It's a rarity that both political parties in Washington, D.C., will agree on anything.
But a bill sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez to delay the current confiscatory rise in flood insurance premiums sailed through the U.S. Senate in late January by better than a two-to-one margin.
The issue is simple. If you quadruple the amount homeowners pay for flood insurance right now, it will force these residents to abandon their homes, particularly in areas such as the Jersey shore, where people like me are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Housing values would plummet and lead to another real estate recession in coastal and low-lying areas around the country where we are still recovering from the one in 2008. Not only do Democrats like Menendez and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu believe this, so do coastal state Republicans.
But the bill's passage in the House of Representatives is not assured. Those with vested interests will try anything to defeat it.
Conservative think tanks are trying to bolster resistance in the House by saying there's no problem at the shore and claiming that housing values are going up. As proof they offer news articles showing a housing rebound in New Orleans and that "flippers" -- those who buy houses cheap and flip them for a quick profit -- are once again surfacing in Florida.
Unfortunately these Beltway bandits only tell the half of the story that suits their purposes.
The New Orleans recovery is due in large part to the $120.5 billion in federal funds pumped into this city of 360,000, or about $335,000 per resident. And the Florida properties being bought up are largely foreclosures in need of rehab, a far cry from the speculation that took place in the last decade.
Down and out in New Jersey
I have to believe what I see with my own eyes. And hopefully so will our representatives.
My home, located just off Long Beach Island, is worth more razed than standing. Prior to the 2008 recession, it probably would have sold for around $300,000. But it's currently worth about half that amount if I raze it, and $120,000 still standing.
This is not conjecture. It is based on recent comparable sales and conversations with local realtors who are concerned about the price drop.
The reason for the plunge in value: Banks won't offer mortgages without flood insurance. And you can't get affordable flood insurance unless you elevate your house.
This means spending about $40,000 for demolition and upwards of $250,000 to rebuild your house on pilings to meet current code requirements. The alternative is to leave your home alone and pay as much as $31,000 a year for flood insurance, according to what I've been told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Only time will tell
Homeowners who've already been battered by Sandy -- the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history -- won't withstand the beating they'd take from our government. This is why they're selling at foreclosure prices, lies from these think tanks to the contrary.
No one disagrees that the $24 billion in debt flood insurance program needs reforming and has been mismanaged since it was created in 1968 by the federal government.
But what took 46 years to mismanage isn't going to be fixed overnight. It could come with a lot of suffering, including middle-class home foreclosures, as well as another real estate recession in coastal New Jersey.
Sen. Menendez is asking for four years to straighten out the problem. I think he is owed that time.