The U.S. is currently experiencing the most major disasters since NOAA began keeping track in 1980. The disasters, which have included hurricanes, floods, tornados, and hail, collectively killed over 250 people and caused more than $57 billion worth of property damage. They are also causing or exacerbating existing health problems in many regions. Low-income renters and homeowners are disproportionately affected by these disasters.
While homeowners struggle to recover and prepare themselves for more severe weather conditions, they are now faced with a crisis. Insurance coverage is disappearing. This could lead to a financial collapse of families and entire communities. It may also have an impact on mortgages and the construction industry. The mounting losses from claims related to disasters have led several large insurers in California, Colorado Florida and Louisiana to cease writing new insurance policies.
Many states are seeing double-digit increases in premiums, increased deductibles, and reduced coverage. In the absence of private insurers, the residual market (state-chartered, nonprofit insurers) is forced to fill the gap at a level for which it was not intended. In the past three years, costs have increased and caused an increase in uninsured home owners.
Only by addressing our risk problem can we fix the insurance crisis. Most homes were constructed in America to code that didn’t anticipate today’s rapidly growing extreme weather. There are many ways to make these houses more resilient against climate change, but there’s no single solution. As we saw in Alabama, investing in climate resilience requires creative thinking, innovative financing, and collaboration.
Alabama’s Strengthen Alabama Homes program was launched over a decade before. SAH offers grants of up to 10,000 dollars to homeowners who install Fortified Roofs(tm), which are a standard of construction based on years of testing and research by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. It has been shown that Fortified can prevent or reduce the losses caused by hurricanes, severe storms with high winds and hail, as well as tornadoes. Hurricanes are responsible for most of the weather-related disasters that have cost $363 billion since 1980. They also cause the greatest amount of damage, $1.3 trillion, and the largest number deaths (6,890). Insurance companies are well aware of Fortified.
SAH has a far-reaching impact that goes beyond the grant recipients. Over 54,000 Fortified Roofs are installed in the U.S., with approximately 48,000 in Alabama. However, only 6,500 of these roofs were funded through grants. Fortified roofs have gained popularity due to the SAH’s success and their effectiveness. Alabama has trained roofing contractors and inspectors who educate homeowners on Fortified. Entire subdivisions are now being constructed with Fortified roofing.
After Hurricane Sally, in 2019, Fortified homeowners who had Fortified roofs reported minimal to no damage on their roofs. This was unlike the neighbors without Fortified roofs. Alabama’s commitment to resilience allows it to keep a competitive and stable home insurance market.
North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana have also created grant programs modeled after SAH. Grants were awarded in October last year. Other states are considering similar efforts.
Another example of collaboration and innovation was in Lockport in Louisiana where a 35-home development built according to Fortified Standards, had been 90% completed by the time Hurricane Ida hit in August 2021. Les Maisons de Bayou Lafourche was barely damaged by the storm, which caused massive damage to other properties along the coast. The Louisiana Office of Community Development, Louisiana Homes Corporation and the Louisiana Office of Community Development provided a grant to support this project. A majority of these homes will be reserved for those earning between 50% and 60% of the median area income. Veterans, people with disabilities and senior citizens are given priority for residency.
SAH and Les Maisons, which are aimed at reducing the risk of weather-related disasters and instabilities on insurance markets, show what is possible. The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates that mitigation can save up to 13 cents for every dollar invested. We should invest in resilience instead of spending millions of dollars every year on disaster recovery. This means strengthening building codes to incorporate affordable, proven climate-resilient standard like Fortified. This means funding for retrofitting existing homes and providing incentives will be dramatically increased.
To change the way that we conduct business and prioritize resilience, it is necessary to form partnerships between public and the private sector, including the state insurance regulators and state legislatures as well as public and the private insurance providers. Home builders, contractors, and homeowners are also required to work together. The philanthropic sector can play an important role in promoting innovative approaches for building and retrofitting houses that will protect homeowners’ health and wealth, particularly those most at risk from climate-related damage. The first step in stabilizing the insurance market is to strengthen homes, communities, and families. Now is the time to act. We need to know what to do.
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