We live in a verdant and beautiful place, specifically beautiful because of our proximity to natural lands. The wildlife/urban interface areas are especially complex, as we need to manage the lands near us actively to mitigate risk of natural disaster in ways folks who live in suburban or urban areas do not. They can afford to ignore the undeveloped areas near them; we don’t have the luxury of considering ourselves separate from the nature around us. Of late the devastation of natural disaster, specifically wildfires, has had a dire impact on the ability residents have obtaining insurance for their homes. These wildfires have caused significant damage to homes and infrastructure, resulting in a challenging environment for homeowners looking to insure their properties. The wildfires that have ravaged California over the past few years have led to a significant increase in the cost of homeowners’ insurance. Insurance companies have been forced to pay out billions of dollars in claims, and as a result, they are now more cautious about insuring homes in high-risk areas. Very recently, two major companies have said they will no longer offer homeowners policies in California because of that increased risk— State Farm Insurance and Allstate Insurance have both bowed out of insuring properties in California.
The reasons given for this speak directly to issues that desperately need to be addressed in our County; the dangers of wildfire and property loss, the wildly expensive construction costs that have outpaced even inflation (driven in part by our unsustainable cost of living, government interference and red-tape, and the high cost of labor and materials…also driven by the high cost of living which is an unpleasant ouroboros with lack of housing inventory at the tail.) The lack of housing driving up cost of living, which drives up the cost of labor as people need higher wages just to survive, which drives up the the costs of materials used in construction, which makes it even harder to build new homes. When you add in the red-tape surrounding building in California, and especially Santa Cruz County, you have a recipe for disaster.
My family has experienced these issues personally. The red tape created by the County — requiring extensive studies and treating our rebuild like a New build — led to an increase of nearly $300k for the cost of rebuilding our home. The loss of inventory and the low inventory made it very difficult to find a home to rent for families after the fire, and we saw rent costs continually rise each year because of the high demand created by low inventory.
This has led to a reduction in the availability of coverage and an increase in premiums for those who can obtain coverage. We are considered to be one of the high-risk areas, and many of us are finding it challenging to obtain coverage. In some cases, insurance companies may refuse to insure us altogether. This can be a significant problem if we are looking to obtain a mortgage, as most lenders require you to have homeowners’ insurance. If we do manage to obtain coverage, we can expect to pay a higher premium than you would in a low-risk area. Another issue that homeowners face is the risk of losing their coverage. Some insurance companies are now canceling policies or not renewing them in high-risk areas. This can leave homeowners without coverage, which can be devastating if their homes are damaged or destroyed by a wildfire, which we know all too-well.
Fortunately, there are steps that homeowners can take to mitigate their risk and obtain coverage from the many providers that still offer coverage in our state. If you are able, make sure that your home is equipped with fire-resistant materials, such as metal roofing, and that you have a defensible space around your home. Mitigation matters, and responsible management of our properties and the wild lands that abut them can make a significant difference in our ability to obtain insurance individually and get a reasonable rate.
Another option for homeowners is to seek coverage from the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan. This is a state sponsored program that provides coverage to homeowners who are unable to obtain coverage from traditional insurance companies, by providing insurance from a co-op of all existing licensed private insurers in California. While premiums may be higher than those offered by private insurers, the FAIR Plan can provide coverage to those who would otherwise be unable to obtain it. The program itself is problematic, though, as the insurance offered is from the private insurance industry, just with less regulation. This is certainly different from the impression folks have of a seemingly State-sponsored insurance option; now, the insurance companies are incentivized to turn folks down, if it means they can insure them at a higher rate for more profit with less exposure when they sign up using the FAIR plan.
Unfortunately there is nothing a county supervisor can do to effect change on this serious issue. However, one of my main platform priorities is transparency and communication and if elected it would be my responsibility to inform the communities in the district that I represent of information that is pertaining to living in these beautiful mountains. Please visit https://www.insurance.ca.gov for more information and email our state insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara to express concerns.