A Monroe County insurance watchdog group is asking local homeowners to share their flood insurance stories as part of a grassroots campaign to stop, or delay, federal insurance policy rate increases that went into effect in October.
FIRM (Fair Insurance in Monroe) plans to use the stories to fight the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Residents and perspective home buyers are being encouraged to share their stories about dramatic flood insurance rate increases, problems with selling their homes because of flood insurance rates, examples of rents being increased to offset insurance rate hikes, and decreasing home equity values.
The new flood rates have created a panic and a downturn in the real estate market in the Florida Keys and other coastal communities. One Big Pine Key home owner's flood insurance rates on his $182,000 second home went from $1,989 a year to $49,252.
In another case, the annual rate for a Stock Island mobile home valued at $27,500 would increase from $393 to $3,217.
"These drastic flood rate increases attack all residents in the Florida Keys and other coastal communities around the state and nation," FIRM officials stated in an email blast to its members on Monday. "They are destroying our security of home ownership, our real estate values, our rental markets, and preventing many of us from selling our properties, building equity in our homes, and even securing reverse mortgages."
The email encouraged residents to "pull out your cell phone right now and video your 1-minute story."
FIRM officials plan to place the testimonials on youtube.com, tweet them and forward them to federal legislators and the heads of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"They need to hear from us," Executive Director Chick Wagner said. "We need to get up and yell. ... This is a time that we really need to unite."
State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, plans to introduce a resolution in the upcoming legislative session urging federal lawmakers to delay instituting rate increases until more research can be done.
"They need to hold off on the increases until they finish the affordability studies," Raschein said. "They should consider a glide path like the state has done with windstorm insurance rates."
Before breaking for the holidays, U.S. senators were hoping to pass the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, but Sen. Pat Robert, R-Kansas, blocked the bill's passage. Under Senate rules, when lawmakers are seeking unanimous consent -- or passage without a vote -- all it takes is one objection to stop passes.
The proposed bill would postpone the rate hikes for four years, require a study of the economic impact on homeowners, and review how the additional funds would make the National Flood Insurance Program financially sound.
Now, the measure will have to go through committees before it can be brought back to the Senate floor for a full vote. Efforts to get the bill through the Senate will start again when Congress convenes Jan. 6.