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New flood zone estimates could cost homeowners hundreds per year in Alexandria

Controversy erupts as the nation's mortgage industry warns that climate change could overwhelm the insurance system

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Lourdes Paz lives on a street in Alexandria that used to be considered safe from catastrophic flooding.

But new estimates now being proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency put Paz's home in the 700 block of Four Mile Road in Alexandria in a flood risk area.

If approved by FEMA the change could force residents with federally-backed mortgages to spend hundreds of dollars more per year for federal flood insurance.

Other residents are being urged to consider the flood insurance by Alexandria authorities reeling from a year of unprecedented flooding that would have been unthinkable a decade ago, according to city officials.

Paz says her street escaped the worst effects of flooding and has remained dry.  

"We don't want to buy the insurance," she exclaimed.  "Especially now when everybody is broke."

The tension in Alexandria is being played out in communities across the nation, according to Dr. Ed Kearns, the Chief Data Officer for the First Street Foundation, a national organization dedicated to informing Americans about climate and flood risks. 

The organization's interactive Flood Factor maps allow anyone to assess their flood risk by entering an address.

Kearns is among many experts who warn FEMA is expected to announce changes in the National Flood Insurance Program as early as October 1st, which could increase the cost of flood coverage in the future.

“I would say that the FEMA estimates that are coming out underestimate what the risk is that people can expect over the next few years," Kearns said.

"I would encourage people to prepare. Part of that preparation might be to buy that flood insurance because it's a pretty good deal right now."

Currently, federal flood insurance costs approximately $450 annually to cover $250,000 in value, Kearns said.

A new report released Thursday by a research arm of the U.S.'s Mortgage Bankers Association, concludes that climate change is likely to leave insurers and lenders unprepared for potential financial disaster in the future.

“The magnitude and persistence of climate change particularly in the latter part of the 21st century may overwhelm the ability of insurance to spread and manage risk,” the report warned.

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