Eventually, state will fund upgrades

Published August 16, 2006

John Millns was thinking about remodeling his Odessa home to protect it against hurricanes when he heard the state could offer him money to help pay for the work.

So now he has decided to wait, even if it is the middle of hurricane season.

"If somebody was knocking on my door to do the work now, and I didn't know about the state program, I'd do the work now," said Millns, a dermatologist. "Now, I'm going to wait."

The My Safe Florida Home program opened for business Tuesday, offering matching grants of up to $5,000 to help reinforce homes and free inspections to point out what's needed.

But homeowners like Millns shouldn't expect to get the work done before hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

The program is wildly popular, with 23,000 inquiries since the state put up its Web site in June. But there's likely far more interest than money.

"Before this hurricane season ends, there will be some Floridians that will have inspections and have improvements at least started," said Tami Torres of the Department of Financial Services, which is administering the $250-million the Legislature appropriated over the next three years.

The state hopes to protect 50,000 homes in the next year, but 242,000 qualify just among customers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-run insurer of last resort. Those without homeowners insurance cannot participate.

The money is available only to owners of property with homestead exemptions. Second homes, investment property and commercial property do not quality. Still, there are more than 4-million homestead properties in the state.

The Legislature created the program this year in response to the eight hurricanes that have affected the state in the past two years. "One of the best ways we can limit catastrophic losses is to harden our housing stock," said Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a homebuilder who was involved in getting the program through the Legislature. "We're moving as fast as we can."

It's a complex process that begins with a state inspection of a home. The program anticipates completing 12,000 inspections this year.

"We'll have to create an army of inspectors," said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, the president and CEO of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, the group charged with creating the inspection part of the program.

The inspections are intended to reveal a home's weaknesses and estimate the cost of improvements. They also will lay out insurance discounts available when people make the repairs.

The state money will cover seven kinds of repairs: strengthening roof decking, improving a roof's waterproofing, strengthening roofing material, bracing gable ends, reinforcing roof-to-wall connections, protecting wall openings like windows and doors, and reinforcing doors, especially garage doors.

While there are many possible retrofits, only some make sense, said Tim Reinhold of the Institute for Business and Home Safety, an insurance industry research group. Covering windows and replacing or reinforcing garage doors make sense, but installing tie-downs after the fact to hold your roof to your walls isn't always worth the money, he said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 727 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com

For more information:

My Safe Florida Home: http://www.mysafefloridahome.com/

Strengthen These Five Spots to Make Your Home More Secure: http://www.ibhs.org/publications/view.asp?cat=78&id=613

Insurance discounts: https://apps.fldfs.com/WindMitigation/

Florida Wind Insurance Incentives: http://www.dca.state.fl.us/fdem/mitdb/index.cfm

Wind insurance incentives wizard: http://www.dca.state.fl.us/fdem/mitdb/index.cfm?fuseaction=Wizard.begin