tampabay.com

Q & A

By JONI JAMES
Published August 16, 2006


The state on Tuesday launched a much-anticipated $250-million program to provide as much as $5,000 per home in matching dollars for improvements that help protect properties against hurricanes.

Who qualifies?

Only owners of homestead, single-family homes with insurance replacement values of $500,000 or less. Owners of multi-unit homes can also qualify, but only those in properties with four units or less in which all units are homestead and all owners agree to participate.

How do I apply?

The first step is to submit an application with the Department of Financial Services by visiting www.mysafefloridahome.com or calling 1-800-342-2762.

What happens next?

Qualified properties will be scheduled for a free inspection by a state-approved building inspector. Only improvements suggested by the inspector will qualify for matching funds.

What's the purpose of the inspection?

Within 10 days of the inspection, homeowners will receive a written report that outlines areas that could be improved, an estimate of how much each of those improvements would cost, the expected insurance savings from making the improvements, and a rating of the home's current ability to withstand hurricanes and its potential rating if improvements are made.

Do I have to follow the inspector's recommendations?

Yes, if you want to qualify for the state matching funds. But homeowners decide whether to follow some, all or none of the recommendations.

How long will this take?

It will be months before some qualified homes are inspected. By law, the program puts the highest priority on providing grants to people living in high-risk wind areas and the state has said it will target inspections first to those areas. That includes all of Pinellas County, most of western Hillsborough County, and coastal portions of Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties.

Is there enough money?

Probably not. The state anticipates the money will help 50,000 of the state's 4.2-million homestead properties. However, Gov. Jeb Bush and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher have both said they're seeking federal dollars to expand the program as well as encouraging the Legislature to pump more state money into it in the future.

What if you can't afford any improvements?

Call and apply anyway. The program includes $50-million to help low-income property owners who can't afford to put up their own money. And several local governments, including the city of St. Petersburg, are also providing some cash for low-income families.

I just bought my home this year and won't qualify for my homestead until Jan. 1. Can I still qualify?

Yes, but not until after Jan. 1. You should apply at that time.