Stormy weather ahead for Monroe County on the wind insurance front. STEVEN JEN

Monroe county homeowners’ insurance rates have increased over 220% in the last 10 years. They’re likely to go up another 10% this year.

The good news? The state senate just passed SB 1476, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a measure that would limit the wind insurance increases by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation — whose wind policies represent those held by two-thirds of homeowners in the county. The company has proposed a 10% annual increase to rates. 

Fair Insurance for Rates for Monroe (FIRM) has been at the front line of advocating for years, pushing for a bill allowing only an inflation increase, but settled on the 5% ceiling proposed by Sen. Flores’ bill. 

“We are concerned that as a community, the cost of homeownership and rental property will get so out of hand that the nature in the community will change and the quality of life will change, “said Steve Russ, vice president of FIRM. 

 Russ testified on April 23 in Tallahassee before the Florida Senate Rules Committee in support of SB 1476. His testimony, and Sen. Flores, helped push the bill through committee, which would limit Citizens Property Insurance annual rate increases for Monroe County to 5%. The bill addresses the impact of wind insurance on the cost of home ownership and workforce housing. 

Russ cites several reasons FIRM believes the rate are unfair and unfounded: 

“Current hurricane loss projection models do not incorporate local building codes, and Monroe County’s codes are and have been the strongest in the state,” he said. Those tight building codes require high standards for structural integrity that aren’t required in other counties and municipalities. 

“Our buildings have been built recognizing storms are an inevitability in some sense,” he said, “We build houses that withstand 180 mph, so we pay more to build, and then we pay for the insurance too.” 

There are also a variety of hurricane models approved by the state that produce a wide spread of damage projections, but Citizens has traditionally relied on a model that was unfavorable to Monroe County to set local rates.

To be fair, since the 2017 season of Hurricane Irma, Citizens has frozen rates for two years, but did not come close to losing money, or even breaking even, after the Irma payouts. In fact, from 2004 through 2018—years including Wilma and Irma losses—Monroe County policyholders have paid over $805 million more to Citizens in premiums than they have received in claims. 

“That’s $1,000 for every resident in the county,” he said, “Monroe County wind insurance rates are the highest in the state, twice the average.” 

FIRM, which started as a neighborhood grassroots advocacy group (including now-Key West Mayor Teri Johnston and now-County Commissioner Heather Carruthers), has been tireless in their effort to keeps rates fair and affordable for residents. They formed after the 2005 hurricane season in an effort to prevent dream of owning a home in the Keys from effectively dying. At least for everyone but the wealthy. 

Rep. Holly Raschein has sponsored a parallel bill in the house,  HB1145, to keep limit Citizens’ rates to a 5% increase, but it’s stuck in committee. 

 

“There’s a faint hope,” said Russ, “but I don’t think we should be optimistic.” 

“If you don’t live here, you really don’t appreciate the magnitude of the affordable housing problem and the insurance rates. We have to continue to fight and find a solution,” said Russ. “Somebody’s got to take up the battle.” 

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