Vol 6 No. 47 - August 16, 2006

Insurance costs, cancellations hit homeowners and renters
By Cindy Lane
sun staff writer

HOLMES BEACH - Businesses aren't the only victims of the insurance crisis, according to renters and homeowners who participated in a business insurance forum in Holmes Beach last week.

"We are not only losing our businesses, we're losing our homes," said Don Schroder, chairman of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, whose personal insurance has been cancelled, even though he's made no claims.

Add rising property taxes to the problem and there's an economic tsunami sweeping people off the Island, he said.

Sheila Hurst, president of the Save Anna Maria citizens group, and a renter in Holmes Beach, now pays $1,000 a month in rent, up from $650 a month, because of an insurance increase.

"It needs to be addressed at every single level," she said.

On a larger scale, The Tampa Housing Authority, which houses 21,000 residents in federally-subsidized homes, is facing a premium hike from $1.2 million to $2.6 million for its federally-required insurance, spokesman Martin Williams said, a cost increase that can't be passed on to the low-income tenants.

"At this rate of increase, we can start to consider forgetting affordable housing in Florida," he said to state Rep. Bill Galvano, who called the meeting. "We are asking for a reprieve. Can public housing agencies be exempted?"

Senior citizens on fixed Social Security incomes face a problem similar to poor residents of public housing.

A 99-year-old resident of a Sarasota condominium complex gets $700 a month in Social Security. The condo is facing a premium increase from $18,000 to $43,000 a year, which will hike individual condo dues by about $100 a month, condo president Regina Smith said.

"Where will that $100 a month come from?" she asked.

Anna Maria resident Bill Iseman found himself caught in a different bind - he can't get homeowners insurance, which covers fire, theft and other hazards, unless he has wind insurance, which he can't get at all.

"At least give us the option of getting homeowners insurance," he said.

Joe Callaghan of Holmes Beach suggests making insurance premiums tax deductible for homeowners, anything to offset the increases.

Sandy Mattick operates the Pine Avenue General Store in Anna Maria, and lives in the back. Since her insurance policy was not renewed, she's without coverage for both her home and business.

Her mortgage is with the previous owner of the property, she said, who does not require her to carry insurance. People with bank mortgages are not so fortunate and would be foreclosed on if they lost their residential insurance.

And who would buy a home knowing it can't be insured? others asked.

Some of Phil Baker's clients already have defaulted on their mortgages.

"We've had real estate transactions terminated," said Baker, president of the Manatee County Independent Insurance Agents Association.

"The residential real estate market is gone," said Gulfport City Manager Tom Brobeil, whose neighbors are receiving non-renewal notices because their wood frame homes were built before 1995.

"It's a historic community," he said, with a now-uninsurable hotel on the National Register of Historic Places.

It's an easy equation, he says - taxes and insurance premiums that are more than principal and interest payments equals "no deal."

"This crisis is stealing our property," Anna Maria resident and businessman Randall Stover said. "It's literally running us out of house, home and business."

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