Pinellas homeowners relieved at flood insurance bill - WFLA News Channel 8

Pinellas homeowners relieved at flood insurance bill

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They were the flood insurance hikes thousands of Bay area homeowners feared would make them lose their homes or force them to abandon them.

But Thursday evening, the U.S. Senate passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, a bill that could provide some relief.

"The big thing ... is that it doesn't delay Biggert-Waters, it simply creates a solution," said Jake Holehouse, Vice President of Holehouse Insurance in St. Petersburg.

The Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act took effect in early October, and ends flood insurance subsidies on hundreds of thousands of older houses. The changes are supposed to strengthen the finances of the federal flood insurance program, which has been struggling with about $30 billion in debt after storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy.

Holehouse said what the bill does is basically phase in rate increases.

"It's going to phase rates in at 15 percent a year over the foreseeable future until you hit your elevation certificate rate," he said. "It lets homeowners either go to the private market and know what their worst-case scenario is or stick in the FEMA program until they get to their worst-case scenario. But the biggest thing is - it's not just an instant change, it's a long-term solution to flood insurance"

Holehouse believes it will now allow the private market to come in, do the research on flood insurance, and make their own rates.

"So instead of 2 private market options, we see the future as you will have as many private market flood insurance options as you do private homeowners insurance options," he said. "It gives direction to where FEMA's going and how fast they're going there."

Holehouse said that in the meantime, checking into the private market won't hurt.

"If you get a private market Lloyds of London or Homeowner's Choice policy and now FEMA comes back and they're a better option... they will actually give you a prorated premium refund to go back to FEMA," he said. "You can actually retro-date a private market flood policy 90 days. If you had one of those renewals, you could actually get that $10,000 refund and go to a $4,000 rate… potentially."

County records show out of more than 30,000 properties were going to be impacted by the hike. Only 253 are homes with a market value over $1 million. Nearly 700 are occupied by veterans, and 1,100 by low income seniors. About 22,000 are homes with no water front or view at all.

One of those is Chris Dailey, who owns a home in Shore Acres.

"Really, it stole our homes," he said about his rate increase that was going from $1,700 to $8,000. "Our homes went from being our retirement to being worth absolutely nothing."

For now, he knows relief is just in the form of a bill unless the President decides to sign off on the changes.

"I really feel that we're almost at the finish line," Dailey said. "Once that signature happens … we're home-free."

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