HOLMES BEACH -- Pamela Lazaroff and her boyfriend Mike Martell have to grin and bear it when they look at their estimated flood insurance bill for their humble Holmes Beach abode.
Because of changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, the couple's insurance bill will jump 614 percent, from $914 a year to $6,500 a year.
"We knew living on the island comes with added expenses," Lazaroff said. "You know that taxes are higher, know insurance is higher. But what you don't count on is $6,500 or more for flood insurance."
Families and businesses across Florida and the nation didn't count on any fallout from the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act created by Congress in 2012 until now -- and it might be too late to do anything about it.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., filed an amendment to a spending bill last week trying to delay the implementation of parts of the act for a year. He even received Republican Gov. Rick Scott's support to create a moratorium. But his amendment is part of the bill, also under an Oct. 1 deadline, that Congress is battling over to avoid a government shutdown.
Much like the budget battle, the battle over flood insurance could have more far-reaching consequences than most realized.
Flood insurance rates threaten to change the very nature of the island communities as middle-class residents are forced to move out, and those who can afford bigger, elevated houses and condos take over the properties. And as Florida's housing market is hit once again, this time with mandated flood insurance rates that middle-class families can't afford, any economic recovery could plunge.
Middle-class folks like Lazaroff and Martell will be hit especially hard. The couple's two-bedroom, 1,196-square-foot home was built in 1959, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser. The couple bought the home for $218,000 in 2010, and were able to take advantage of the old rates until now.
They're about to be hit with a double whammy.
The first strike will be the flood insurance rate hikes, phased in over five years because they owned their home before July 2012.
The second strike hits next year, when their flood base level will change from 10 feet to 14 feet in Manatee County's new flood maps to be adopted by March 17, 2014. Even though their home sits on concrete blocks that put it above the current baseline flood elevation, that won't be enough when the maps change.
"You're taking out the middle class with disposable income, and having to put that into flood insurance? I'm scared about what it's going to do to Florida's economy," she said.
That concerns officials like Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, whose district will be hardest hit locally because it covers the island communities, Cortez, Sarasota Bay and homes along the Manatee River and Wares Creek.
The former Bradenton Beach mayor is powerless in this congressional fight. Not only will the middle class be hit hard, so will the retirees, he notes.
"We have a lot of people here on fixed income who can't afford this, and it's going to force people to do things they don't want to do, which is possibly move out of their homes," Chappie said. "We don't want that to happen, and hopefully Sens. Nelson and (Marco) Rubio and all of them will show their support for our community and all of Florida."
Grappling with change
Manatee has the 10th most-subsidized flood insurance policies in the state, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency data, with 11,264 homes in Manatee County that have a pre-Flood Insurance Rate Map home with a subsidized policy through the National Flood Insurance Program.