Group seeks financial help for windstorm study

Aug 8, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Keys Keynoter on August 8, 2012:

Group seeks financial help for windstorm study

By Ryan McCarthy

Local city councils and commissions up and down the Keys should expect a visit from representatives of the nonprofit Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe in the near future.

Executive Director Annalise Mannix said the grassroots group that’s focused on fighting state windstorm insurance rate hikes in the Keys needs to raise anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 for a new “data project to verify the construction quality of Keys’ structures.”

She hopes local governments and the group’s membership are willing to pitch in for the study. Her tour begins Aug. 15 with a visit to the Monroe County Commission in Key Largo.

“In order for us to determine how accurate the current [hurricane] models and insurance rates are, we need to perform a study of existing construction to determine if the input to the models are accurate and substantial,” Mannix said.

Mannix says current state models often use “default values” that don’t take into account strict Keys building code. Houses here are designed to weather much heavier winds than elsewhere in the state, she said.

“Is the house designed by an engineer or architect, or to minimal building code [standards]? It defaults to building code, but most houses built in the past 20 years are designed by an engineer because Florida building code requires that,” she said.

FIRM, as the group is known, has been battling state insurer-of-last-resort Citizens Property Insurance Corp. for several years — with success. The group has by all accounts saved Keys homeowners millions of dollars.

But Gov. Rick Scott’s edict to eliminate some 678,000 policies from Citizens’ books to reduce the state’s risk presents new challenges. So much so that Keys officials have been exploring the idea of creating a mutual insurance company specific to Monroe County windstorm policyholders.

“There’s no way to move forward until this study is done. Right now the models say the same thing. Until we prove they’re inaccurate, they’ll continue to say the same thing,” Mannix said.

Citizens holds about 1.5 million policies statewide, including 25,807 on 27,951 Keys properties, according to FIRM.

Scott’s depopulation plan puts a $1 million cap on the value of a home to which Citizens would provide windstorm insurance, creates a wide-ranging re-inspection program searching for safety deficiencies, and denies windstorm insurance to homes intended to be rented out for seven days or less.

Doing so means evaluating thousands of properties, which could end up being costly. Mannix says she feels the Keys study would be worth the money.

“We send $80 million to Citizens every year,” she said of Keys policyholders. “Even if you take 1 percent off that, it pays for itself. It’s certainly a valuable tool to do it, but someone has to pay for it.”

The commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 15 at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center near mile marker 102 in Key Largo. Mannix’s presentation is slated to start at 10 a.m.

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