Last week FIRM board members led representatives from Citizens Property Insurance Corporation on a three-day field trip through Monroe County.  FIRM has long said that rigorous construction methods in the Keys are not reflected in the Citizens windstorm rates. The field trip offered a firsthand look at the resiliency of our residential and commercial buildings.

Monroe County, which has the strictest building code in Florida, continues to see the highest windstorm premium rates in the state. Approximately 95% of all windstorm policies in Monroe County are with Citizens, the state’s insurer of last resort, because there are few, if any,  private insurance options. Since 2003, Monroe County has paid more than $850 million more to Citizens in premiums than claims paid.

Citizens President and CEO Tim Cerio, who stepped into the leadership position in January, 2023, was among the Citizens representatives who participated in the county-wide tour. The tour provided an opportunity for Cerio to better understand the unique challenges Monroe County residents face, and it laid the groundwork for a positive working relationship between FIRM and Citizens.

The tour included five affordable housing and three private residences in various stages of construction. All properties are built to withstand 200 mph windspeeds and are elevated above base flood elevation.

FIRM President Mel Montagne and other board members were joined by State Rep. Jim Mooney, County Mayor Craig Cates, County Commissioners Michelle Lincoln and Holly Raschein, Marathon Mayor Luis Gonzalez, Marathon City Manager George Garrett, and Key West Assistant City Manager Brandy Lewis. The unified message is that Monroe County’s ever-increasing cost of insurance is unwarranted and is contributing to the lack of affordable housing.

Citizens representatives met with stakeholders from the County’s largest employers in roundtable discussions to share the challenges businesses face in hiring and retaining staff. Healthcare workers, first responders, educators, utility workers and military personnel are finding it increasingly unaffordable to live in the communities they serve.

Monroe Countians and all Floridians are feeling the brunt of the insurance rates more acutely since the Florida Legislature imposed the requirement that Citizens windstorm policyholders must also purchase flood insurance.

Homes elevated 10, 12, and 15 feet above base flood level and which would have been Preferred Risk Properties with rates under $1,000 under FEMA’s previous rating system are seeing premiums of $5,000 to $6,000 under the Risk Rating 2.0 methodology.

FIRM President Mel Montagne is hopeful that the meetings identified opportunities to provide relief to Monroe County residents. “The groundwork was laid for a positive relationship going forward,” explained Montagne. “We will continue to face challenges, but at least now the leadership at Citizens has a better understanding of why we have argued that year-after-year rate increases are unfair to Monroe County.”

On August 22, state regulators ordered Citizens to scale back the rate increases it proposed at the Citizens rate hearing in June. Montagne along with FIRM Vice President Joe Walsh attended the rate hearing and vehemently opposed any rate increases for Monroe County.

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