Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers and consumer advocacy group Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM) want to compile a database of Florida Keys properties as the next step in a years-long effort to hold down the surging price of windstorm insurance.
Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a quasi-governmental company, is the state's windstorm insurer of last resort, providing policies in storm-vulnerable coastal areas where other companies won't shoulder the risk. But Citizens' rates have steadily increased as the extent of its coverage has diminished. And because most federally backed mortgages require windstorm insurance, Keys property owners have few alternatives.
Carruthers has proposed a compilation of property and building documents that would provide a framework for an in-depth analysis of structures in the Florida Keys. FIRM has long argued that Citizens' proprietary computer models do not take into account the Keys' stringent building codes or the fact that most hurricane damage in the Keys is a result of flooding, which is covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, and not wind.
FIRM Director Annalise Mannix, Carruthers and local attorney Ed Scales met with Citizens' representatives for three hours in Tampa earlier this month to discuss Keys building codes and the fact that many Citizens inspectors seem unfamiliar with the strict, local construction requirements.
"We have been building stronger homes for the longest period of time," Carruthers said.
Carruthers believes an analysis of Keys properties could be a tool to convince Citizens to develop a new model, or to lure a new windstorm insurance carrier to the Keys.
In January, a lobbyist and representative of Willis, a London-based reinsurance company, sought out County Mayor David Rice, Carruthers and County Administrator Roman Gastesi to discuss the possibility of providing windstorm coverage in the Keys.
FIRM's board of directors met with a Willis representative again on Friday to discuss the proposed analysis, and whether the company might provide funding for that analysis, which could cost $350,000, Carruthers estimated.
The County Commission briefly discussed the funding of the analysis during its meeting last week, but no decisions were made about whether the county or a coalition of local governments should contribute toward its cost. In the past, the county has provided grants to help FIRM pay for an attorney and an actuary.
Carruthers said she wants the county to partner with Monroe County municipalities, such as Key West, Islamorada and Marathon, on the project, and she plans to approach them soon.