Flood Insurance: A Necessary “Luxury”

By Sean D. Bartell

Built in 1956, Eric Dowding’s Braeburn home had never flooded until he hit the trifecta: Memorial Day 2015, Tax Day 2016, and Harvey in 2017. Photo courtesy of Eric Dowding

When Hurricane Harvey came, flooding was nothing new to Braeburn resident Eric Dowding. Having lived in Houston with his wife Trang Phan since Hurricane Rita in 2005, he was familiar with hurricanes but did not person-ally experience his first flood until Memorial Day in 2015. His home situated on Brays Bayou in Greater Meyerland had not flooded once since it was built in 1956, so they went into the forecasted flash floods more than a little confident — even by his own admission, “cocky.”

Their home’s first flood brought in twelve inches of water. But, thanks to flood insurance, “We got a new house out of it. Let’s put it bluntly,” he said in an interview with the University of Houston’s Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey project. He explained, “It damaged all the walls… the original wood floor. So that had to come up. You take out all the sheetrock up to two or three feet above the line… redo all your walls, all your flooring. Then you have to repaint everything. Your kitchen, all your cabinets, so it’s a redo.”

Flood insurance provided the resources to rebuild everything, but that effort, money, and stress were all in vain when the 2016 Tax Day flood washed away their hard work shortly after the couple moved back home. While Tax Day brought only four inches of water, the second remodel took eight months, and they had been back in the house for less than a year when Harvey arrived with over two feet of water.

Eric Dowding and his wife Trang Phan slept on the countertops to escape the rising water during Harvey. “Sleeping on a kitchen counter is not great. It’s a little cold. And it’s a little short,” Eric quipped. Photo courtesy of Eric Dowding.

Houston has a lengthy history with floods well preceding Dowding’s experience that makes investing in flood insurance a worthwhile practice. The very same marshy, lowland terrain that engendered the city’s success as an international port makes it a ripe target for severe flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program was formed to “transfer some of the financial risk of property owners to the federal government” and “mitigate comprehensive flood risk through the development and implementation of floodplain management standards.” During Houston’s 1976 flood, eight years after the program began in full, 40 percent of afflicted homes had flood insurance. By contrast, when Harvey struck, approximately 15 percent of 1.6 million homes in Harris County had flood insurance, rising to 28 percent for “high risk” properties. With the city’s urban sprawl and the mounting storm severity from climate change, lack of insurance has become an increasingly important issue.

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Eric Dowding who flooded previously during the Memorial Day and Tax Day floods recounts his experiences during Hurricane Harvey.

Kathie and Don Witt flooded in their Kingwood home during Hurricane Harvey. Despite being displaced for months and many more months to repair their home, they look upon all the blessings that came to them from this experience.

Flood Control Insurance is essential in a city like Houston. For more about how essential it is for readiness, recovery, and resiliency, click here.

The term “100 year flood zone” explains the likelihood of flooding in every flood zone, and why floodplain maps are not frequently updated.  Read more here.

 Storms can be unpredictable so it’s best to prepare before it hits. This guide to Hurricanes and Storm Prep is essential for Houstonians to manage amidst a storm. Read more here.

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