Florida officials this week announced the hard launch of the My Safe Florida Home program, which provides up to $10,000 in grants for wind mitigation efforts for homeowners in vulnerable areas. After the fortification work is completed, there may be significant discounts on property insurance premiums.
The Florida Legislature approved the program in May along with $150 million — enough funding for about 140,000 to 145,000 grants, state Finance Director Jimmy Patronis said in a statement Monday. Homeowners can apply here. If accepted, the houses will be inspected free of charge and the owners can then apply for matching grants.
Similar programs have existed in some parts of the state in past years, but this one covers most of the coastal areas. Also exempt from sales tax they are available for materials used for home hardening by June 2024.
Not everyone in a hurricane-ravaged state qualifies for a wind program, and some strings are attached. The house must be located in an area of the state with wind-borne debris. A map provided on the program’s website indicates that the area (with expected winds of 140 mph or more) runs roughly from Pasco County on the west coast, southeast to Highlands County, then north to Volusia County. Portions of counties in the Panhandle are also eligible.
Homeowners must also match half of the subsidy amount. For every $1 an owner provides, the program provides $2 in grants. To receive the maximum grant amount of $10,000, an eligible homeowner would have to provide $5,000 of their own funds, the Patronis office said. Patronis’ financial services department didn’t say how much the retrofit would reduce HO insurance premiums, but for one Pensacola home that isn’t in a flood zone, for example, recent wind mitigation work reduced annual premiums from about $6,600 to about $2,500.
Suppliers who want to participate in the program can also apply here obtain approval for the work, which may include hurricane straps or roof-to-wall fasteners, hurricane shutter systems, and impact-resistant doors and windows.
The speed of the program’s rollout has been met with some criticism after two hurricanes hit the state this fall, four months after lawmakers approved the plan. An editorial in the Tampa Bay Times last week asked, “What’s taking so long?”
The Department of Financial Services said it began a “soft launch” of the program earlier this month and has already received more than 400 applications. The agency said in October that it had ordered the program expedited during the home inspector procurement process.
The contracts with the inspectors entered into force on October 31. The MSFH program began a soft launch on November 18 to begin accepting inspection requests and testing the program’s online systems before it officially launches on Monday.
The newspaper also called on the Legislature, which is scheduled to reconvene in a special session next month, to expand the program. The paper noted that under existing funding, only about 12,000 homes would be fortified if each homeowner received the maximum amount.
“When reinforced homes withstand a hurricane, there are fewer insurance claims,” reads the editorial. “This is good for both private insurers and citizens” Property Insurance Corp.
Wind mitigation, now part of Florida building codes, can make a significant difference, reports say. After Hurricane Ian slammed into southwest Florida on Sept. 28, many newer homes remained standing, with minimal wind damage to roofs and windows, photos show. Many older houses, most of which had not been raised to the newer required levels, were destroyed by flooding or suffered extensive wind damage.
Photo: Tim Mullen, 47, and Michael Brissette, 11, cover their windows with hurricane shutters in preparation for Tropical Storm Elsa in 2021 in Tampa. (Arielle Bader/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
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