December 07, 2006

MONROE ADDED TO STORM PROGRAM

BY ANN HENSON

Free Press Staff, The Free Press Newspaper

The state has added Monroe County to its My Safe Florida Home program, which provides free home hurricane inspections and financial assistance for eligible projects.

The program initially did not have enough trained inspectors to include the Florida Keys, but now has a corps of 500 and has conducted 70 home inspections here since mid-November.

"Inspectors rate the homes on their hurricane strength from a 0-to-100 scale on the outside and inside," said Jeff Takacs, spokesman for the project, operated through the office of state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

"Participants will receive data on how to improve the strength of their homes, cost estimates of those recommended improvements and what they could save on [wind] insurance."

That information isn't available yet, as the data is being collected from the inspectors, Takacs said. Eventually, program officials will look for missing safety features that are found in different areas and throughout the state, he added.

Matching grants for up to $5,000 also are available to help fortify homes at risk of damage.

At the same time the state is adding counties — Collier, Charlotte, Manatee and Hillsborough on the west coast; Martin and Indian River on the east coast; and Walton and Santa Rosa in the Panhandle, in addition to Monroe — it is temporarily scaling back on inspections.

"We're going to step back now, evaluate the program and make any changes necessary, then start the program back up and expand it to other areas," Takacs said.

The $250 million program, launched with a test run between August and November, initially included only Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia counties on the east coast; Lee, Sarasota and Pinellas on the west coast; and Escambia in the Panhandle. More than 12,000 free inspections were conducted during the 12-week pilot program.

Floridians eligible for a free home inspection must live in a single-family, site-built home with an insured value of $500,000 or less and have a valid homestead exemption. Documents verifying this information must be submitted with a completed application. Floridians can apply online at www.mysafefloridahome.com or by calling 800-342-2762 to get an application packet.

ahenson@keysnews.com

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