Press Releases

For Immediate Release
October 8th, 2014

Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471


Post-Sandy Changes to Federal and Local Laws Created Complex Network of Codes for Flood Zone Buildings Report Details

Manual Provides Guidance to New York City Homeowners in Newly-Designated Flood Zones on How to Modify Their Buildings to Adapt to Increased Coastal Flood Risks

October 8, 2014 – The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) today released Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk, [] a comprehensive guide for New York City homeowners living in new and existing flood zones. The guide supports Mayor Bill de Blasio’s commitment to make New York City more resilient in response to global climate change. It is designed to shed light on retrofitting strategies that will enable home and property owners to reduce the risk of damage and disruption from coastal flooding. The manual also highlights the limitations of current Federal regulations for buildings in urban environments like New York City.

Carl Weisbrod, Director of the Department of City Planning, “Waterfront communities are an intrinsic part of New York City.  “Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk” is an invaluable tool for New Yorkers to make improvements to protect their homes.  It offers strategies that collectively provide for a more resilient character and future for our waterfront neighborhoods. We hope that this study can be used as a resource not only in New York, but in other coastal cities with similarly diverse building types.”

Since Hurricane Sandy, many Federal and local laws have been modified, creating a complex interaction between Federal, State and City codes that has significantly altered the regulatory landscape for flood zone buildings. The new Federal flood maps, expected to take effect in 2016, will place approximately 71,500 buildings and 400,000 New Yorkers in the flood zone; 48 of the city’s 59 Community Boards will be impacted by the new flood zone map. This report is the most detailed analysis to date on the interaction of new Federal, state and local regulations, and their application to New York City buildings.

This report will help residents understand their options to meet the standards set forth by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Recent Congress legislation reforming the NFIP will increase flood insurance premiums for buildings that are not retrofitted to protect against flooding. These increased premiums will directly impact neighborhood stability and housing affordability, especially for working class New Yorkers.

"Higher flood insurance rates are posing challenges in our coastal communities. Homeowners and design professionals need guidance to navigate this new reality," said Daniel Zarrilli, Director of the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency. "This document provides exactly the type of practical information that is needed to comply with new codes, reduce flood risk and avoid punishing insurance rate hikes, in support of the City's comprehensive climate resiliency plan."

“Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call for New York City and highlighted the urgent need to storm harden our homes and communities against future weather emergencies,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This comprehensive guide will provide owners with the tools they need to protect properties from flooding and other damage and will help keep New Yorkers safe in their homes to help keep New Yorkers and their homes safe. I thank the Department of City Planning for its continued commitment to ensuring that our city is ready to weather any storm.”

Mark Treyger, City Council Member (D-Brooklyn) and Chair of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency said, "In addition to the great amount of aid needed to help thousands of families recover from Hurricane Sandy, residents also deserve to have the most up to date information on fluid federal policies that will have an impact on their financial future. As the federal government looks to expand flood zones, local governments have an obligation to keep families informed of these changes and their potential impacts. Additionally, local governments should explore every avenue possible to provide residents the support they need to help them adapt to altering federal guidelines. This guide will serve as a helpful information tool to help residents make key informed decisions about their future, but ultimately every level of government will need to continue working together to ensure we protect families not just against Mother Nature’s fury, but also protect against any economic hardship as a result of it. I commend the Department of City Planning for thinking ahead of the finalized flood maps and their potential impacts on vulnerable New Yorkers."

“Super Storm Sandy and increasingly inclement weather has changed the way we cope with climate change as a city, a state, and as a nation,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, Chair to the Committee on Environmental Protection. “Today’s release by the Department of City Planning is indicative of our commitment to addressing global warming, rising sea levels and other phenomenon associated with climate change in a relevant manner, that is accessible to all New Yorkers. I look forward to a continued partnership with the administration to create a resilient and sustainable future for New York City.”

Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk is the result, in part, of close interaction between FEMA’s Hurricane Sandy Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT) and the Department of City Planning,” says John Ingargiola, Senior Engineer, EI,CBO,CFM and Hurricane Sandy Mitigation Assessment Team Leader for FEMA. “Since Hurricane Sandy, New York City has been working with FEMA MAT, as well as other groups,  and has championed initiatives that result in stronger codes and standards that are keys to a healthy recovery and resilient future. Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk is another one of these initiatives that provides solutions tailored to the residential buildings and populations found in NYC’s floodplain. NYC now has another tool to build a more resilient future.’ We look forward to continuing working with New York City to build a more resilient future.”

“Retrofitting the thousands of buildings that lie in flood zones will present a challenge to impacted New Yorkers, however this guide is an important first step in building a safer and more resilient city,” said Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick D. Chandler. “Incorporating these improvement will help protect our city’s buildings against potential future extreme climactic events. The Department of Buildings will provide dedicated plan examiners and inspectors to work with and support home and business owners in redesigning their structures to meet the new federally mandated guidelines.”

FEMA provides a wealth of guidance for retrofitting single-family detached wood frame buildings, which represents the majority of homes in the United States. New York City has a much greater diversity of buildings in its waterfront neighborhoods, from bungalows on the eastern shore of Staten Island, to row houses in Canarsie to tenements in the Lower East Side. Many of the lots in New York City are small, buildings are often attached or closer together, and they are predominantly masonry rather than light wood frame construction, all elements that make retrofitting for flood resiliency difficult. The report analyzes and illustrates options for ten real-world case study buildings, exemplifying the most prevalent typologies within the new floodplain and demonstrating that New York City’s buildings diversity requires a wider range of retrofitting options than those currently allowed by federal standards.

For each of the case studies, the report presents typical site and block configuration and construction type, details the retrofitting measures that will reduce flood insurance premiums under the current NFIP regulations, and highlights potential regulatory constraints. This, for the first time, provides a clear methodology for city homeowners and the architectural and building community to approach decisions on how to retrofit buildings.

Lance Jay Brown, President of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects said, “We are pleased to participate in and support the success of this big step toward achieving overall multi-hazard resilience in New York City. The report has engaged many members of the architectural and design community since its inception. We are thrilled that it will be available to New York City waterfront communities and professionals. ”

Ingrid Gould Ellen, NYU Furman Center Faculty Director said, “‘Retrofitting New York City’s housing stock for climate threats is critical, but the city's older, multifamily buildings present a host of design, engineering, and regulatory challenges. This report from the Department of City Planning, evaluating retrofitting options for different residential building types in the city, is an important step in creating a more resilient city.” 

"Since over 55 percent of Sandy flood victims in New York were low-income renters, resilience must be a baseline standard for all affordable housing, as these families have the fewest resources to rebuild their lives when a disaster occurs" said Judi Kende, vice president and New York market leader, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. "By illustrating how property owners can adapt city, state, and federal flood regulations to New York City's buildings, the Department of City Planning's report makes it easier for owners to retrofit their buildings to be more resilient to future floods. The report also proposes solutions for challenges that existing building owners face in meeting flood standards. By equipping owners with the adequate tools to protect their properties and residents, we can achieve a more sustainable future for all New Yorkers.”

Joan Byron, Director of Policy, Pratt Center for Community Development, “This report will help to address the urgent need of small homeowners in New York City to understand how changes to the building code, zoning regulations, and the National Flood Insurance Program affect their specific building types, as well as strategies for retrofitting their homes for flood resilience.  This information is of vital importance to owners and residents of the tens of thousands of buildings lying within our expanded flood zones, especially those for whom elevation is physically impossible.”

“In a post-Sandy New York, community-based approaches to fostering resilience are more important than ever. This report is a nuanced tool that helps New Yorkers safeguard their families, whether “home” is a walk-up on the Lower East Side, an apartment in The Rockaways, or house in St. George," said Margaret Newman, Executive Director of the Municipal Art Society of New York. "We applaud the City's efforts to make this process easier to navigate. Our homes depend on it."
Jerilyn Perine, Executive Director of the Citizens Housing Planning Council – New York City, “The City Planning Department has made very complex rules and requirements easier to understand. This report is a useful guide for NYC homeowners still facing rebuilding and retrofitting their homes.” 

To address the limitations of federal regulations and guidance for urban buildings, the report also presents practical and cost effective alternative options to minimize flood damage, although these options are not currently recognized as a means to lower insurance premiums. The manual also contains a section that suggests a number of simple and low-cost actions New Yorkers living in the flood zone can take now to begin to adapt and protect their homes against flooding.

Retrofitting Buildings for Flood Risk is part of the Department of City Planning’s ongoing resiliency work program.  In October 2013, the Department of City Planning updated its Zoning Resolution with a Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment to remove regulatory barriers that hinder or prevent the reconstruction of storm-damaged properties. The amendment enables new and existing buildings to comply with new, higher flood elevations issued by FEMA, and new requirements in the New York City Building Code.  The text amendment also introduced regulations to mitigate potential negative effects of flood-resistant construction on the streetscape and public realm. Further text amendments to continue to facilitate resilient investments in neighborhoods are forthcoming.

In addition, the Department of City Planning is currently advancing its Resilient Neighborhoods initiative, working with communities and stakeholders to identify zoning and land use changes to support the resiliency and vitality of waterfront neighborhoods in the flood zone.