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Who’s left out of the Florida insurance crisis conversation
An interview with MacKenzie Marcelin of Florida Rising

Moira Birss with MacKenzie Marcelin

May 7, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Black and brown low-income communities are getting pushed even farther to the margins as the climate crisis intensifies in Florida – aka climate gentrification – and insurance’s role in disaster prevention and response has utterly failed these communities.

  • “We should all have the right to recover, the right to return to our homes, and the right to have safety in our homes. But rising insurance costs… is leaving us out to dry.”

  •  We must rethink the profit incentives for the insurance industry, and a refocusing on community safety as

  • the priority.

MacKenzie Marcelin is a Florida resident and the climate justice director with Florida Rising, a grassroots organization that works with Black and brown low-income communities across Florida to build political power. 


MacKenzie spoke with me about how these communities are getting pushed even farther to the margins as the climate crisis intensifies in Florida, and how insurance’s role in disaster prevention and response has utterly failed these communities. He calls for a rethinking of profit incentives for the industry, and a refocusing on community safety as the priority.


The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Moira: Please describe Florida Rising and the communities you work with.


MacKenzie: Florida Rising is a statewide, member-led organization that focuses on building political power for Black and Brown low-income communities across Florida so that our communities can thrive and live happy and whole lives. We do a lot of electoral work - we wanna make sure that our community's voices are heard. We also run a number of campaigns, focusing on issues like democracy, housing, climate justice, reproductive justice and criminal justice. 


This is a powerful community, Black and brown folks all across Florida. For a long time we've been marginalized and our voices have been silent, but we are powerful. If we come together in our collective power, we can really change and fight for the things that we need. We make this state work; we make sure that this country works. We should have just as much say, if not more, than these large monopolies, corporations, and the small, powerful few.


Moira: How are you seeing issues around housing, safety and affordability interact with climate change in your work and in your community?


MacKenzie: We do a lot of work around disaster preparedness, every year. We have to prepare our community members, our staff and our members for anticipated disasters, which are increasing in strength and frequency. 


One of the devastating effects that we are facing is climate gentrification. Our communities, because of redlining and racism, were pushed away from the “more desirable” coastal areas, and we were pushed more inland into areas that were deemed “less desirable.” But now we're seeing a phenomenon where, because of the rising floods and the hurricanes, people are moving into these so-called ‘less desirable areas’ now. That's what's causing rental prices and property prices to go up, and that's leaving our communities even more vulnerable even in neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Overtown, and Liberty City, and areas in Tampa as well. Long-standing communities, where people created a home with the few resources they had, are now being forced out and displaced into even more vulnerable flood-prone areas, where their utility costs are going up, where there's mold because they are moving to older and less efficient homes. 


And then there’s insurance: Housing insurance is going up, and renters insurance is going up, and that's causing a devastating impact on folks’ incomes. All these expenses add up: utilities, insurance, and constantly repairing your homes… that costs money, and that's leaving folks in debt.


Our communities aren't the cause of the increase in greenhouse gasses that's leading to these increases in climate disasters. And so it's a really tragic irony that we are paying for it in so many ways. We have to constantly pay for it by being forced out of our communities, paying unnecessarily high costs to live and even just to breathe. 


Moira: You mentioned the cost issues and how rising premium prices are adding even more to people's housing cost burden when they're already burdened. In addition to the cost issue, how well insurance is actually serving people's needs? Insurance is supposed to help people recover after a major disaster, and, as you said, Florida experiences disasters regularly. How have you seen insurance be helpful or not helpful post disaster?


MacKenzie: When we talk about the impacts of rising insurance and how insurance is helping, it really just depends on who you ask. Our communities, Black and brown folks, low-income folks – it's not helping us at all. There are studies that show that wealthy folks and well-off white communities are able to easily recover and easily access the money that they need to repair their homes. But our communities are being left out of that. In the Fort Myers area there's a small Black community that, a year after a major hurricane hit, they're still left repairing. And that's not even the worst example: I've talked to organizers in Louisiana, and they're still trying to recover from Katrina.


We should all have the right to recover, the right to return to our homes, and the right to have safety in our homes. But the rising insurance costs, and the inaccessibility of proper insurance, is leaving us out to dry, preventing us from having the safety in our homes that we need in a hurricane.


Especially in Florida, hurricane season is from June to November; that's half the year. And all that time, we have to deal with the anxiety of having to prepare ourselves and make sure our homes are safe and secure. Then, with housing unaffordability issues going on we're being pushed out into older homes and more flood-prone areas, and because of that, insurance is even higher. And so it's a devastating cycle that’s occurring for us. And it needs to break; it needs to end. We need to make sure that the communities that aren't causing this climate crisis are not the ones left behind. 


Moira: A recent study from the Consumer Federation of America looks at where homeowners are uninsured, and it shows how much more Black folks, Native Americans, and other people of color are likely to be uninsured. Yet even if folks have insurance, usually the repairs are expected to be paid for upfront, and then you get reimbursed. So if you're lower income, how are you supposed to afford to do that? And this is just homeowners, not even renters, who tend to be lower-income and more often people of color. So along these lines, who or what do you think are getting left out of the policy conversation about home insurance in Florida?


MacKenzie: You definitely hit it on the renters question. In Miami Dade County, I believe around 70% of residents are renters. Often, landlords and developers end up shifting the costs onto tenants: if insurance is going up, well, that means rents go up. And that's just completely unfair. There should be a better way to hold corporations accountable for their greed and negligence in shifting those costs onto tenants.


And I think there's a lot of red tape as well, when it comes to trying to access insurance benefits – it can take years and decades. And I think that needs to be sped up. 


And also, just the fact that the entire insurance industry is for-profit: insurance companies are thinking about how to maximize profits versus the job that needs to be done, which is recovery, which is: how can we make sure people's homes are prepared for the next pending disaster? That's what should be the priority. But I think oftentimes the decisions that are made at the insurance industry are profit-driven and focused on greed. And that's what leads us to the situations that we're in, where we aren't able to access recovery money, or it's not enough for us to actually do the thing that we need to do to repair our roofs, to prepare us for flooding in our neighborhoods.


Moira: You started to touch on this already in the last answer, so please expand on the ideas you have for making disaster prevention and recovery better and more affordable in Florida.


MacKenzie: I think clearing that red tape where it's making it hard for people to access the money – there are a whole host of things that [insurance companies] require you to prove to access payouts. And then some insurance doesn't include flooding, or they'll have certain stipulations where, if a tree falls down, they’ll say “oh well, that wasn't a hurricane that was a tree falling down,” and so this doesn't count. 


We need to think about changing the priorities of insurance and the insurance industry. We need to shift away from it being profit-driven, so that they – and we – are not worried about money but instead the main priority is what materials and what resources we need to make sure that all our homes are safe and secure.


We need to focus on what we must do to prepare – and not just prepare our homes but our neighborhoods! In those flood-prone areas we already know this is gonna be a reoccurring thing – so what do we need to do to make sure that these harms are mitigated?  We all know that the climate crisis is here, it’s happening now, thanks to the decades of harm from fossil fuel industries, and we need to prepare for what is happening now and the more that is to come.


And so I think we need to shift towards a system that centers on a just and equitable recovery. Raising profits should not be the priority – safety should be the priority.

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