The Florida Keys-based insurance watchdog group FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe) has expanded its mission from challenging windstorm rates to also tackling federal flood insurance rates.
On Oct. 1, the federal government implemented a series of rate increases for property owners receiving insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which will result in huge hikes for new policyholders and could have a chilling effect on local and state real estate markets.
FIRM had focused most of its efforts on fighting windstorm rate increases set by the state's insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. The group successfully limited rate increases in recent years, saving Florida Keys property owners roughly $880 million in insurance premiums, according to FIRM's board. The group also received $400,000 from Citizens Insurance earlier this year to conduct a study to determine if rates in the Keys are actuarially sound.
FIRM's board met Thursday in Key West to establish a three-year strategic plan that includes setting policy goals and legislation priorities, increasing group membership, raising money and hiring a full-time executive director.
The group also plans to lobby the Monroe County government and local municipalities to request funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to raise homes above the flood plain, said Annalise Mannix, a consultant with FIRM.
FIRM also plans to the lobby the city of Key West to allow hurricane-wind impact windows to be installed in historic homes in Key West. The historic cities of Boston, Washington, D.C., and St. Augustine allow those types of windows, Mannix and FIRM board member Chic Wagner said.
"It's a public safety issue," Wagner said.
The FIRM board wants to increase its current membership of 3,605 to roughly 20,000 members by 2016.
The rising cost of both windstorm and flood insurance rates has become one of the most important issues facing the Keys. The increases are forcing people out of the Keys and devastating the local real estate market, according to FIRM.
FIRM comprises homeowners and residents and was formed in February 2006 to fight against excessive, discriminatory and unaffordable residential, condominium and commercial property insurance rates.
To learn more about FIRM or to join, visit firmkeys.org.