New Maps Put 33K More New Jersey Homes in Flood Zones

March 19, 2013

New Jersey’s adoption of expanded flood maps in the wake of Superstorm Sandy has put more than 33,000 additional residential buildings in flood zones, a nearly 15 percent increase.

The disaster recovery plan announced this week by the Christie administration shows nearly 268,000 residential structures now falling within New Jersey’s floodplain and subject to its building guidelines. That’s up from just over 234,000 before the maps were redrawn.

Within the floodplain, owners of homes considered to have been “substantially damaged” by Superstorm Sandy must rebuild according to the maps’ new elevation guidelines. In many cases this means having to raise their houses.

Houses where repair costs exceed 50 percent of the structure’s pre-disaster value are deemed “substantially damaged.” In its recovery plan, the state puts the number in that category at more than 18,000 but says it expects the figure to rise significantly as final reports come in.

New Jersey is receiving $5.4 billion from the federal government to meet recovery needs not covered by other federal programs or private insurance. In announcing Tuesday a plan for using the first allotment of $1.8 billion, Gov. Chris Christie included a program to provide up to $150,000 to owners of primary residences for reconstruction, with priority going to people of low to moderate income whose houses received substantial damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had been working on new flood maps for New Jersey for two years when Sandy hit. Its revised maps showed the flooding risk in New Jersey to be much greater than was projected when the old maps came out in the 1980s.

In January, Gov. Chris Christie announced the state was immediately adopting FEMA’s revisions as New Jersey’s standards. He said it didn’t make sense to use old maps to guide New Jersey’s rebuilding or wait for FEMA to formally adopt its standards, a process expected to take 18 to 24 months.

Homes that don’t face mandatory elevation under the maps still face pressure to do so because of expected major increases in insurance premiums on properties that don’t follow the federal guidelines.

According to data in the state recovery plan, nearly 38,000 primary residences and 9,300 rental units received “severe” or “major” damage from Sandy.

Under federal guidelines, a severely damaged home is defined as having more than $28,800 in damage or more than four feet of flooding on the first floor. Damage ranging from $8,000 to $28,799 is defined as “major.”

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