Floods. Storm surges. King tides. Living in paradise has a price that many Keys residents in low-lying areas know all too well: water coming into your house and causing damage, making your former dream home unlivable. Monroe County proposes a solution: The Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant (FMA) for individual homeowners throughout the county to reduce or eliminate flood damage in their homes.

County staff propose to work with homeowners who have flood insurance to develop applications to secure funding from FEMA for elevating, acquiring or reconstructing their homes. Mike Lalbachan, a mitigation administrator for the county’s building department, is gathering interested applicants for the FMA grant.

At a recent presentation on the grant to the Board of County Commissioners, Lalbachan pointed out that “Monroe County is at the forefront of sea level rise.” Studies show that 100 years from now, the sea level will be 5 feet higher than it is now, and 13 inches higher by 2045.

“We want to start this as soon as possible,” he said, referring to making homes flood resilient through elevation, acquisition or reconstruction.

Lalbachan’s department will vet the applications from homeowners who have flood insurance and have experienced flood damage in the past, then the applications will be submitted to FEMA by the county. If accepted, applicants can expect a cap of $150,000 toward elevating a house or reconstructing a house.

For example, Lalbachan said, since Summerland Key has experienced flooding in the past, particularly after Irma, the FMA grant can help pay for a ground level home in that area to be elevated on stilts. But he has a caveat: Applicants need to get an estimate of what the elevation will cost from a contractor. 

“And there are limited contractors in the Keys who have knowledge of the elevation process,” he said. “Some homes built in the ’60s or ’70s have different foundations. Contractors tend not to know the ins and outs of the elevation process, and that can be a complication.”

Lalbachan said the county has a list of licensed contractors that they can give out for applicants to get an estimate, but the applicants will have to do the research into whether the contractor has experience with elevating.

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And reconstructing a flood-damaged house tends to be more expensive than elevating, he pointed out. “It’s very rare that it’s below $150,000. You have to put in the difference from your pocket, whether the demo and rebuild is $300,000 or $500,000.”

Keys Weekly once wrote about a long-time Marathon resident whose ground-level ocean-side house was destroyed by floods after Irma swept through. The homeowner bought and installed an elevated modular home a year later. Lalbachan said that as long as this homeowner had flood insurance, this is an example of a situation that the FMA grant could assist with.

Lalbachan suggests that homeowners get their applications in early. He has not had any applications submitted yet, but many phone calls. Applications will be internally reviewed and then submitted to FEMA around September. 

For more information, call Lalbachan at 305-453-8796.

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