The Post-Sandy Rebuilding Rush

Thursday, March 07, 2013

WNYC investigative reporter Robert Lewis discusses a government-approved $776 million effort to rebuild in flood-prone areas, as a WNYC and ProPublica investigation revealed.

Read Robert's story and see the map.


Robert Lewis

Comments [18]

SophiaAlex from Brooklyn via Broad Channel

Here is some reading to see the other side of the issue, with respect to FEMA's new ABFE maps:


Mar. 08 2013 07:13 AM
regis doucette from budd lake, nj

A perfect example of the less than thorough treatment by insurance companies....this was a flood by the the treatment of flooded sea water should be readily and directly dealt with....INSTEAD THEY ALLOW FOLKS TO IGNORE the soluble salts being deposited on the to me, this is mightily wrong in the same way that folks were encouraged to re-envelope their structures without dealing with mold and the subsequent health issues that will haunt them forever....and it is not even spring yet when the mold spores will bloom in earnest.

SO, about the non-visible soluble salts from the flood....make an analogy here of a sick person coughing on your face and you only washing your shoes....the main point is the contamination from the known source of problems here....the sea with its chlorides and sulfates that cause problems.

I got involved because every single square inch that got flooded with sea water got chlorides and sulfates from the floods. They convert to hydrochloric acid and sulferic acid which are two forms of RUST. It is not the water that causes rust, but the salts in the water. They are nonvisible and to only wash with drinking water DOES NOT REMOVE these chemically bonded elements to surfaces. So this is a most serious issue since to paint over them will cause paint failures (blisters, flaking) and allow rust and even risk of fire from the electrolytes near the electrical systems (the major increase in structural fires because electrical conduit acted like straws to move the electrolytes through its system).

The major point is that the entities who deal with salt water floods know that proper chemical treatment is required to remove soluble salts from surfaces. The US Navy and Army Corps of Engineers who deal with floods all the time know about soluble this is a typical example of ten cents a sq foot that if not remediated NOW by the insurance companies to restore the house to where it was before the storm WILL CAUSE DEVALUATION of the property if and when you go to sell it, or will cause you to repaint sooner than you intended but ON YOUR OWN DIME in a few short years.

Mar. 07 2013 05:28 PM
regis doucette from budd lake, nj

The issue of higher contractor rates EVEN IN HONEST TIMES is addressed by fair insurance adjusters. In other words, taking the emotion out of the real example, envision baby sitters on junior prom night who are not available. The availability and rate of those young adult baby sitters are impacted by the environmental conditions, called their being at that social event more than any other normal night. Insurance companies do not account for such a severe supply and demand condition ESPECIALLY in this NY/NJ storm where thousands of houses are in need of those "baby sitters". So that is part of the equation in getting the proper funding for the restoration.

Similarly, as to the "bad faith" concept which is a legal doctrine that both NY and NJ have implemented to protect consumers because the insurance companies have an extreme amount of power in this business "contract" that penalties are assessed for when they go out of line. However, recall if you are old enough the example of the Ford Pinto car that was risky in its chance of exploding gas tanks. An economic assessment was done by the car manufacturer that if they sold a certain number of them, the occasional explosion would be a minor cost to their business. The notion that sooo many humans are dejected and overwhelmed by their major asset, their very survival, and their inexperience in dealing with insurance losses all are counted on by insurance companies to NOT DO THE RIGHT THING.

One factor that has been like a two-edged sword here, not to get historical, but so you know how badness occurs is this---a requirement to visit damaged property within a specific number of days resulted in less than perfectly trained insurance adjusters to arrive on the scene. They literally emptied out call centers and trained them and in many cases a few items were observed and settled on. This is WRONG to the damaged parties.

Finally, there is the notion that something like 90% of all claims from Sandy have been settled with an average of 50 thousand WHICH IS ABSURD by all measures

Mar. 07 2013 05:15 PM

I am the Sophia who called in today -- Brian, to your question about whethther tax payer dollars should be used to keep us rebuilding where we know it'll flood again, here's a thought:

Since realistically a large percentage of the nation's population lives near the water and much of our economic forces are assisted, if not largely generated by these populations staying there (see Governor Christie's reaction b/c NJ is not the only place where this is true). Since the insurance companies (in my case Allstate for flood and NY Properties for wind/homeowners) don't live up to their end of the agreement, we should instead take the monies that would go to those premiums and have homeowners put it into the equivalent of an escrow account. Likewise, with the federal dollars being paid to us by FEMA and SBA, some percentage of it too should be put into that account, managed by the homeowner and verified during tax season or be penalized, not some other vampire industry. Used when we need to repair or rebuild, much the way healthcare accounts are set up. In addition, since rising sea levels appear to be reality, let's become proactive and follow the lead of the Netherlands, instead of reactive which is our current m.o.

One other question is; what do we do about contractors who are now in such demand and so needed that they're gouging consumers, like house raising outfits?

Mar. 07 2013 03:34 PM

Continuation of comment:

Insurance companies know your financial status, probably better than some of us do, and they know who can afford to hire attys and who can't. I fell in that latter catagory, so the insurance company knew they had me over a barrel. Every cent more I spent fighting them was money I coulnd't put into the house.

Then came downsizing, followed by a bout with cancer -- and my house is still not finished.

If only I had known about public adjusters. If only the house had been totaled. If only I'd kept my job. Yada, yada, yada.

Again, best wishes for Sofia.

Mar. 07 2013 12:43 PM

Leonard Lopate had an interview with an insurance company insider several years ago, but I can't recall the title of his book. Perhaps an assistant at WNYC could find it and post the link for the podcast? If it exists.... But, the book title would be great.

Insurance companies work extremely hard to limit their actual expenditures on their insuree's losses to no more than 40% of the loss, averaged over all losses.

So, if they pay Mr. Big Bucks with Deep Pockets full boat for his loss, they pay our less than 40% to Mr. Lower Economic Quintile. It has to average out, or the lower level insurance managers don't get promoted or get bonuses, etc.

Sofia is lucky to have known about public adjusters, and I hope she has a good one. I learned about them long after I could do anything. But, oh, how I felt her pain and concern. May it work out for her.

When there is a large cost loss involved, the insurance company will cut ruthlessly and nickle and dime, wherever it can, to keep the payout as low as possible. Since the "remediation" on my water loss was high, somehow the cost of replacing all the torn out drywall, dmanaged paints, lost carpeting and torn up flooring came to well below 50% of what actual costs were. I guess they had factored in that I was supposed to provide the labor, for which I was neither trained nor fit to do, because their estimate was way off. And it was obviously way off, but I didn't have experts to help me understand that initially. I noticed that the carpet, for example, was a replacement but much lower quality. That the interior doors weren't the same as the ones being replaced. Etc.

And I fought their decision, which only resulted in my getting absolutely zero replacment costs, since I hadn't bought replacement furniture since I had no place to put it until the interior work was completed. Actually, I did buy a replacement leaf blower I had borrowed from a neighbor, which did work but the insurance company insisted had to be trashed since it might carry mold spores (of course it would, as it also vacuumed up leaves, d'uh). I had that single item replaced...for my neighbor.

My leaf blower (smaller and better for use around my little yard), most of my power tools, anything in the flooded basement, most of my clothes needing dry clearning -- all lost. No replacement value ever paid out to me.

And, pouring salt in my wounds, when I did contest the low ball figure for rehab, the insurance company demanded three detailed estimates, for which I had to pay, since builders can't afford to do such detailed work unless they are paid for their time. So I laid out almost $600 for that (seems like a small amount, but it hurt at the time), and then I never heard back from the company. I complained to the state insurance regulator, which never got any action either.


Mar. 07 2013 12:42 PM
Jessica from Brick, NJ

This issue is not as simple as it seems, and I worry about the way it is framed. First, I live in what is now an A zone, though it had not flooded for 30 (according to my neighbors) before Sandy. Yet we have had our elevation raised three feet, which means to avoid steep flood insurance increases - from about $100 a month for me to possibly 5-10 times that, every month - we have to raise our homes. The cost to do this would be 20-25% of the pre-Sandy value of my house and I have no idea what the value is there. Now here is something that is meant to prevent these kinds of losses, and there are grants available to help, but only if you had losses equal to %50 of your home's value. I had no damage, so I likely can't get a grant. People with 30% damage probably can't get a grant. And yet our insurance rates will go up just as much as our neighbors who did have damage. I can't afford to live in my house if I have to pay that much more in insurance. This is an issue that should be covered.

Mar. 07 2013 10:43 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

I recently saw a couple raising their old house, which they had begun after Irene.
It was about 12 feet above ground, but they were about to lower it a few feet, to sit on a new foundation.
I suggested that the Hurricane of 1938 had a 19 foot storm surge, and that their house should be raised more.
He replied that the planned height would put his roof at the zoned height limit, and he couldn't risk awaiting a zoning waiver, which any unfriendly neighbor could veto.
So although FEMA requires a raising, Amityville and typical zoning prevents a raising to a safer height.
As is so often, government is not the solution, it's the problem.

Mar. 07 2013 10:29 AM
hicoachrich from Murray Hill

So many of our systems are broken...and the power to fix them is not visible.

Why do the insurance companies who are victimizing people, like the last caller, remain nameless??? Name them, shame them , publicly and loudly...

Mar. 07 2013 10:23 AM

No Brian, we are not "anti-tax small government". We are philosophically opposed to having our money taken from us without a comprehensive plan to minimize the risk of this ever happening again. If you want to take my money and give it to the victims, please require that they use the money to get out of harms way.

Mar. 07 2013 10:22 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Banks too big to prosecute, banks too scared and greedy to make loans to small people, banks get free money from Bernake and turn it around for that vig. AND they have to power to create credit magically out of nowhere.

Hmmm... And people wonder why nations collapse.

Mar. 07 2013 10:19 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

It's not surprising at all that these two groups are aligned in disputing this; LOGIC is universal. It is incredibly foolhardy to fund rebuilding in flood zones.

Mar. 07 2013 10:18 AM

Even though it's a loan, there is still a cost to taxpayers, certain number will default

Mar. 07 2013 10:17 AM

Take a SBA loan today - declare bankruptcy tomorrow. No biggie, it's dischargable. UNLIKE STUDENT LOANS!

Just gave myself an (illegal) idea: take SBA loan, use it to payoff student loan, then declare bankruptcy.

Mar. 07 2013 10:16 AM
Marianne from Staten Island

Businesses get a huge tax write-off for the loss.

THe write off is paid by taxpayers.

Fix the tax loopholes!!

Mar. 07 2013 10:15 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Even though it's a loan, it's still a huge waste of money.

Mar. 07 2013 10:12 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Yeah. You build in a flood zone, you pay for it. Another $800 million down the drain, f_cking literally.

Mar. 07 2013 10:10 AM

nature created barrier islands to protect the land.
no brainer! if you want to build (rebuild) on a sand bar you should pay for it. don’t ask taxpayers to subsidies your beach party bingo!

Mar. 07 2013 10:03 AM

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