Many homeowners near South Carolina’s coast were left to deal with significant property damage in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Now, early in 2017’s hurricane season, which began in June and runs through November, there are options for coastal South Carolinians who want to prepare for storm damage. One of them is the South Carolina Safe Home Program, a grant program operated by the South Carolina Department of Insurance to help offset the cost of home alterations that mitigate storm-related damages.
“SC Safe Home was created to try to help consumers and citizens of South Carolina, especially those living in coastal areas, to strengthen their homes, and better protect them against storms and severe winds,” said Ann Roberson, who directs SC Safe Home in addition to her role as Public Information Officer for the DOI.
Roberson promoted SC Safe Home at the Bluffton Storm Ready Expo last month. The DOI hosted this Beaufort County event, which also featured a variety of other vendors, all offering storm readiness resources and strategies. DOI Director Ray Farmer was in attendance as well, and weighed in on the importance of storm damage mitigation as part of a comprehensive storm readiness plan.
“[Hurricane Matthew] caused an awful lot of damage, especially in this area. We had a lot of trees down on homes, and power was out for up to seven days in some areas . . . anything we can do to have our citizens live in a more resilient structure, we need to be doing,” Farmer said.
However, SC Safe Home’s applications are currently closed, and will be until early fall. According to Farmer and Roberson, that’s because the program is being revamped so that more homeowners can receive grants.
“Before, there were some household tax assessment numbers that were kind of boundaries that you had to be within, but now with these new changes, it’s going to open up to more people,” said Roberson. “The hope is that we’ll be able to give more people more grants, so that more people will be protected.”
SC Safe Home was created in 2007 as part of the Omnibus Coastal Property Insurance Reform Act. Since then, the program’s annual budget allocation has remained at around $2.2 million, according to Roberson. This budget is funded by the premium taxes collected from wind and hail pool insurance policies along the coast, but Roberson said that recent legislative changes could open up different avenues for more funding.
“The legislative changes will now allow us to apply for grant funds, say, from federal and private sources, which we were unable to do before,” she said. “We’re really excited about it because we’re hoping that this really allows us to go out and get more money to try to help more people. There are people that want it; we’ve just got to be able to give it to them.”
Expanded funding would be important for an expanded pool of grant recipients, because, as Roberson said, the grant money “goes quickly.” Typically, the $2.2 million runs out before the end of the year.
Since the program’s inception, SC Safe Home has issued over 5,000 grants. Grant recipients have used the money (up to $5,000 for low income applicants) to take a variety of proactive measures to protect their homes from potential damages from storm-related winds, from retrofitting roofs to installing reinforced storm doors and windows.
Importantly, hopeful homeowners must apply for a grant before making changes to their structure; the DOI does not issue grants as reimbursement for previous alterations. The grant won’t be issued without a quote from a certified contractor, a process which does require a fee.
Applications are expected to reopen in early fall with a new, more user-friendly online application process. Homeowners who would like to submit applications request to be notified when they reopen at the SC DOI website.