Floridians who need help hardening their homes this hurricane season may be able to receive up to $10,000 for new windows, doors and roofs.
The My Safe Florida Home program launched in November as part of a sweeping property insurance reform bill. The initial $115 million in funds already have been claimed. But an additional $100 million will become available on July 1, and eligibility will be expanded.
The state will pay $2 for every $1 spent up to $10,000. Applicants who are deemed low-income can receive funds without having to make matching payments.
Previously, the grants were available only to residents who lived in certain regions of the state and whose homes had an insured value of $500,000 or less.
Under the new rules, residents must:
• Own and live in the home.
• Qualify for the homestead exemption.
• The home must have an insured value of $700,000 or less.
• The initial building construction permit for the home must have been issued prior to Jan. 1, 2008.
• For the low-income grant, residents must earn 80% or less of the area median income.
• Applicants must agree to two free home inspections. One at the start of the application process and one once the work has been completed.
• Owners must use a contractor who has been approved for the program.
• Owners must pay the contractor in full before being reimbursed.
As of this month, 19,255 residents have applied to the program, 11,904 have been approved and 451 have been reimbursed. That’s according to Devin Galetta, communications director for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which runs the program.
It’s unclear how many homes will be upgraded before the first major storm of the year hits.
When Nanci Iannone and her husband bought their home in Safety Harbor a couple of years ago, “we didn’t realize it needed a lot of repairs and really was not hurricane-ready,” she said.
Still, they couldn’t afford to make all the necessary upgrades. When Iannone found out about My Safe Florida Home in January, she jumped to apply. An inspector came to the house within weeks, but because of a backlog of applications, it took until April for her to get approved.
She’s since hired a contractor to upgrade her garage door and an exterior door, but it could take another six to eight weeks before they’re able to start the work.
Though Iannone said she’s grateful for the program, she’s nervous about how a storm could impact her home, which is located right on the water.
“I’m thrilled to be able to make the house safer, but if the hurricane could wait until I get my garage fixed that would be perfect,” she said.
Other applicants have faced delays in getting the money reimbursed.
Redington Beach resident Susan Elder applied for the program in November. The state sent an inspector to her house in January, and within a few weeks, she was approved for a $10,000 grant.
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She had her windows replaced in February but didn’t get the money back until May.
Elder said she spent that time making dozens of phone calls and sending countless emails to different state employees to try and figure out why she was getting an error message in the application portal. She eventually learned that she had left her name and address off one of the required forms.
“It was really super frustrating,” she said. “No one knew where to go to get an answer.”
Though Elder was planning to get new windows anyway, she fears how lag times like this could impact lower-income applicants who may not have the money to spare.
When asked how long it typically takes to get the reimbursement, Galetta said it varies based on a number of factors, including how long it takes for the contractors to complete the work.
“From the time their final home inspection is completed and submitted until the check is cut and mailed is approx. 12 business days,” he wrote in an email.
He noted that the program “continues to improve the customer service experience as call and email volumes fluctuate.”
This is not the first version of the My Safe Florida Home program. The original iteration operated from 2006 to 2009 and ended in part because of scandals and a rocky rollout.
Homeowners signed up in droves but were placed on a long waiting list. They complained of being shortchanged on their bills. Some of the inspectors were considered fraudulent, and the state fired the company it hired to conduct inspections.
Lawmakers last year chose to revive the program to help mitigate the state’s property insurance crisis. Premiums in Florida are the highest in the nation, and hardening homes is considered a way to reduce losses from storms.