Opinion Editorial by Rep. Randy Fine (R – Palm Bay)

Orlando Sentinel

November 13, 2019

As another hurricane season comes to an end, many Floridians are already thinking about how they can be better prepared for next year. As we’ve seen too often in recent years, hurricanes can threaten our state at a moment’s notice — and destroy the homes and disrupt the lives of our families.

As someone whose own home was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016 because of water intrusion, I understand the upheaval that kind of loss can create — not just in the loss of possessions, but also the stress the loss of memories and a complete disruption of life can place on a family.

Homeowners want the peace of mind that their home or business will be able to safely weather the next storm, and the state of Florida should do everything possible to make it easier for them to do so.

Today, more Floridians are making the safe and smart decision to invest in the hardening of their homes using proven resources like the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program to get access to safe, affordable financing to better protect their property and their family.

Buying a home is central to living the American dream, and it makes sense that homeowners want to protect the investment they’ve worked so hard to obtain. For most families, their home is their largest and most important asset. And when they buy that house in Florida, ensuring it is protected against hurricanes is foremost on their minds.

But finding financing to make often-expensive improvements can be difficult and costly. In Florida, PACE offers access to affordable, fixed-cost financing for property owners to make hurricane protection upgrades to their homes, such as impact doors and windows, reinforced roof tie-downs and back-up generator power that make a big difference come hurricane season.

PACE works by providing access to financing for specific qualifying home improvements, like hurricane protection and energy efficiency upgrades, which are then paid off through a voluntary non-ad valorem assessment on the homeowner’s annual property tax bill. This mechanism enables local governments to attract private capital, without the need for public money, at low interest rates and longer terms, resulting in an affordable repayment plan for their constituents who choose to take advantage of the program.

Bank loans and unsecured credit cards can charge much higher — and constantly changing — interest rates on short-term loans, sometimes even with pre-payment penalties. But PACE provides consumer protections that far exceed what traditional financing offers in the marketplace today. And because of its super-priority status as a voluntary assessment on the tax bill, consumers are able to access credit for these important improvements that they might not be able to obtain elsewhere.

With PACE, contractors are vetted before the project starts and receive no payment until the property owner confirms that the improvement project is complete and to their satisfaction. In Florida, PACE also employs a “know-before-you-owe” policy that includes clear, comprehensive and thorough disclosures, with explanations of all financing terms to confirm they understand the financing before the project begins. In other words, the money is targeted for specific, vetted improvements — this is not a loan where the money could be diverted to other purposes.

With these strong protections, it’s no surprise that more than 40,000 families in over 170 communities throughout Florida have used PACE to improve the resiliency and efficiency of their homes. Not only are these families saving money on insurance premiums and electric bills, but they have obtained a peace of mind that their home is stronger and better able to withstand the next storm.

Today, as dangerous storms increasingly threaten communities across Florida, we need to keep working to harden our homes. Resiliency and hurricane preparedness resources like PACE are providing many of our families the critical financing access they need to make sure their businesses and homes are strong. With tens of thousands of Floridians already seeing the benefits of this good program, it’s clear that PACE is working in the Sunshine State and will only continue to build upon its positive impact in the years to come.

State Rep. Randy Fine represents Brevard County in District 53.

Copyright © 2019, Orlando Sentinel