Florida residents will soon be able to receive up to $10,000 in state grants for home-strengthening projects like roof reinforcement and garage door replacements.
A $150 million revival of a 16-year-old program, My Safe Florida Home, was included in a sweeping insurance bill signed into law by the state Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis during last week’s special legislative session on property insurance.
The program will provide $115 million in two-for-one grants, meaning eligible homeowners can receive $2 back for every dollar spent on upgrades to strengthen their home against damage from high winds.
Since funding is limited, owners who want to participate are likely looking for ways to line up now so they can be among the first beneficiaries. If all participants qualify for the maximum grant of $10,000, only 11,500 owners will be eligible. This number will be higher depending on the number of applicants eligible for grants under $10,000.
While the Department of Financial Services, which will administer the program, expects grants to be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, owners interested in applying will have to wait for the department to develop application procedures and guidelines. eligibility requirements, the department spokesperson said. Devin Galetta said in an email.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is working to get the program in place “as quickly and efficiently as possible to allow homeowners to begin strengthening their homes against storms,” Galetta said. After the program launches, eligible homeowners will be able to combine the matching grant with a sales tax exemption for storm-resistant windows, exterior doors and garage doors that will take effect for two years beginning July 1. , did he declare.
Homeowners will need to start the process by scheduling a hurricane mitigation inspection to identify upgrades that will protect their homes from high winds and qualify them for the maximum insurance discounts available, Galetta said.
“As the program is rolled out, we will clarify [grant] eligibility requirements based on home insured value, location, inspection history and home reinforcement needs,” Galetta said.
It’s not yet clear which upgrades will be eligible for a grant. The original version of the program, which ran from 2006 to 2008, limited funding to specific needs such as roof deck fixings, secondary water barriers, roof covering, reinforcements for roof-to-wall connections , opening guards and exterior doors, including garage doors. .
But with more money made available, it’s possible that the list of eligible upgrades will also expand.
Patronis received approval to expand the program as part of the state’s emergency rulemaking process, which will allow the department to circumvent requirements that could delay a launch until the end of the season. hurricanes. Galetta has not scheduled a launch date for the program.
The wording of the act sets out the basic parameters of the program. Most of this language is unchanged from when the program was originally licensed. To qualify:
- Eligible properties must be located in the “windblown debris region” as defined in the Florida Building Code. This primarily refers to coastal areas of the state susceptible to hurricane-force winds of 120 miles per hour or greater. In South Florida, all of Broward and Miami-Dade counties and all of the westernmost areas of Palm Beach County are within this region.
- The replacement value of homes must be $500,000 or less instead of the original $300,000 limit.
- Qualified applicants will be eligible for up to $10,000 instead of the original $5,000 limit.
- Rewards of $2 for every $1 spent by owners will replace the initial reward of $1 for every $1 spent.
- The properties must be family owned. No secondary residence or property belonging to an investor is eligible.
- Eligible homes must have been originally approved for construction before January 1, 2008.
The original $250 million version of the program funded 400,000 inspections and nearly 39,000 home improvement grants, according to published reports.
But the program has been marred by reports of contractors failing to complete and doing shoddy work, and of inspectors submitting bogus reports just to collect state payments. It was also slow to gain traction in its first year, leaving claims pending for months and some homeowners waiting up to a year for reimbursement.
After the housing market crash of 2008, many applicants who were approved for a grant let their grant expire because they could not afford to pay their share of project costs. In 2009, the Legislative Assembly declined to provide funding to extend the program.
The sponsors of the bill that emerged from the House and Senate last week promised that the Department of Financial Services will monitor participating contractors and inspectors more closely and do a better job of preventing fraud this time around.
Galetta said, “We will review the previous program and implement lessons learned to reduce fraud and streamline program implementation.
Legislative critics will be watching the deployment closely. Representative Anna Eskamani, an Orlando-area Democrat, called on the department to confirm that only qualified and credible home inspectors are hired. “Preventing fraud will be key here, because we don’t want Floridians receiving inaccurate inspections.”
Michael Burrman, owner of Burrman Home Inspections in Spring Hill, reviewed state inspections during the first iteration of the program. He said unqualified people who previously worked in clerical positions at insurance companies were being certified to carry out home inspections.
“Then they were running around and doing 20 jobs a day,” he said. “If the owner wasn’t home, they would falsify a report, take a picture of the house, submit it, and get paid.”
Eskamani would like to see the $500,000 replacement value limit removed and eligibility opened up beyond the blown debris region.
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She also urged the department to ensure landlords can apply with paper forms, by phone or at a physical location. “Far too many programs in Florida are only available to people who are tech-savvy, leaving those who don’t have access to a computer or are not computer-literate struggling to apply and participate,” he said. she declared.
Burrman, who served on the Hernando County Housing Authority, said the funding could be put to better use by allocating it to local governments and letting them determine what is needed most.
As an example, he cited a discovery of at least 500 homes built decades ago that had only two nails holding the metal truss straps from the hurricane to the frame of the home. Two nails per strap protected the roof from uplift in winds of up to 90 mph.
Three screws increase wind protection to 120 mph — and give the owner a $300 to $500 discount, Burrman said.
The housing authority has found a way to tap into its available funds from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) scheme, which can be used for various types of assistance to low-income buyers and homeowners , to create a program that added the third nail to low-income residents’ hurricane straps, Burrman said.
“It was a win-win-win. They have a safer home. It made the neighbors safer. Plus, it got them an insurance cut,” he said. “The more you you get closer to the community, the more decision-makers know what the community needs.”
Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at [email protected].