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Home fortification plan to resume

The inspections that may help protect homes against storms are expected to resume in April.

By IVAN PENN
Published February 9, 2007


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TALLAHASSEE - The state expects to resume inspecting homes by mid April as part of the My Safe Florida Home program, a $250-million effort to fortify homes against hurricanes.

More than 50,000 people are on a waiting list for the free home inspections in hopes of finding ways to reduce their insurance premiums and protect their homes against storms.

The Department of Financial Services announced the plans to move forward with the inspections Thursday, during the first meeting of the state's recently created Windstorm Mitigation Study Committee.

The eight-member committee is working to develop proposals for the Legislature to improve Florida's efforts to prepare homes for hurricanes and provide some relief from the state's insurance crisis. The committee is expected to make recommendations to the Legislature for its spring session.

"Everybody's frustrated with the delays," said Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, a member of the committee. "Let's get it going and get it going right."

With hurricane season less than four months away, the committee felt the urgency to move quickly but said they are looking for solid solutions.

Committee members heard from a host of experts who offered a wide range of evidence to support strengthening the mitigation effort.

"This is going to be a complicated thing," said Bill Coffey, a committee member who works for the Home Depot. "It's not going to be as simple as everybody thinks."

My Safe Florida Home offers free home inspections and matching grants up to $5,000 to qualified homeowners to make needed repairs.

Some local government officials have criticized the program for failing to fortify a single home since lawmakers created it last May.

Some 14,000 homeowners have had their houses inspected. The majority have received their reports, and about 300 have applied for grants to make improvements to their houses, Tami Torres, special programs administrator of the My Safe Florida Home program, told the committee.

Torres said results from the initial phase of the My Safe Florida Home program show homeowners should already be receiving an average premium discount of 18 percent without having to make any repairs to their dwellings because many people are unaware of discounts they already are entitled to.

Liza McFadden, president of the Volunteer Florida Foundation, told the committee that efforts to strengthen low-income homes should begin in the next few weeks.

Under the program, homeowners whose income is less than 80 percent of the median income in their county can receive free inspections and home improvements.

Committee Chairman Garrett Walton, a lawyer and Pensacola businessman, said he plans to have a draft of targets for the committee to review by its next meeting Thursday.

"We've got a lot of work to do in a short period of time," he said.

Ivan Penn covers consumer issues and can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or 727 823-9395.

[Last modified February 9, 2007, 01:35:35]


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