TAKING ACTION INVESTIGATION: Flood insurance requirements threatens to put Athens family’s finances ‘underwater’

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ATHENS, Ala. - A young couple with a baby on the way buys their first home. Now, they are finding themselves drowning financially because they did not realize the home they bought sat in a flood zone.

Abigail Stafford, 25, and her husband are a young family with a new baby and new priorities.

"All of our money is put where it needs to be," Stafford said.

The couple purchased a house on Coffman Drive in Athens last May. Stafford thought it was the perfect place to raise their family.

"We found something that was affordable right now, well within our means," Stafford explained. "Now, it's well without."

The mortgage fit within their budget and even left a little extra in their bank account.

"I didn't want to get too high to where we could be comfortable," Stafford said.

But, the family didn't realize the federal government, through FEMA, would be so involved. The Staffords were delighted to find their dream home and thrilled when their offer got accepted.

Then they went to see their mortgage company. That is when they learned FEMA would require them to have flood insurance, even though the sellers told them the house had never flooded over the previous 30 years.

"An extra $250 a month is crazy," Stafford reacted. "It's like where are we going to find this?"

The news of the flood insurance shocked the Staffords and the previous owners, who agreed to pay for the first year of coverage. But now it is time to renew.

"That's what caused our mortgage to go up almost $250, so we were going to end up paying almost $1,000 a month for the house and there's just no way," Stafford said. "Our max budget was $750."

Stafford and her husband tried to challenge the flood zone three times.

"They said that I'm still required," Stafford said.

WHNT News 19 is taking action to investigate if there are any solutions for her family. We shared her story with Micah Cochran, who is the City of Athens Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Coordinator.

"Usually we get the calls, like the couple you interviewed, of 'oh, we're in a flood zone,'" Cochran said.

Cochran showed off one of FEMA's maps of the City of Athens, separated by the three flood districts: flood zones X, AE and A. X is outside the flood zone, zone AE has a designated area for flooding and zone A is an area with merely a one percent chance of flooding per year. The Stafford's home is in zone A.

"There's not much you can do with a zone A," Cochran said. "We don't know what the risk is, so they're going to have to carry flood insurance."

No matter where a person is purchasing a home,  he/she needs to check whether he/she needs to carry flood insurance. Every community has a floodplain administrator. A call to them could save you lots money.

"It's hundreds, perhaps thousands of extra dollars more per year," Cochran said.

The most recent flood map dates back to 2009. FEMA is releasing a new map in August. Unfortunately, the Stafford's shouldn't bank on any changes.

"No, they're still in the flood zone," Cochran said.

Stafford doesn't want unexpected insurance costs to sink another family's savings.

"It's complicated but we're going to make it work cause we have to," Stafford said.

City engineering officials said a person you should always call their offices before buying a new home. Buyers can also easily find out if a home is located in a flood zone by visiting FEMA's website.

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