Congressman Cassidy addresses crowd at Capital Region Builders Association

Lisa Yates

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy spoke to a large group of Capital Region Builders Association members and guests, Aug. 21, at their noon lunch meeting held at Elegant Affairs in Gonzales.

Rusty Golden, CRBA president, said he was looking forward to hearing the congressman speak about flood insurance, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and other major topics involving residential construction in the state.

"One thing is the insurance program," he said. "This is particularly important for Ascension Parish. Another issue that's important with homebuilders is the labor shortage in the construction industry. Financing is another critical area. There have been some advances coming out of the recession, but it's still a tight market."

Shelia Sassamon, a member with Keller Williams Realty, said she attended the event with colleagues to get more information, especially about the flood insurance program and its effect on new home sales.

"We want to educate ourselves so we are properly guiding our clients," she said.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made flood insurance possible for consumers in lowland southern Louisiana, it has not made the insurance affordable, according to Congressman Cassidy.

"It has endangered middle-class prosperity in Louisiana," he said.

Last year, Congress renewed the National Flood Insurance Program for another five years, but required FEMA to start collecting risk-based premiums. Until now, despite dissimilar risks, homes in similar flood zones paid the same price.

Starting Oct. 1, rates for existing policies were projected to increase 25 percent a year until they reach a risk-based rate. Policies on second homes and newly-purchased homes were to pay full price immediately.

Cassidy said that timeline may not be accurate.

"The rate increase hits when the final map is released and that may be three years from now," he said.

"My major effort has been to reform the program."

He said FEMA should suspend increases for federal flood insurance for a year, update its flood maps to reflect flood-protection improvements in south Louisiana and review the practices it uses for setting rates.

Cassidy said he has offered an amendment to help resolve the problems and is working with other congressmen from flood-prone districts to improve the insurance program. He added, however, coastal restoration must be addressed in order to really mitigate flooding.

"A steady stream of income is needed to rebuild the coastline," he said.

A member of the group questioned the congressman about the mortgage system, adding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were working better prior to the federal takeover.

"We need to return to reasonable guidelines that were working for 30 years," he told the congressman.

Cassidy said there is a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

"This is a conversation on the cusp we should probably continue," he said.