TALLAHASSEE — State lawmakers are revitalizing a 16-year-old state program that could give homeowners up to $10,000 to harden their homes in an attempt lawmakers hope to stem skyrocketing homeowner insurance rates.
While the program, known as My Safe Florida Home, could help thousands of homeowners get free home inspections and money replacing their windows, doors and roof is unlikely to significantly impact the rapidly increasing rate increases for the vast majority of Florida residents.
The previous iteration of the program was problematic during its two-year run, and lawmakers are giving it 40% less money this year than in 2006, when the state experienced another property insurance crisis sparked by a series of hurricanes.
“Reviving My Safe Florida Home” is part of a series of legislation lawmakers passed Wednesday to stabilize Florida’s spiraling property insurance market.
While lawmakers warn that the sweeping legislation won’t cut rates for at least 18 months – if rates do cut at all – it includes some short-term measures that could mitigate some of the fallout from the crisis:
- It prohibits insurers from refusing to insure a home with a roof that is less than 15 years old due to the age of the roof alone. For roofs that are 15 years or older, the homeowner can request an inspection to reassure themselves. The invoice also allows repairing a roof with more than 25% damage instead of having to replace it.
- It is creating a new $2 billion fund for reinsurance — insurance companies that insurers buy — to help some businesses stay afloat ahead of storm season. The beneficiary companies would have to lower the rates.
- It limits the amount lawyers can collect in lawsuits against insurance companies, which officials say is at least partly responsible for rising interest rates.
The idea of bringing back the My Safe Florida Home program, which ran from 2006 to 2008, received little attention from lawmakers compared to other ideas passed this week.
When and how Floridians might begin applying for the aid is unknown. A spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said his “top priority” is to set up the My Safe Florida Home program “as quickly and efficiently as possible” ahead of the storm season.
It mimics the basic structure of its previous iteration.
As early as 2006, homeowners could apply for a free home inspection. These inspectors could then recommend improvements to harden the home, including replacing shutters, strengthening garage doors, or replacing clapboards. Once the work was complete, homeowners could claim discounts for the upgrades from their insurers.
However, the plan that lawmakers are relaunching is less expansive than the one passed in 2006.
For one, it’s limited to homes with an insured value of less than $500,000. That’s the same limit that originally applied in 2006, but property values have exploded since then. The median selling price for single-family homes in Miami-Dade County reached $565,000 last month and $560,000 in Broward County.
The homes must also be located in the state’s windblown debris region, a roughly U-shaped region in the southern half of the state, the extreme northwest of the Panhandle, and some coastal areas.
In 2006, lawmakers allocated $250 million to the program, good for nearly 400,000 home inspections and home improvements to about 32,000.
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This year, lawmakers allocate $150 million that would upgrade 11,500 homes with a maximum of $10,000 each. ($35 million goes toward inspections, awareness campaigns, and administrative costs.)
However, eligible homeowners will benefit more from this year’s program. In 2006, every dollar spent by the homeowner on upgrades was matched by a government grant of up to $5,000. This year, they could get $2 from the state for every $1 they spend, up to $10,000.
How successful the previous program was is debatable. It was marred by scandals that contributed to lawmakers’ decision not to continue funding it. The state fired the company it hired to conduct inspections. Homeowners who signed up in droves and were put on a long waiting list sometimes missed their bills. Some of the inspectors were considered fraudulent.
However, an external analysis from 2009 recommended that the program be continued. It was “beneficial to everyone involved” and saved $1.50 for every $1 in grants it closed.
Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, an insurance agent and Senate bill sponsor, said he was aware of the history of the program but said it could result in real savings for some people.
“We will be monitoring it very closely to make sure the right things are being done,” he said. “I think everything helps.”