FEMA’s Methodology for Estimating Damage Questioned
On Wednesday, FEMA released two lists of houses in Central — a list of “substantially damaged” properties that may have to be elevated, and a list of properties that did not receive substantial damage.
Some Central residents have complained that FEMA’s damage estimates are deeply flawed and completely unreliable because of the methodology used.
FEMA estimated the pre-flood value of all houses in Central at $113 a square foot.
Central City Councilman Shane Evans said city officials believe that many and perhaps most of the houses on the FEMA list could be there incorrectly.
“If you think about it, because this was a flood without wind, roofs in Central were not damaged. Because heat and air are usually in attics and the water did not go that high, there was no damage to heat and air. Because the water stayed around only 12 to 24 hours, air conditioner compressors were undamaged and slabs and foundations were undamaged. This has to be factored into damage estimates,” Evans said.
Evans said FEMA had told the city that structures that received less than 36 inches of water would be exempt from being considered as having “substantial damage,” but a number of such residences were included in the list released Wednesday.
FEMA workers who did damage estimates had no access to records of past sales or appraisals but rather worked from their general estimate of the value of residential property in the country, not even in the city. For that reason, some Central residents say the FEMA numbers are fundamentally flawed.
FEMA attempts to enforce its standards by requiring local governments such as the City of Central to adopt ordinances in compliance with the standards. Otherwise, residents of the city will not be eligible to participate in the federal flood insurance program.
Any attempt to require Central residents to elevate their homes could be met with lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the action as a “taking” of private property without just compensation as required the U.S. Constitution. There is also a possible argument that FEMA’s actions violate the “equal protection” guarantees of the 14th Amendment, since victims of other disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires are not held to such standards.