High winds (copy)

Strong winds blow the roof off a Louisiana restaurant as Hurricane Katrina makes landfall in 2005. South Carolina has a funding program, Safe Home, to help residents fortify their homes. AP/File

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of a valuable South Carolina program that can help homeowners in coastal counties pay for improvements related to hurricane preparedness.

Notably, the Safe Home program offers up to $5,000 toward the cost of replacing a roof. That's a valuable incentive, and it could be available to new applicants later this year. The last time new applications were accepted was in mid-2015.

Barring any rule changes, funding is made available for certain home improvements related to hurricane mitigation, on owner-occupied homes that are insured for no more than $300,000. Last year, about two-thirds of the funding went to homeowners in Horry and Charleston counties.

The Safe Home grants are either dollar-for-dollar matching funds that could pay for up to half the cost of an improvement project or, for property owners with low incomes, the funds can be outright grants. There are no income limits for applicants.

On top of the Safe Home grants, homeowners can get a state income tax credit of up to $1,000 for out-of-pocket costs, for making a home more disaster-resistant, and a state tax rebate for up to $300 of sales tax paid for the materials. So someone who gets a matching grant for a Safe Home roof replacement can also claim tax credits for the part they paid out-of-pocket. And home-protection measures can also bring an insurance discount.

When the Safe Home program does reopen, there could be a flood of applications. There's limited funding, and the last time the program opened the S.C. Department of Insurance received 600 applications in 60 days.

Safe Home was created by the Omnibus Coastal Property Insurance Reform Act of 2007, but was not widely known for years. In mid-2014 I featured that program in this column, and the Department of Insurance received so many applications that they closed the program to new applicants, for the first time, that November. The program briefly reopened in May 2015, received 600 applicants, closed again at the end of the following month, and has remained closed ever since.

The department said those 600 applications have since been reviewed and grants awarded. It is now awaiting certainty about funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and the fate of proposed legislation that could change the rules. Typically, the department gets more than $2 million a year for Safe Home, funded by 1 percent of the money the state collects each year from a tax on insurance premiums, plus the tax on wind-and-hail pool policies.

Here's what you need to know in order to be ready, if you hope to apply:

  • A homeowner needs to have their house inspected by a certified wind inspector. That costs up to $150, and a good inspector will help prepare the application. The Department of Insurance has lists of wind inspectors in the Charleston and Myrtle Beach areas online at doi.sc.gov. You can also call the department at 803-737-6087.
  • You'll need proof that the house is your legal residence and is properly insured. Remember that homes insured for more than $300,000 aren't eligible under current rules.
  • It can take a long time to get approved. I used this program two years ago, and it took nearly 10 months for my application to be approved. Once approved, you'll be given a limited amount of time to have the approved work completed, perhaps three to six months.
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Not knowing when the program will reopen for applications, or if the rules might change, adds uncertainty. But if the house you own and live in is about due for a roof replacement and meets the qualifications, it may be worth spending the $150 for a wind inspection and preparing an application, on the chance that Safe Home could end up saving you thousands of dollars.

A roof job that would qualify for Safe Home funds would be a high-quality job with shingles rated for high wind speeds, and possibly some extras to strengthen the roof and reduce the risk of damage from high winds and water. But between Safe Home and the related tax credits, you could end up paying less than half the cost, as I did two years ago.

Safe Home is not just for roof replacements, but that's what I've focused on because every home eventually needs a new roof, and it is an expensive job. The program can also help pay for structural reinforcement and exterior doors, but the rules can get a bit complicated with things like replacing doors, because the purpose of the program is to reduce the potential for hurricane damage.

The grants can also be used to pay for tie-downs for manufactured homes, but not their roofs, windows or doors.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552 and follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com