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Seminole forum on flood insurance rates expects big draw

Robin Sollie hopes the forum informs and gets people to act.

Robin Sollie hopes the forum informs and gets people to act.

ST. PETERSBURG — Soaring flood insurance rates take center stage at a community forum tonight that's expected to draw a capacity crowd to the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College.

The forum, which includes a panel discussion, starts at 6 p.m. at the Digitorium in SPC's University Partnership building, 9200 113th St. N.

Robin Sollie, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and an event organizer, said the purpose of the forum is twofold: to give people information and to galvanize opponents of the hikes into action with just one week left before a new rate structure is set to take effect.

Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012 as a means to keep the National Flood Insurance Program solvent after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy left it $18 billion in the red. The path to solvency meant phasing out subsidies that have kept flood insurance rates restrained for many older properties in flood zones.

For most affected homeowners and businesses, increases will be phased in at roughly 20 to 25 percent a year. However, for policies that lapse or homes sold after July 2012, the subsidy goes away entirely come Tuesday.

That means, upon renewal, someone who bought a home with subsidized flood insurance within the past year could see premiums jump fivefold. Or more.

"We believe the (Biggert-Waters) reforms will have a detrimental impact on the entire economy of Florida, including existing homeowners and those who want to buy Florida properties," said Florida Realtors president Dean Asher, who talked to the Florida Cabinet about the flood insurance crisis Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the flood program, was supposed to come up by April with an affordability study to determine the impact of the rate increases.

Several local congressional representatives, area Realtors and others are lobbying Congress to delay some rate increases until FEMA reports on affordability and potential vouchers for those unable to handle the sharp rise.

Only about 20 percent of all flood policies are subsidized. But Florida is affected more than anywhere else, with nearly 270,000 subsidized policies in place.

More than 50,000 of Pinellas County's 142,000 properties with flood policies have subsidized rates, tops among all counties nationwide.

Among the speakers today will be Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov and representatives of Holehouse Insurance, Bankers Insurance Group and Re/Max of St. Pete Beach.

The forum will be on cable access channels and streamed on the Web. For HD Windows Media Stream, go to mms://media.spcollege.edu/flood. For SPC TV Stream, go to spcollege. edu/w/.

Nelson seeks delay

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., filed legislation Tuesday to delay some of the flood insurance rate increases tied to the Biggert-Waters Act and U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, is drafting a similar measure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But both Florida legislators indicated it will be tough getting enough support in Washington.

Nelson's legislation piggybacks on and broadens a measure previously introduced by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Nelson wants to block funding on some of the provisions of Biggert-Waters, while Nugent wants FEMA to first finish an affordability study on how the hikes will affect property owners.

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott wrote Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urging them to block steep increases in flood insurance rates set to take effect Oct. 1.

In a response to the governor Tuesday, Nelson wrote: "You should know I have been working with others in Congress to try to delay these rate hikes that are set to begin on Oct. 1. … But the current state of gridlock in Congress, caused by a small minority, has prevented us from getting much of anything passed."

Nelson asked Scott for help soliciting Republican members for their votes "out of concern for numerous Floridians that will be affected by these rate increases."

— Jeff Harrington, Times staff writer

Seminole forum on flood insurance rates expects big draw 09/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 9:10pm]
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