And here's the rub:
Staton married and left Norfolk, renting out her house as she followed her husband’s job in the military. But eventually she was paying nearly $6,000 in flood premiums on top of her mortgage every year, nearly always more than she could make in rent. “I decided to cut my losses and get out,” she said. “The flood insurance kept going up, and I was drowning in it.” A real estate agent she consulted told her that she’d be lucky to sell the house for $180,000, barely more than half of what she paid for it and significantly less than what she still owed on the mortgage. Everyone looking at places near the river, the agent said, asked about flood insurance first.
It wasn’t the risk of high waters that spooked buyers; it was the certainty of high premiums.
In 1998, “repetitive-loss properties,” buildings that flood over and over, accounted for 2 percent of N.F.I.P.’s insured properties but 40 percent of its losses; since then, such losses have only increased.
2016, when there were floods in Louisiana, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere, managed to be the third-most-expensive year in the N.F.I.P.’s history [after Katrina and Sandy] even with no single standout catastrophe
... $1.1 trillion in property assets along the Eastern Seaboard lie within the path of a hundred-year storm surge.
“That’s a very staggering number,” says AIR’s chief research officer, Jayanta Guin — and it represents only the risk on that coast, and only under current sea levels.
By the 2030s...annual losses from storm surges in coastal areas around the world could double.
...Sean Becketti, the chief economist for Freddie Mac, cautioned in a report last year that economists aren’t sure if coastal property values will decline gradually, as the life expectancy of homes shrinks, or precipitously, “the first time a lender refuses to make a mortgage on a nearby house or an insurer refuses to issue a homeowner’s policy.”
Wetlands Watch compared the number of people on the FEMA waiting list in Norfolk with the number of houses raised in a year, and concluded that it would take 188 years to complete them all.
By then, of course, waters would be far higher.
This is the hardest reality to discuss, Stiles said, and a reason flood insurance is serving as a kind of advance scout into a more difficult future.
“When you go out to the end of the century, some of these neighborhoods don’t exist, so it’s hard to get community engagement,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk beyond where the dragons are on the map, into uncharted territory.”