My Safe Florida Home Program
In 2006, the Legislature created the Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program and appropriated $250 million to provide financial incentives and assistance for residential property owners in Florida to retrofit their properties. The goal of the program is to make existing homes less vulnerable to hurricane damage and helping decrease the cost of residential property and casualty insurance. In 2007, the legislature renamed this program “My Safe Florida Home”. The Department of Financial Services administers this program with the intent to:
¨ Provide free home inspections for at least 400,000 single-family, residential properties; and
¨ Provide mitigation grants to at least 35,000 applicants before June 30, 2009.
These two measures comprise the heart of the program, and are intended to go hand in hand. The purpose of the inspections is to identify weaknesses in residential structures that would make them especially vulnerable in a hurricane. The purpose of the grants is to assist the owners of such structures in “mitigating” those weaknesses. The Department delivers these inspection services and grants directly to homeowners, and though partnerships with non-profit entities and local governments.
In addition to the inspections and grants, the Florida Comprehensive Hurricane Damage Mitigation Program is also responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive and coordinated approach for hurricane damage mitigation in Florida. This includes consumer education and awareness programs, establishing an advisory council with representatives of the insurance, banking and construction industries as well as academic researchers; pursuing federal funding of mitigation programs when possible; and authorizing the Department of Financial Services to establish rules to implement the program.
The original mission of the My Safe Florida Home program was to provide free home-retrofit inspections of site-built, single family, residential properties throughout the state. (Please note this excludes mobile homes, manufactured homes, large multi-family structures and commercial properties.)
After a home is inspected, inspectors generate a report that summarizes the results and identifies recommended improvements a homeowner may make to mitigate hurricane damage. The report also provides a range of cost estimates regarding recommended mitigation improvements, as well as premium discounts reflecting the home’s current mitigation features and recommended improvements. The report will also specify the home’s current and projected wind resistance relative to the Uniform Home Grading Scale.
The My Safe Florida Home program also certifies inspection companies (known as “wind certification entities”, or WCEs) and individual inspectors to conduct the free inspections. Inspectors must pass a background check and drug test, demonstrate competency and possess at least two year’s experience in residential construction or building inspection. The Department also imposes continuing education requirements on certified inspectors. A list of certified WCEs and inspectors is posted at the My Safe Florida Home website: www.mysafefloridahome.com
As of March 1, 2009, the program had processed 443,339 inspection applications and completed 399,164 free home inspections in 67 counties at a cost of $60 million (approximately $150 per inspection). This nearly fulfills its goal to conduct 400,000 inspections. Due to budget constraints in the 2009 legislative session, funding of the free inspections has been suspended. Property owners may still obtain mitigation inspections, at their own expense, in order to qualify for discounted windstorm premiums.
My Safe Florida Home program also provided matching grants, of up to $5,000, to homeowners whose residences have been inspected and identified as in need of hurricane mitigation. These mitigation grants are used to encourage single-family, site-built, owner-occupied, residential property owners to retrofit their properties to make them less vulnerable to hurricane damage. The purpose of the grant is to bring the wind resistance of older structures up to the levels required of new construction in the stronger 2001 Florida Building Code. To be eligible for a matching grant a residential property must:
¨ Be a home for which the building permit application for initial construction was made before March 1, 2002 (i.e., built under the old building codes).
¨ Have undergone a hurricane mitigation inspection after May 1, 2007
¨ Be a homestead property (i.e., the homeowner’s personal residence, not a rental property);
¨ Be a dwelling with an insured value of $300,000 or less;
¨ Be located in the wind-borne debris region.
A grant from My Safe Florida Home may match the homeowner’s contribution to the mitigation expenses – dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000. In effect, the grant will cover one-half of the mitigation costs, up to $10,000. For example, if the total cost to retrofit the property is $8,000, the homeowner may apply for a $4,000 grant – with the homeowner footing the remaining half. If total costs were $12,000, the homeowner would be limited to the maximum grant of $5,000. Low-income applicants may apply for non-matching grants, i.e., full reimbursement of mitigation costs up to $5,000. Residential units in structures housing up to four families (e.g., a duplex or small townhome building) may qualify for a grant, provided all unit owners participate in the mitigation effort.
When recommended by a hurricane mitigation inspection, matching grants may only be used to offset costs for:
¨ opening protections (e.g., hurricane shutters);
¨ exterior doors, including garage doors and
¨ gable-end wall bracing.
As part of the grant application process, My Safe Florida Home may require that improvements be made to all of the structures openings, including exterior doors and garage doors should the Department determine such additional improvements are necessary to achieve effective mitigation.
Grant applications must contain a signed statement made under penalty of perjury that the applicant has submitted only a single application. Documents which demonstrate compliance with the above criteria must be attached. The My Safe Florida Home program allows homeowners to select from a list of participating licensed contractors to implement the mitigation efforts. Many hurricane mitigation inspectors and WCEs qualified by the My Safe Florida Home program are also qualified mitigation contractors. (As of March 1, 2009, the program has certified 3,321 contractors to perform mitigation under the program.) Homeowners are responsible for securing all required permits and hiring approved licensed contractors to perform the mitigation work. Matching fund grants must also be available to local governments and nonprofit entities for mitigation projects. Grant applications and a list of approved mitigation contractors are available at My Safe Florida Home’s website: www.mysafefloridahome.com
As of March 1, 2009, the My Safe Florida Home program received 42,887 grant applications and awarded 40,385 grants totaling $148 million for hurricane mitigation. Due to budget constraints, funding for the matching grants was discontinued in 2009. The Department anticipates that 32,000 homes will have been retrofitted by the legislature’s target date of June 30, 2009. (If applicants awarded a grant do not complete their mitigation efforts and request reimbursement, the Department anticipates that another 2,700 homes could be retrofitted with the unspent grant funds, nearly fulfilling the legislature’s goal of 35,000 grants.)