Mississippi DFA Overseeing Program to Help Strengthen Homes

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said he is working with legislators on a bill that would require insurers to offer discounts to homeowners who have strengthened homes against wind damage.

Photo: Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

State officials tell the Sun Herald that they hope the reinforcement of roofing, doors, windows and other components also will qualify homeowners for insurance discounts, although there are no guarantees.

The Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration is overseeing a $23 million program in which FEMA would pay 75 percent of the cost to strengthen their homes against wind damage. DFA officials said the homeowner must pay a $250 inspection fee and a 25 percent of construction costs.

Chaney said he and Gulf Coast legislators are working on construction standards that would qualify for discounts, for both new and retrofitted homes.

“Mitigation is the key to lowering rates on the coast,” Chaney said. “If you build a stronger home or strengthen your existing home to a stronger standard and stay out of the flood plain, that’s the key.”

Several sets of standards are now in play for strengthening homes.

The state wind pool applies a tiered system of discounts for retrofits, which differ from those in the DFA program.

The insurance industry, through its nonprofit Institute for Business and Home Safety, has a third set of standards.

The DFA program works within FEMA’s hazard mitigation program guidelines. The program is strictly designed to protect against wind damage, not provide insurance-rate relief.

“Homeowners on the Gulf Coast want to know how they can get a discount on their insurance,” said Rep. Scott Delano, R-Biloxi. “We in the state have been saying that mitigation is a way to lower insurance rates. This program, unfortunately, does not make that connection. We, the state, need to do a better a job of making that connection and that’s what we’re working on now.”

Randy Knoll, DFA’s project director in Jackson, said DFA has sent 19,778 letters about the program to coast residents south of Interstate 10. So far, 888 have applied.

Knoll said the agency has enough money to retrofit about 2,000 homes, with the average cost estimated to be $15,000.

Like other post-Hurricane Katrina grant programs, homeowners also must supply a variety of documents, including deeds, elevation certificates, termite reports, proof of homestead exemption and insurance records.