By Brie Hutchinson
This opinion piece has been translated into English from the Orlando El Sentinel. Click here to read the original Spanish version.
Hurricane season is upon us once again, and while we all know that preparing our homes for a hurricane is important, many Floridians are unable to do so because of the upfront costs. To their credit, many local governments across the state have stepped in to help, enabling Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to be made available to local homeowners to cover the costs of storm preparation.
PACE financing enables homeowners to make hurricane-hardening and energy efficiency improvements, offering low financing rates with payment made through a homeowner’s property taxes. PACE makes hurricane preparedness affordable for a broad range of homeowners, many of whom may not have access to more traditional financing options. PACE can also fill the gap where traditional lending programs fail for Latinx and Black homeowners. Homeowners of color can face higher hurdles for mortgages, higher interest rates, and racially-biased filters.
Many Florida city and county elected officials have already approved PACE as an option; others are being encouraged by homeowners to make it available in their municipalities. I urge these leaders to look at the many ways PACE is a boon to homeowners and to our communities.
The need to prepare homes for hurricanes has never been greater. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast an above average hurricane season for the Atlantic coast, predicting 15-21 named storms, including 7-10 hurricanes. And 3-5 of those could be Category 3 or higher, meaning sustained winds above 110 miles an hour. There’s an almost 50 percent chance of a major hurricane hitting somewhere on the Florida coastline before November.
And hurricane season is now starting earlier than ever. The overwhelming scientific consensus:climate change is producing stronger storms, more rainfall and more destructive storm surges. So, investing in home upgrades to withstand storms is a no-brainer.
Making property improvements to protect against hurricane damage can save homeowners money on their home insurance premiums – or make them insurable in cases where insurance companies have rescinded coverage pending upgrades – in addition to saving on repair costs in the event their home is hit by a storm. It can also make preparing for an oncoming hurricane less stressful.
The best way to prepare a home for hurricanes is to install – ahead of time! – high-impact storm windows (or less-expensive, still highly-effective storm shutters and hurricane screens, which need to be put up and taken down); high-impact storm doors; and wind-resistant roofing. PACE financing can be used to help pay for all these improvements, among other protective measures.As a bonus, storm windows and doors are often more energy efficient, saving the homeowner money on their energy bills. In addition to helping the property owner, storm-hardening projects benefit communities as a whole because there is less overall damage in the wake of a storm, meaning less community-wide clean-up.
Local policymakers are right to review how new finance programs like PACE operate in our communities, and if there are consumer protection issues that need to be addressed. However, because of the way PACE financing is structured, it already offers the highest level of protections of any home improvement financing product. From price controls to contractor training, to live phone conversations with homeowners to confirm they understand what they’re signing, PACE providers ensure their consumers are well-educated and protected.
Like any financing product, PACE doesn’t fit all homeowners’ circumstances. Because payments are made through property taxes, the homeowner often pays in one or two lump sums a year, so they need to plan for that. If a homeowner sells their house, they may need to pay off the cost of the financing at the time of sale. Just like any financial agreement, it is important for consumers to take personal responsibility and understand in advance what they are agreeing to. PACE regulations make sure homeowners are provided with the information they need and that there are backstops in place to confirm they understand before any commitment is made.
PACE has a track record of improving a community’s housing stock, financing energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades along with hurricane-hardening improvements. And by stimulating home renovation activity, PACE boosts local economies and spurs the creation of local, good-paying jobs.
With the need for hurricane preparedness becoming more urgent from year to year, our local leaders should expand availability of PACE financing programs so that more homeowners can protect their homes – and their financial well-being.
Brie Hutchinson is the Owner of Trident Association Management, a community management firm based in Orlando that services townhome and single-family homeowners associationsacross Orange, Seminole. Polk and Brevard Counties.