Scared Century Village seniors pack meeting

on Florida's insurance crisis

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

Published  August 18, 2006


Several hundred residents of Century Village, a large retirement community west of West Palm Beach, turned out Thursday for a town hall meeting on Florida's escalating property insurance rates.

A few people expressed fear residents could lose their homes if they can't afford dramatically higher prices for windstorm insurance, especially those on fixed incomes.

Some Century Village residents already are paying rate increases of more than 400 percent, but there is relief in sight because of changes in how the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. will assess condo associations, including those in Century Village.

The town hall meeting was sponsored by a contingent of Palm Beach County Democratic legislators, including state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and state Rep. Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, who are seeking a special legislative session to address insurance reform. Klein is running for a congressional seat, and no one qualified in July to run against Taylor, who won another two-year term in the state Legislature.

The legislators urged attendees to write Gov. Jeb Bush and state House and Senate leaders to push for a special session. They referred residents to, a Web site sponsored by the Florida Democratic Party, to learn more about the issue and e-mail legislators.

"There is power in numbers," state Rep. Shelley Vana, D-Lantana, told the audience.

"You are not alone in having these skyrocketing rates," said Vana, who is running for re-election. "As more people get their insurance rates, the pain increases."

State Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Royal Palm Beach, said the Republican-dominated Legislature did not want to take up Democratic insurance reforms this past spring during the legislative session.

"I believe property insurance was the most important issue we had to address this year," said Bucher, who won another two-year term when no one filed to run against her.

She said Citizens is quickly becoming the largest insurer in the state, something it was not designed to be, and that it is not helping keep rates stable. By law, Citizens' rates are higher than those offered by private insurance companies. Major insurers in the state are seeking significant rate increases for homeowners, or already have gotten increases approved.

Roberta Fromkin, who is co-president of her homeowners association in Century Village, said the policy for their nine buildings went from roughly $200,000 to more than $800,000.

She said the owners of the 56 units in her building will pay an extra $110 a month -- on top of the $60 a month they already pay -- from September through December to pay for their Citizens insurance. However, changes just announced by Citizens could lower her association's rate.

George Loewenstein, president of the umbrella group of homeowners associations in Century Village, said all 309 associations in Century Village will be switching over to Citizens by the end of the year and could face significant increases affecting all 7,854 condos in the community. He told residents they could face significant increases and to budget for them.

The hit on their pocketbooks was the biggest concern among the group of retirees. Loewenstein said an estimated 20 percent of the condo owners in Century Village already have difficulty paying their monthly fees, and that a small fund set up to help those people is being rapidly depleted.

Resident Eileen Gordon said some residents already are afraid to spend at the grocery store, knowing they need to save for insurance increases. She expressed the concerns on so many minds when she asked what would happen to people who could not afford the increases.

"Are they going to lose their homes?" she asked. "Are they going to lose everything?"