It appears the program has changed once again and not for the better, hurricane grants are now limited to those homes located in the nebulous “wind-borne debris regions” as determined by the International Code Council (ICC). Full article below.
Hurricane Grants Off-Limits For Many
By LINDSAY WILKES-EDRINGTON
The Tampa Tribune
Published: Jul 18, 2007
TAMPA - The state’s My Safe Florida Home program was launched a year ago as a way to give all Floridians a chance to fortify their homes against hurricane damage.
But recent changes in state law have eliminated half the state from eligibility, including most of Hillsborough County and all of Polk County, which was ravaged by hurricanes three years ago.
In fact, the changes leave only coastal counties - home to the state’s wealthiest residents - eligible for the state grants.
As of May, only residents of counties that fall inside a designated “wind-borne debris region” are eligible for the grants, which match a homeowner’s cost to reinforce the home with up to $5,000 in state money.
The eligible areas are those most likely to be reached by winds over 120 mph.
Before May, everyone in Florida was eligible for the grants provided the home was insured for no more than $500,000 and the owner had a homestead exemption.
Applicants for the grants in Hillsborough and other ineligible areas are just now learning they can’t get state help, and they aren’t happy.
“People are very much frustrated about how the law has changed,” said Jim Ford, who is administering the program in Hillsborough County. “I’ve been talking to folks who had been in the process for a while, getting their documents ready and trying to schedule an inspection, only to find out that now they’re not eligible.”
‘I Ran Through All The Hoops’
Ford said he’s been fielding an average of 20 calls a day from residents trying to figure out whether they qualify. Of the people he’s talked to this month, only two have had homes that fall into the “wind-borne debris region.”
The state continues to pay for an inspector to visit homes that are no longer eligible and to leave homeowners with a report on what they need to fortify their homes, although no state money will be forthcoming to help with the cost.
David Hardingham signed up last fall to have his Tampa home inspected, but he said an inspector didn’t arrive until May 6, five days after the law changed. The inspector generated a report, although his home near Carrollwood is no longer eligible.
“I ran through all the hoops,” Hardingham said. “I got all my paperwork in, but then they took so long to do the wind inspection that basically by the time they came out, I wasn’t eligible anymore. What really gets me is I did all this, and then they changed the rules.”
Of the 53,000 people in the state who applied for inspections during the program’s pilot phase that began in August, nearly 18,000 didn’t receive their inspections until after May, making them ineligible for the grants.
Despite that, the state paid for the 18,000 inspections and will continue to pay for inspections regardless of eligibility.
“We feel that it’s valuable for everyone to get an inspection even if they’re not eligible, so at least they know how safe they are,” said Tara Klimek, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who oversees the program.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush unveiled the grant program with a budget of $250 million during an annual hurricane conference in May 2006.
It was part of an insurance bill the Legislature passed earlier that year and immediately drew attention from homeowners before Bush even signed the legislation.
Under the original provisions, the state would pay up to $5,000 for homeowners to reinforce their houses and the homeowner pay an equal amount for a total of $10,000. It was limited to homes with an insured value of $500,000 or less and restricted to owners with a homestead exemption. Mobile homes did not qualify.
Victim Of Its Popularity
A free inspection by a state-certified inspector would detail what improvements were needed such as improved shingles, reinforcing exterior and garage doors and window shutters. Homeowners who met low-income requirements would not have to pay the matching money for up to $5,000 in improvements.
Homeowners were supposed to be eligible for reductions of insurance premiums when the work was complete.
The program quickly suffered from its own popularity.
It was intended to cover 50,000 applicants. By the end of August, two weeks after the state began accepting applications for inspections, more than 50,000 homeowners had applied.
The law was retooled by this year’s Legislature. It dropped the insured value of eligible homes to $300,000 and added this provision: That all eligible homes must be in a “wind-borne debris region” as defined by international building codes. Although the law didn’t spell it out, that code specifies areas where winds of 120 mph or more are likely to hit, meaning coastal areas.
As passed, only six of the state’s 67 counties are entirely covered now: Pinellas, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Escambia. Thirty counties are partially covered, with only slivers of Hillsborough and Pasco counties making the cut.
Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, who sponsored the Senate’s version of the bill, and Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, who sponsored the House bill, could not be reached Tuesday.
Ford, the program’s administrator in Hillsborough, said he tries to explain to homeowners why they are ineligible.
“Some seem to understand,” he said. "But then you get the individual that says, ‘That’s fine and well, but I’ve gotten hurricane force winds several times.’
“It’s based on designated criteria. But does it mean your home won’t be subject to flying debris? Obviously not.”
Reporter Neil Johnson contributed to this report. Reporter Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington can be reached at (813) 259-7621 or lwilkes-edrington@tampatrib .com.