High and dry?

Jennifer Taylor is a longtime homeowner in Natomas and a stay-at-home mom of two toddlers

Last August, my family suffered a devastating house fire. Fortunately, no one was injured and we were fully insured. We were distraught over the loss of our possessions, but we were comforted by the thought that our home would soon be repaired.

We didn’t know that because we live in Natomas, classified as a flood risk by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, we would be required to demolish what remained of our home and rebuild a house that is elevated more than 20 feet. This demolish-and-rebuild is not covered by insurance.

We discovered this FEMA regulation when our contractor applied for permits. In the Natomas basin, FEMA stipulates that if the costs of repair are greater than 50 percent of the structure’s value prior to the damage, the house must be demolished and elevated to 1 foot above the floodplain.

We bought our home 14 years ago because FEMA certified the levees as 100-year flood protected in 1998. We were later required to buy flood insurance by FEMA, but we did not imagine that if something happened to our house, we wouldn’t be able to fix it. Neither FEMA nor the city informed us of this regulation. I’ve learned that few people who live here are aware of this regulation—including a FEMA worker involved with levee upgrades. It’s the dirty little secret of Natomas!

The insurance company has informed us that if we cannot repair our house, they will give us the “fair market value” for the structure—insufficient to pay off the mortgage. We’ll be left to continue paying the mortgage on an empty lot, with no money remaining to rent or purchase a new house.

It is ridiculous to require victims of home damage to elevate their house as a condition of repairing it. If we are allowed to purchase homes and to continue living here, then we should be able to fix our home if it is damaged. This “substantial damage” regulation of FEMA’s needs to change!