In Pinellas County, where the rising cost of flood insurance is now more of a problem than actual floods, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is asking Gov. Rick Scott to help.
Residents are afraid of losing homes and business, not to rising floodwaters, but to skyrocketing insurance premiums caused by the Biggert-Waters Act, which took effect in October 2013.
Potentially lost homes and a devastated real estate market prompted the Chamber, which represents over 900 businesses countywide, to act.
The Chamber issued an open letter to Scott last week, urging him to support SB 542, the new proposal by State Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Larry Ahern that will open the flood insurance market to private insurers.
The controversy stems from an attempt by FEMA to recoup $24 billion in debt resulting from payments after severe weather such as Hurricane Katrina by making changes to the National Flood Insurance Program, eliminating federal subsidies for older homes in re-zoned flood plains. Reform left residents in Pinellas County — one of the communities with the highest rates of federally subsidized NFIP policies — wondering how they will pay premiums that jumped as much as thousands of dollars a year.
Another concern is that homebuyers suddenly facing enormous flood insurance premiums would cripple a tenuous real estate market, one that is barely recovering from the Great Recession.
Thursday’s letter to Scott started by lauding the governor’s commitment to serve Florida, as well as to provide a positive economic climate for business and create a desirable community for visitors and residents.
Brandes’ legislation “would create much needed relief to property owners,” the Chamber says, adding that it is “not only good for homeowners, but also for the small business owners, and our tourism industry.”
Citing gridlock in D.C. that “prevented several attempts to pass reforms,” the county “can’t wait for the federal government to pass legislation that only delays the flood insurance rate increases.”
If passed, SB 542 would allow several options in both insurance companies and policies, giving consumers the flexibility to choose the coverage that will reduce the cost to protect their property.
The letter concludes by saying the bill, currently in the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, is necessary to “stabilize the housing market and economy, benefiting all Floridians.”