Portland expands low-income flood insurance protection program

(KATU File Photo)

Wintertime high water hits rivers and streams in the Portland area nearly every season.

But it's the threat of once-a-century floods that are driving up flood insurance premiums, even for people who never knew their homes were in what federal authorities consider a 100-year flood zone.

“You know we're first-time homebuyers, so we didn't really know much about flood insurance,” said Tracie Badiang, a homeowner in Southeast Portland. “I wasn't aware of how expensive it is.”

Badiang’s flood insurance premiums eventually hit a high-water mark of $7,000 a year.

That's on top of homeowner's insurance.

Badiang was almost forced to give up more than a house: it was her family's home.

“A place to call our own and to have a place where our kids can grow up means a lot to us. We have on our wall where we measure our kids' heights, and you know that's something that is really valuable to me and I hold precious,” said Badiang.

Last summer, the city of Portland started a free pilot program for low-income homeowners called the Flood Insurance Savings Program that certifies a home's actual elevation.

Thirty-three homeowners like Badiang sent city flood elevation certificates to their insurance company as part of a pilot program, dramatically lowering their flood insurance premium.

It's worked so well, city leaders added $100,000 recently to put another 50 low-income homes into the program.

“And in a place like east Portland where we're seeing increasing risk of displacement -- people not being able to stay in their homes -- that's a particular challenge and one we're trying to address at the city,” said Martha Calhoon, spokesperson for the Portland Housing Bureau.

It worked for Tracie Badiang, cutting her flood insurance bill from $7,000 a year down to $1,000 a year.

“Yeah, it's huge,” said Badiang. “Knowing that our mortgage is going to be affordable, we don't have to worry every month if we're going to be able to pay it or not.”

The city of Portland says the average homeowner saved $744 on their flood insurance during the pilot program.

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