INTRO: With a hurricane season bearing down daily on Florida’s homeowners and business, there are still no clear-cut answers to insurance rate relief in sight. While some plans in the current legislative session call for caps on sinkhole claims, elegibility requirements to reduce Citizens Insurance risk, and sweetheart deals for private insurers, rate hike requests to homeowners abound. Citizens Insurance, the States “Insurer of last resort� has for many, become the insurer of only resort. In the Tampa Bay area Citizens Insurance has seen a rise in policies from fifteen hundred in 2001 to over one-hundred fifty thousand. Recently, Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush reversed himself, coming out in favor of a bailout by using part of the States surplus to ease a 1.7 billion deficit incurred by the State insurer. Too little and too late say some Bay Area homeowners. WMNF’s Mark Antokas has more. Roll Tape: (Sobbing) “We’re going to loose the money we put into this house…and…we don’t have any money in the bank, cause we used it all, to fix this house up, and to keep it, and now…you cant even sue Citizens for bad faith when they play around with your claim—if anybody looked at our timeline, you could see the games that they play and what they put people through, its not just us, there’s a lot of people, and were still waiting for that money since 2004, you pay that money in good faith thinking you’re going to get it back, and then you’re going to lose everything you have because you cant sell your house, and you cant pay your payments. The bank is going to repossess it and your not going to have anything, and you’re not going to have anyplace to go….I don’t know what were going to…(sob)�

Barbara Polsky and her husband Harold have been in a two-year fight with Citizens Insurance for two unpaid claims due to Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne. The back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 tore off roof sections of their home, causing rain to damage the floors and walls. Harold Polsky and his wife moved to Port Richey from Philadelphia and soon realized that Citizen’s was his only option. They did not have flood coverage. Citizen’s has yet to pay up on their 2004 claim. Roll Tape: “They’re trying to get the case dismissed and they’re trying to say its this and they’re trying to say its that, they’re trying to say it’s a flood, that caused our damage when nobody in this area, nobody in West Pasco County, had flood damage. There was not a single flood claim.�

Asked to describe their living conditions, Polsky outlines the cave-like atmosphere of their home. Roll Tape: “Right now, our house is like a warehouse, there is no carpeting, except for the kitchen, and the bathrooms which have ceramic tile, and our front entryway which had a small area of tile, we are living on bare concrete floors, every room has bare concrete, uhhh, we have almost no insulation in our walls from the water coming down, you get water in your walls, the R-Value disappears.�

The Polsky’s have seen their fire and wind coverage double in cost since 2002. Roll tape: “We went from paying approximately a thousand—for both—for just under a thousand for one, to over a thousand for the other, so it doubled, it literally doubled our premium.� Q.�And apparently, you’re facing another increase now.� A. “Well everyone in the State of Florida is, theres a 16.9% increase that they’re collecting right now which they haven’t even approved yet, but they’re collecting it anyway, theres a 45% increase that they want but they’re putting that off for later in the year, and they just announced another increase that they’re going to ask for, nobody knows how much it is…I mean, 61.9% right now, without this new one which they haven’t disclosed an amount.�

Meanwhile, the Polsky’s home is unsaleable in its present condition. Ron Booth is a Homeland Security Guard at Tampa’s international Airport. He lives in Holiday, in a modest and tidy two-bedroom block home. Booth’s flood insurance went from Seven Hundred Dollars per year to Nine hundred. No problem says Ron. Roll Tape: “I could take that, but when my wind insurance las year went from a private company canceling me from $175 annually, to $1098 with Citizens, that was more than a 30% increase.� Q. “So now whats your total now with Citizens, at this point?� A. “Well with my homeowners insurance which went historically from $240 to $375 and then finally seven years ago it was $425, Ive been cancelled by three private companies after never having a claim on this house because carriers keep leaving Florida, it went up to $1400. So my total package annually went from $1200 to over $3400, nearly tripling.� Q.�How are you going to pay your premiums this year?� A. “The only way I can do it, is by borrowing. I tried to get out of debt, theres no way I can get out of debt. Because of the insurance premium. Calculated out, I’m looking at six thousand dollars annually for this year. That’s more than $500. per month for insurance premiums. “

The Sixty-one year old Booth says because of his insurance burden, he’ll have to work into his eighties. His niece, Carol Booth, is a single mom and works a factory job to make ends meet. Carol says she’s on an insurance merry-go-round and the ticket price increases at every turn. Roll Tape: “Ive gone from Citizens, to private insurance, back to Citizens and now Im back to a private insurance company, Last year I had Citizens, and they said a 7% increase, well a 7% increase would have been $54. I could handle $54, when I got my bill it was $1200.� Q. “And do you have a mortgage?� A. “Yes I do. I’m going to have to, like my uncle, borrow to pay my insurance this year. Or I am going to lose my home. I have already been turned down by two different lenders for the money.�

As further insult, Booth says two days ago Citizens informed her she was no longer eligible for quarterly payments. Roll Tape: “I have to pay the entire premium which this year went to $2300 plus, by next Monday, the entire payment.� Q. “So what happens if you don’t pay it?� A. “I’ll lose my house. I’ll lose my home and my son and I will be out on the street. We’ll be considered part of the Florida homeless population. My sister rented a house, and a house which should have rented for $700 a month, she’s paying $1500 for. Because of the insurance costs.�

While there are many plans afoot to ease the insurance burden to Florida’s homeowners, many say a bailout of Citizens is a quick fix to a broken agency. Too little and too late for many struggling homeowners. Reporting from Pasco County, this is Mark Antokas for WMNF, radio news.

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