For Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian, immediate concerns may be finding an air-conditioned place to sleep, getting hot food and water, or beginning the tedious task of filing insurance claims. But if the aftermath of previous hurricanes is any indicator, Florida’s residents, businesses and governments — especially in the Southwest — will have to deal with a different state. For example, Tammy and Joe Caryl, who lived in a Punta Gorda-area trailer destroyed by Ian, moved from Flint, Michigan, a decade ago to enjoy a modest, sunny life. They only paid $600 a month for rent. So far, the cheapest unit they’ve found on the Facebook marketplace costs $1,600. They fear having to return to Michigan. “My husband’s dream was to live here,” said Tammy Caryl, 57. “We’d like to stay here, but I’m not sure it’s feasible.”
For Floridians already suffering from the high cost of home insurance, rates could skyrocket. Getting financing to build and rebuild in regions prone to wind and flooding is likely to be more difficult. Local governments may consider stricter building codes against the backdrop of rising sea levels and climate change. Construction will surge to rebuild the thousands of structures demolished by winds, storm surges and floods, but low-income and middle-class workers, priced out of coastal regions, could be displaced inland — or out of Florida — worsening an already acute labor shortage.
Here are some of the ways Hurricane Ian is expected to change Florida, according to experts:
PROPERTY INSURANCE PROBLEMS
Florida’s property insurance industry was already in bad shape before Hurricane Ian struck. arrival of hurricane Ian. The sixth property insurer of the year to fail did so on the day Ian became a tropical storm, closing in on the post-Andrew state record of eight insolvent insurance companies. Premiums have skyrocketed to unsustainable levels in recent years. Insurers blame it on fraud and lawsuits, and experts worry that Hurricane Ian’s early — but dire and mounting — financial toll could push the battered market over a cliff.
“This is a test for the entire insurance industry,” Michael Carlson, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF), told the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times last week. “This looks like a huge devastation.”
Early damage estimates vary. Analyst firm Verisk estimated the cost to be between $42 billion and $57 billion. Accuweather, a private weather company, puts the devastation at more than $100 million.
Record-breaking storm surge from Hurricane Ian likely means federal flood insurance, not private property insurance, will foot the bill for most of the billions in losses: CoreLogic, a analytics firm, estimated that Floridians could have more than $10 billion in uninsured flood losses. Few people in the storm-affected regions had flood insurance, which is only necessary if you have a mortgage and live in a federally designated flood zone. That means the financial burden may fall on FEMA. The spate of bankrupt insurance companies has driven tens of thousands of Floridians to the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens. Earlier this year it topped 1 million policies, closing in on its disastrous record of 1.4 million in 2011.
Citizens, the state’s largest insurer, said Wednesday it expects between $2.3 billion and $2.6 billion in insured losses and more than 225,000 claims, numbers that are sure to rise. Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said more than 34,000 claims have already been filed at the company’s two disaster response centers in Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. Despite the growing number of policies and claims, Citizens appears to be in solid financial shape, with more than $12 billion in various accounts to cover claims. “They think they can handle the situation,” Gov. Ron DeSantis told the media after the storm.
Lawsuits and policy disputes will take years to die down, but in the meantime, premiums are almost certain to rise
This could be due to the increased cost of reinsurance (insurance for insurance companies), which often spikes after a storm, or a tax levied on all Floridians to cover the cost of unpaid claims from a failed insurance company.
INDUSTRIES CAN CHANGE AND SUFFER LOSSES
Southwest Florida is known for tourism, drawing visitors to its pristine beaches, seafood restaurants and bars in barrier island communities like Sanibel, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach. But before Ian, Southwest Florida had already seen major economic changes, attracting more warehousing and logistics companies related to online retail, smaller manufacturers, remote workers and healthcare industries, experts say. “I think it’s going to reshape Southwest Florida. Perhaps the hurricane will accelerate some of the changes that were already taking place,” said Amir Ferreira Neto, director of the Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Regional Economic Research Institute.
The retail, leisure and hospitality sectors will suffer the biggest losses, at least for now
Given the extent of the damage to some of the beach attractions, resorts, restaurants and facilities, such as Sanibel’s Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve, tourist spots are going to be out of action for a while. In some cases, depending on how the rebuild goes—and that largely depends on receipt of insurance funds—they could be out of service for a year or more. “Most of the entertainment and hospitality jobs in both counties are closer to the coast, where most of the damage and economic impact occurred,” said Edward “Ned” Murray, deputy director of the Center. Metropolitan Jorge M. Pérez of Florida International University.
John Lynch doesn’t know when he will reopen his business, Blue Dog Bar and Grill. The Matlacha building, the colorful artsy community on the road connecting Pine Island, still stands, but nothing inside has survived the onslaught of the storm surge. “It can be a lovely place again,” said Lynch, 59. “But it’s going to lose the flavor that was there for decades and decades.”
Professional service providers will also be hit hard
“Imagine you were a dentist who was operating on Sanibel Island with his own practice or any number of service providers of that nature. Obviously, these people are in a very difficult situation, both from a stress standpoint and from a financial standpoint, so we shouldn’t overlook them,” said John Quelch, dean of the Herbert School of Business in New York. the University of Miami. Quelch said that for people who are now homeless, displaced or financially ruined, “the last thing on their minds or on their minds right now is getting their annual dental checkup, for example.”
Florida’s huge agricultural industry will also be affected
Hurricane Andrew in 1992 helped decimate the South Florida lime industry. In 2017, Irma damaged avocado trees in South Miami-Dade; the following year, production fell by 30%. Ian’s impact will be felt in the rural citrus groves of Southwest Florida, depending on how strongly the winds have dropped fruit that would normally be harvested in the coming weeks. Highlands County Citrus Growers Association (HCCGA), which represents growers in counties like Charlotte, DeSoto and Hardee, estimates that nearly 80% of their trees have lost fruit.
“Tree farming is a huge factor that will be affected and it will take several years to recover,” said Trent Blare, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of Florida (UF). Vegetable crops, to be planted in the next two months, may also be affected, depending on the state of the land and whether the flood waters have receded. “Our growers have had problems in recent years with produce coming from Mexico,” Blare said. “It may be much more difficult.” THE COMPLICATED CONSTRUCTION BOOM There is no doubt that the construction industry will be booming.
Although Lee and Collier Counties have strong construction employment numbers—Lee 36,300 jobs, Collier 20,400—Southwest Florida’s post-Ian rebuilding comes against the backdrop of a challenging economic landscape. Across the country, there is a shortage of construction workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 442,000 unfilled construction jobs in August, the highest figure for the month in more than two decades of tracking statistics. Construction workers may flock to Florida from other parts of the country, but the projects won’t necessarily be ready to go. Engineers have yet to determine whether the buildings should be restored or completely replaced. Existing development projects may be postponed or stopped altogether. In some hard-hit areas, local governments may first consider whether to enforce building codes, a process that can take time.
There are still problems in the supply chain – for example, the price of concrete remains high – and owners have to process insurance claims and obtain financing to cover the additional costs, which is not an easy task with interest rates through the roof due to inflation. “After the storm, crews move quickly, putting up blue tarps on roofs, cleaning up debris and doing specialized jobs,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). “But after that, it becomes a longer job to get it replaced with a permanent roof or other types of repairs done.”
IS IT TIME TO MAKE THE BUILDING CODE STRONGER?
After Hurricane Andrew hit Miami-Dade in 1992, the tragic consequences of decades of shoddy and hasty construction were exposed. By 2002, most of Florida had adopted a much stricter building code to protect homes and businesses from hurricane-force winds. But while newer homes withstood Ian’s 150-mph winds relatively well, the storm underscored what building and resiliency experts have warned for years: The building code isn’t strong enough to keep people safe from storm surge, the leading cause of death in hurricanes. “We’ve had so much wind damage primarily from the experience of recent hurricanes that we’ve lost sight of the impact of storm surge. It’s never happened like this in anyone’s life,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH).
But unlike high-wind construction, where roofs, windows, and wall-to-roof connections can make a big difference, storm surge is a much tougher opponent to combat. Water is much heavier and more damaging than wind, as seen in Ian’s damage.
“There is no easy answer to storm surge. It’s a very difficult problem and challenge for our generation,” said Anne Cope, chief engineer at the Insurance Institute for Home and Business Safety (IBHS). “You can build taller and stronger or you can go back.” Building taller and stronger isn’t appealing to profit-seeking builders or home buyers facing an affordable housing crisis, so it’s a tough sell even in the best of times, and building far from the water would be less lucrative in most places in Florida, with the exception of the Florida Keys. But Chapman-Henderson, who has been advocating for strengthening Florida’s building code since Hurricane Andrew, said she is hopeful that scientists and the business community will innovate, just as they did with the wind code. “Back in the day, everyone said, ‘You can’t build for strong winds, they would be like a bunker. They’ll be expensive and ugly,’ but we did it,” she said. “What we can’t do is also put things like this aside and say it can’t be done.”
AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND MIGRATION
Florida is no stranger to migration after a powerful hurricane. Hurricane Andrew caused an unprecedented migration to Broward County. The devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico prompted thousands of people to move to Florida, with many settling in the Orlando area. Floridians also relocated after Hurricanes Charley and Michael. Another exodus is expected after Ian, but this time it will be complicated by an affordable housing shortage that was already hitting the state. “Unfortunately, the poor are going to bear most of the burden. Many people with low incomes are being expelled from the region and have to go further inland, further north,” said Ferreira Neto, of the lFGCU. “As we rebuild, we have to think: is there anything that can be done about affordability?” Ian has likely destroyed or severely damaged many older, relatively affordable homes, including mobile homes, that have existed for decades in parts of Lee, Collier, and Charlotte counties—those homes cannot be replaced for the same prices they were. they were built; research—from Miami-Dade after Andrew and from Galveston after Hurricane Ike in 2008—shows that lower-income neighborhoods take longer to recover.
Flight attendant Michele Reidy, 56, has lived in the Iona area of Lee County, between Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach, for about 30 years. The interior of her upstairs apartment was ruined because the door was blown open during the storm. She hopes her employer, American Airlines, will relocate her somewhere inland, maybe Arizona. “I’ll probably be gone after this,” Reidy said. “I’ve been here a while, so it might be time.” Jennifer Fagenbaum, executive director of the nonprofit Family Promise of South Sarasota County (FPSSC), said her clients have been seeing average rents between $2,000 and $2,500 for two-bedroom units and more than $2,800 for three-bedroom units.
Higher demand means higher prices, she said, though some units may be released by seasonal “snowbirds” that choose to winter elsewhere. “We will work with our partner agencies, as well as the county and cities, to do the best we can to meet the needs, but there will be many families left without housing options. Currently, we have been receiving between 30 and 50 calls a month from people who need help with housing, but, with no affordable housing to put up and insufficient funds to assist everyone, we struggle to help them,” she said. “After Irma, our calls for services increased 300% in the following months. I hope that is equal or greater for Ian.”
FUNDING WILL BE A CHALLENGE
Migration may be spurred on by another issue: building and rebuilding will not be cheap. Jesse Keenan, associate professor of sustainable real estate at Tulane University, said how Florida’s government and homeowners build and rebuild will be driven by capital and financial markets, which are wary of climate change and the increased danger to communities that for decades have been built on low-lying, hazardous wetlands. “The economy is trying to find safer places to settle and reside and this is only going to speed up that process,” Keenan said. Lenders can impose higher risk premiums on people who want to live in areas considered more vulnerable to weather-related damage. Similarly, local governments that need to rebuild infrastructure will turn to bond markets that will impose premiums for climate risk. Government aid from agencies like FEMA is often inadequate and takes a long time to come by, experts said. The bottom line, according to Keenan, is that a lack of capital and development momentum will force low- and middle-income people who have moved to the coast back to the states they came from; in the case of Southwest Florida, many transplant recipients come from the Midwest. “The very rich will be able to rebuild and recover,” Keenan said. “Those are the people who don’t need a mortgage and insurance to build on the coast.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.