Amended Claims, Labor, Material Shortages, Contribute to Florida’s Unfinished Repairs

Contractors attempting to rebuild buildings destroyed in the Florida Panhandle by Hurricane Ivan last year, and Hurricane Dennis this month, claim their inability to complete repairs is due to a lack of labor; while homeowners claim there is also a shortage of materials.

Sam Miller, a spokesman for the Florida Insurance Council, said Florida’s Office of Insurance statistics indicate that only 50,000 out of 1.7 million insurance claims are still open, and that these are bad disputes in meditation or going to court.

“We are reopening claims, often every day,” Miller told Insurance Journal. “When new damage is discovered by a contractor doing repairs, or when the repair costs go up for some reason, we must reopen the claim and issue an additional amount.”

Last year, four storms destroyed or damaged 700,000 homes, apartments and other housing units statewide, causing more than $19 billion in insured damage, according to state, federal and insurance industry figures. Hurricane Dennis, which struck the Panhandle July 10, will add to that total, perhaps $1 billion or more.

While there’s now an adequate supply of most materials, cement remains the big exception, Pensacola contractor Dan Gilmore, president of the Florida Home Builders Association told the Bradenton Herald. He said the shortage is delaying some projects by two months or or more and blamed a U.S. embargo on Mexican cement.

Gilmore said the labor shortage is affecting the entire state but is most accute in the western Panhandle, where “Dennis probably didn’t help any.”

The construction industry was in a labor crunch even before the hurricanes, David Peaden, executive director of the Home Builders Association of West Florida told the Herald. He said there’s an estimated shortage of 250,000 construction workers across the nation.

“It’s very difficult to find quality help, sometimes any help at all,” Taff Berrian, who runs a small construction company in Pensacola said. He said he has lost his electrical, plumbing and drywall subcontractors since the hurricanes because they can earn more by working for bigger companies or directly for homeowners.

Berrian is doing hurricane repair and reconstruction only to help certain customers mostly because he cannot find workers although he said dealing with insurance companies is another difficulty.

“We turned away hundreds” of hurricane victims, he said. “There’s no way in the world we can begin to help them. If I had a crew of 20 drywallers we could keep them slammed every single day of the week.”