Almost two year after Hurricane Harvey dumped up to 56 inches of rain on Galveston County, inundating homes and businesses, most of the people who bought flood insurance in the storm’s aftermath still have it.
By September 2018, a year after Hurricane Harvey hit in August 2017, Galveston County had 15 percent more federal flood insurance policies than it had before the storm, according to data from the Texas Department of Insurance. As of February, that spike had only decreased by 0.1 percent, according to the department.
In June of 2017, there were 58,169 national flood policy holders in the county, 66,896 policies in September of 2018 and 66,798 policies in September, according to the data.
That spike in policies after a storm like Harvey, which hit the county Aug. 25, 2017, is normal, said Jerry Hagins, spokesman for the state insurance department.
There’s often a decline in the number policies several years after a hurricane, however, he said.
“It’s not really declining much in Galveston, which is great,” Hagins said.
That could be because the policies had already gotten expensive after Hurricane Ike in 2008, said Lynda Perez, executive director of the Mainland Community Partnership, which sponsors the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Group.
Flood insurance can cost from about $500 to $2,000 a year depending on whether property is in a flood plain, he said.
The network addresses post-disaster needs in the county.
If people couldn’t afford flood insurance before Hurricane Harvey, they probably couldn’t have afforded it afterward either, so Perez isn’t surprised there wasn’t a huge drop-off in policies after the 2017 storm, she said.
People in Galveston County are pretty familiar with the dangers of not having flood insurance on the coast, said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.
“All of these people in your area have now seen what massive rainfall and flooding can do,” Hanna said. “They’ve now seen how bad it can be. This was cataclysmic.”
Whether people keep their flood insurance over time is an economic issue, he said.
For some Galveston County residents, rising costs might put flood insurance in the impossible range, Perez said.
For many seniors who live on social security or pension checks, flood insurance may be unaffordable, Perez said.
“If they had problems after Ike, a lot of them were required to have flood insurance,” Perez said, referring to the fact that banks and mortgage companies, or the federal government, can require homes that have flooded or are in flood-prone areas to carry flood insurance.
But that extra cost can become too much as it rises, Perez said.
“A lot of them had to drop it because they couldn’t afford it,” Perez said.
Sometimes, people don’t get or keep their flood insurance because they expect payouts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but people shouldn’t rely on these payments, agency spokeswoman Bettina Hutchings said.
“Our job is not to make you whole,” Hutchings said. “Our job is to make your house secure and functional.”
That only requires a basic level of livability, she said. The federal agency only paid an average of between $2,000 and $7,000 to homeowners after Hurricane Harvey for both wind and flooding damage, she said.
After a natural disaster, the federal agency will buy flood insurance for a house that flooded for three years if the homeowner didn’t have it, but after that, the homeowner is required to buy the insurance, Hutchings said.
The federal agency still pays for 247 policies in Galveston County, Hutchings said.
Statewide, flood insurance policies increased by 29 percent, from 518,000 to 669,350, from June 2017 to September 2018, according to state insurance department data. The policies declined only 0.5 percent, from 669,350 to 666,000, from then to February 2019, according to the data.
But even a small decline in policy numbers is undesirable, Hagins said. The state department doesn’t want any slight declines to start a trend, he said.
“We’d rather take the long view on this and see more people aware of the possibility of floods even if they’re not in a flood zone,” Hagins said.