The official hurricane season is about to end, and Florida still hasn’t rolled out the new My Safe Florida Home program, which grants qualifying homeowners up to $10,000 to harden their homes with window coverings, better roofs and the like. This should be a priority. What is taking so long?
After all, Florida lawmakers approved the $150 million program back in May. And after Hurricane Ian devastated swaths of Southwest Florida, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ office said it was expediting the already-delayed program and set a target deployment date of Oct. 31. Now it’s the middle of November. As of Monday, the new target is before Thanksgiving, barely a week from now. The state will give qualifying homeowners $2 for every dollar they spend on approved retrofits up to $15,000. So far, so good. But do the math and you’ll find that $150 million (minus $25 million for home mitigation inspections and $10 million for administration, education and outreach) would harden only 11,500 homes.
It’s easy to argue that this is too little, too late. But imagine if this program finally gets off the ground and homeowners, with the recent hurricanes still raw in their memory, overwhelmingly want to take part. The Legislature is meeting in special session next month, so why not expand this program to make a real difference? It would be a win for everybody. Homeowners are safer in retrofitted houses. When hardened homes stand up to a hurricane, there are fewer insurance claims. That’s good for both private insurance companies and state-run Citizens. And it would help protect taxpayers, who ultimately guarantee that Citizens is solvent. It brings to mind that old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Southwest Florida is a case study in the value of hardening homes. In Punta Gorda, for example, homes that were rebuilt to meet modern codes — roof tie-downs and secondary water membranes, impact glass or window coverings, etc. — after Hurricane Charley hit in 2004 fared far better in the wind than did older homes. Retrofitting can harden older homes to modern standards. Imagine how many homes might have been protected had Florida worked hard to implement the new My Safe Florida Program early in this hurricane season. Instead, we have had two storms six weeks apart without My Safe Florida Home in place.
It’s time to get the program moving and to expand it to a meaningful level. It’s a smart investment, a partnership between the state and homeowners, who will have to spend their own money to get grants. The state has a website where homeowners can register for updates about when they can apply and can learn if they qualify. Let’s get to work because people are waiting.
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