Rebuilding Lafitte a year after Hurricane Ida

Eddie Barbosa measures for a railing at the Habitat for Humanity home for Corinne and Darrell Percle in Jean Lafitte on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. Habitat is leading rebuild projects in the Lafitte area to help 40 to 60 families a year after Hurricane Ida swamping the region. 

A grant program aimed at improving the quality of roof construction in Louisiana could begin accepting applications in October, creating an avenue for homeowners to get modest discounts on their property insurance.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said at a news conference Wednesday that the $30 million approved for the Fortified Homes grant program was the highlight of the legislative session.

“The long-term thing that really is important is the Fortified Homes program because that’s the answer to living in south Louisiana — any coastal state for that matter,” Donelon said. “(Because) we are the bullseye of the target for hurricanes.”

The program will allow homeowners to receive as much as $10,000 to retrofit their roofs to the Fortified standard, which will make their homes stronger in the face of future hurricanes. That means the money set aside by the Legislature could provide grants to at least 3,000 homeowners.

Created by the industry-backed Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, the more robust standard is designed to keep the roof on a house and thus diminish the likelihood of a large insurance claim.

Certified builders install the roofs; the quality of their work is verified by a third party. At the end of the process, homeowners receive a certificate that insurers accept in exchange for a discount.

Louisiana borrowed the idea from Alabama, where a similar effort has been going for nearly a decade. There, more than 35,000 homes have been built or upgraded to the Fortified standard.

In an attempt to replicate Alabama’s success, Louisiana lawmakers introduced bills this year that would carve out new benefits to homeowners if they have a Fortified roof.

A law based on a bill introduced by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, would require insurers to change existing policies so that homeowners who file a claim can get a Fortified roof if it needs to be replaced. Insurers will have to offer the endorsement, or policy upgrade, for new or renewing policies.

Another bill that was passed in 2021 allowed insurers to offer premium discounts for residential and commercial property owners who build or retrofit structures to the Fortified standard. A bill sponsored by Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, will make the discounts a requirement instead of optional. 

“From the outside looking in — to insurance companies around the country looking at Louisiana, we’ve really stepped up our building codes,” said state Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who heads the Senate Insurance Committee. “It shows them that we recognize that we have a problem and we’re doing something about it.” 

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