regulations is a simple and necessary step that will bring immense relief to these homeowners,” Matsui said. “At the end of the day this is about fairness, FEMA should be able to take a case by case approach to homeowners that have suffered fire damage.”

If a neighborhood has not flooded in decades or would not be suitable for an elevated home, and the cost is prohibitive, Matsui said a variance to FEMA rules is warranted.

“Homeowners in this situation should be able to rebuild their homes without paying more for flood insurance,” she added. “And this common-sense legislation would allow this to happen.”