Volume 6 Number 15 April 10, 2009
From the threat of hurricanes to the threat of foreclosure, homeowners in Florida face significant challenges. This week, I spoke out to raise awareness about these challenges and proposed solutions to help Florida homeowners.
The My Safe Florida Home program, which helps Floridians strengthen their homes against hurricanes, has been a great success -- completing over 400,000 inspections and hardening over 29,000 homes. This week, I stood with a bipartisan group of elected officials to urge the Legislature to continue the My Safe Florida Home program, allowing even more Floridians to lower their insurance rates and creating more jobs in our state.
Also this week, I announced that I will be holding a roundtable discussion in Tampa later this month that will bring together top lenders with pro bono attorneys from the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program. I am hopeful that this roundtable with give the lenders and lawyers a chance to discuss how to best help Floridians who are facing the threat of foreclosure.
It’s especially important in these tough economic times that Floridians have the help they need to be safe and secure in their homes, and I will continue to look out for Florida’s homeowners here in Tallahassee.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today announced that she will bring together Florida lenders and attorneys with the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program this month for a roundtable discussion on streamlining efforts to keep Floridians in their homes.
The roundtable, to be held April 20, 2009 in Tampa, will give lenders and pro bono lawyers the chance to discuss how to improve their communication and interaction, as they work together to help Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure. CFO Sink stood with Florida Legal Services attorneys who are part of the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes (FASH) program to announce the upcoming roundtable.
“As we are all aware, for a number of years Florida has been ground zero for the housing crisis faced by our country today,” said CFO Sink. “That’s why I have worked to find any avenue possible to provide real, tangible help to Floridians facing the threat of foreclosure.”
In 2007, CFO Sink reached out to the Florida Bar and asked that they provide assistance to struggling homeowners in the state, and the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program was created. The program pairs pro bono attorneys with Florida homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments, to help these homeowners try and find solutions with their lenders. Over 1,000 lawyers across the state have volunteered their time in response to CFO Sink’s call to launch this program.
“Attorneys who are volunteering their time to help Florida homeowners have reported running into some roadblocks,” CFO Sink continued. “That’s why today I am announcing that on April 20th in Tampa, I will be bringing the lawyers and lenders together, and asking them to discuss face-to-face the best way to keep Floridians in their homes.”
In addition to the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes Program, CFO Sink has also launched the Florida Housing Help Initiative to assist homeowners facing foreclosure. The initiative partners with community organizations and elected officials to hold foreclosure workshops around the state, and nearly 1,000 families have already attended these events.
For more information on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative or the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Details, including venue information and time of the April 20 roundtable, will be announced soon.
CFO Sink joined State Senator Charlie Justice, State Senator Garrett Richter, State Representative Alan Hays, and State Representative Bryan Nelson Tuesday morning to talk about the importance and success of the My Safe Florida Home mitigation program in Florida. Urging lawmakers to make smart investments in tough economic times, Sink outlined the savings benefits to our state. For every dollar spent in the My Safe Florida Home Program, Florida saves $1.50 in risk. And for the future of the program, the next 160,000 homes will see a $2.00 return in risk reduction on our $1.00 investment.
Since its establishment in 2006, the My Safe Florida Home program has helped over 400,000 Floridians have their homes inspected for hurricane safety and over 29,000 Floridians have retrofitted their homes with grant funds. These inspections and grants have resulted in reduced insurance rates for Florida’s homeowners, and new jobs for Florida’s economy.
Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink announced on Monday that Longboat Key Fire Chief Julius Halas will be the new Director of the Department of Financial Services’ Division of State Fire Marshal effective May 4, 2009.
“From investigating arson to training firefighters, the Division of State Fire Marshal works aggressively to protect Floridians from fire hazards,” said CFO Sink. “With his extensive experience in the field of fire protection, I am confident that Chief Halas will do an excellent job as State Fire Marshal Director and I am pleased to have him on board.”
“I am honored to have this opportunity, and I look forward to joining the employees in the State Fire Marshal Division who work hard every day to keep Floridians safe,” said Chief Halas.
Chief Halas brings over 35 years of experience to the position, having worked as a firefighter, paramedic, instructor and fire officer. Halas achieved the position of Fire Chief for the City of Sarasota in 1992 and has served as the Fire Chief for the Town of Longboat Key since 1999.
As SFM Division Director, Chief Halas will oversee the four bureaus within the Division of State Fire Marshal -- Fire and Arson Investigations, Fire Prevention, Fire Standards and Training, and Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis (the Arson Laboratory) -- as well as the Florida Fire Incident Reporting Section within the Director's Office. He will also be responsible for leading the management and staffing of firefighters and search and rescue teams at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in the event of a disaster or state emergency.
“As one of the past Presidents of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, I think Chief Halas will be a great addition to the State Fire Marshal team in Tallahassee,” said Nat Ippolito, President of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. “I will look forward to working with him to make sure that Florida’s fire and emergency service professionals have what they need to best protect our citizens.”
“It is very important that Florida’s firefighters have someone with Chief Halas’ qualifications and history of achievements in the State Fire Marshal’s office,” said Bob Carver, President of Florida Professional Firefighters. “I know that he will be an effective liaison between the state and local fire departments throughout Florida.”
Chief Halas is a former President and current member of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association. He also serves as a representative to the Florida State Domestic Security Oversight Council. Chief Halas received his Associate’s Degree in Fire Science Technology from Manatee Community College, graduating Summa Cum Laude, and received a Master of Science and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from National-Louis University.
The Department of Financial Services is continuing to host and participate in numerous workshops to help struggling Florida homeowners as part of Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative.
An event with U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler will be held from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. on Monday, April 13 at South County Civic Center, 16700 Jog Rd., in Delray Beach. Consumers will hear about foreclosure options and related matters such as short sales from experts in the foreclosure process including HUD-approved credit counselors, attorney networks, and a short sales realtor. The Florida Department of Financial Services will present information about homeowner strategies to save on insurance premiums, such as mitigation. Several agencies will have booths with free important information for homeowners.
U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor will sponsor an event in Tampa on Saturday, April 18, at Middleton High School starting at 9 a.m. The event, which DFS is assisting with, will educate homeowners about the foreclosure process, bringing resources to help deal with the crisis. DFS will provide free Financial Freedom workbooks, which help families with creating a family financial budget, resume building and looking at various ways to save on expenses. DFS will also do unclaimed property checks.
In Fort Myers on Saturday, April 18, U.S. Senator Mel Martinez will sponsor an event at Edison State College, 8099 College Parkway. The event, beginning at 10 a.m., will bring together lenders, including Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, HUD-approved housing counselors and the Florida Department of Financial Services to provide financial and insurance information to struggling homeowners. DFS will provide free Financial Freedom workbooks, which help families create a family financial budget, resume building and looks at various ways families can save on expenses. DFS will also do unclaimed property checks.
For more information about CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help Initiative, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp/.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge P. Kevin Davey ordered the Hollywood-based Coral Insurance Company, a residential property insurance provider in Florida, into receivership for the purpose of rehabilitation, effective today. The Department of Financial Services has been named as the receiver.
Coral Insurance has approximately 11,750 homeowner policyholders and has reached an agreement with Security First Insurance Company and the MacNeill Group, Inc. to provide replacement coverage to policyholders. Homeowners with homes valued at under $1 million will have the option to get coverage with Security First, while homeowners with homes valued at $1 million or more will have the option of coverage with the MacNeill Group, Inc. Coral Insurance policyholders are urged to contact their agents to discuss their coverage options.
“Our top priority is to help make the coverage transition for policyholders as smooth as possible for Floridians,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. “I urge all Coral Insurance policyholders to contact their agents and determine the best option as this transition takes place.”
Coral Insurance Company consented to being placed in receivership for rehabilitation. The company stopped writing new coverage in early March and stopped writing renewal coverage after March 29, 2009.
Questions regarding Coral policy and coverage issues should be directed to the Coral Insurance Company at 1-800-875-8330, option 4. Claim issues should be directed to Coral Insurance Company at 1-866-478-2379.
For any other questions, consumers can call the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-882-3054. The rehabilitation order and other related information can be found at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Receiver/.
June 1 marks the beginning of this year's hurricane season, so it is time to review your insurance. Homeowners, renters and flood policies help protect your valuable property in case of a natural disaster. This week's flooding in north Florida is a reminder that weather-related emergencies can happen when least expected.
Flood insurance, a federal program, can be purchased through a property/casualty insurance agent and needs a 30-day window to be in force. Read more at http://www.fema.gov/business/nfip/.
Hurricanes give us warning, but not usually in time to make insurance policy changes or additions. Review your policy with your agent or company to make sure that the coverage amounts are current, and that all your personal property is covered. Riders to cover special items may be worth the extra premium.
If you rent - apartment, townhouse or single family home - protect your personal property with renters insurance - a reasonably priced coverage in case of loss or damage.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners - the NAIC - recommends: Shop Around — Be sure to compare rates from other companies, making sure to compare plans that offer the same coverage. Protect Yourself — use the Consumer Information Source (CIS) to compare your company's consumer complaint ratio to that of others in the industry. Review Annually — Each year, check your policies to make sure that they continue to meet your changing needs.
April is a great month to examine your home and landscape for hurricane-proofing. Make appointments with pool cage inspectors, landscapers, and arborists over the next six weeks if your property needs some hurricane-proofing. While we all hope that Florida escapes serious storm activity, a few advance preparations can save costly repairs in the aftermath.
Here are a few easy ways to save trouble, expense, and trauma during the summer storm season:
1. Check for lose pavers in sidewalks or pool decks, and re-affix them so they won’t become projectiles during high winds.
2. Haul away dead branches, refuse, and other accumulated debris that could disperse throughout your neighborhood during a hurricane.
3. Examine the canopies of any open-grown live oak trees. If their branches have grown into a tight ball, you may wish to consider pruning them. Oaks growing in a forest with other oaks are very hurricane-tolerant, but open-grown oaks are only resistant if the wind can pass through their horizontal branching structures. Such oaks grow overly dense canopies which make them more prone to breaking or toppling in high winds.
4. Inspect and tighten all the brackets and screws of your pool enclosure.
5. Create a plan for moving all garden furniture, bird feeders and other items into the garage or shed.
6. Check window casings to ensure that they close properly, and that all seals are intact.
7. If you have hurricane shutters, test that they are in working order.