— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Some of the money that Alabama receives from BP over the Gulf oil spill could end up helping coastal residents make their homes more resistant to wind damage from hurricanes.
That is one of the recommendations from a commission that Gov. Robert Bentley appointed to study the availability and rising cost of homeowners insurance. Bentley received the recommendations Wednesday and said that is one recommendation he wants to implement quickly.
The Affordable Homeowners Insurance Committee proposed setting aside $100 million. Bentley said he hasn't decided on an amount, but he wants to use BP money to award grants to residents of Alabama's two coastal counties, Baldwin and Mobile, who can't afford to make their homes safer.
Commission Chairman Tim Russell, the probate judge of Baldwin County, said making a typical 2,000-square-foot home more resistant to high winds costs $5,000 to $7,000. He said it includes installing tougher roofing, tying rafters to ceiling joists, and improvements to doors and window. He said people who make the improvements can already get discounts of up to 35 percent on the part of their homeowners insurance that covers wind damage.
Bentley said he would also move to implement the commission's recommendation to create an Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research at a state university. It would develop innovative approaches to solving insurance problems.
The committee's other recommendations included enacting tougher building codes, which could lead to less damage and lower rates, and adopting minimum qualifications for building code officials. They also recommended pursuing alternative insurance policies, such as high-deductible policies with low premiums.
A group representing homeowners in Baldwin and Mobile counties, the Homeowners Hurricane Insurance Initiative, said the recommendations won't fix the problem of getting affordable homeowners insurance, and more work needs to be done.
"My door remains open to them," Bentley said.
Bentley, who owns a vacation home on the Baldwin County coast, promised to create a commission during his 2010 campaign for governor. He initially created it to address rising homeowner insurance rates in the two coastal counties following hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005, but he expanded it statewide after tornadoes in April 2011 killed more than 250 people in central and north Alabama.
Russell said the tornadoes have not had the same effect on rates in the northern two-thirds of Alabama that the hurricanes did on the coast, but it takes a couple of years before major disasters affect rates.
State Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling said the availability of homeowners insurance is improving because his department has approved seven new companies to operate in Alabama and two more are seeking approval.