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Cape gives nod to loan program option

By Staff | Sep 26, 2017

Canalfront property owners who suffered seawall damage due to Hurricane Irma may get another funding option to help pay for repairs.

Numerous Cape Coral residents attending Monday’s Cape Coral City Council meeting spoke during public comment about the problems they were having with collapsed seawalls and the high cost of repair. They want to know what, if anything, the city could do to assist.

The solution could come from a measure approved by the Council to establish a loan program option for people who need seawall help, or some have other qualifying need.

The seawall situation is a serious one since, if one wall goes, there is a risk of others collapsing if nothing is done. Repair costs are expensive, with many attending Monday’s meeting saying they are unable to afford to pay thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for rebuilds that insurance will most likely not cover.

Ronda Schwerdtfeger, a resident who lost both her seawall and roof during Hurricane Irma, said insurance will pay for the roof after the 2 percent deductible, but not the seawall.

“We’re looking at a $50,000 loan we’re going to have to get. FEMA denied us, but they referred us to the Small Business Administration so we can get a loan at 2 percent,” Schwerdtfeger said. “Are we going to sell our property? A loan isn’t something we can take on right now.”

Schwerdtfeger said that perhaps the city, with its 400 miles of canals and the need for seawalls, could perhaps take over the fixes on them.

“When the city does something, they’ll do a 20-year plan with you. I expect them to try to devise something. Maybe $2,000 at the end of the year on taxes, something affordable,” Schwerdtfeger said. “We take care of them all the time. They need to take care of us.”

Mayor Marni Sawicki responded by essentially asking “Got $100 million?”

“The way the statutes are written and the money we would need, that’s not an option. It isn’t something we can take on, so we’re looking for other alternatives for them,” Sawicki said.

One of the options was an addendum to the agenda, a resolution calling for the establishment of the Property Assessment Clean Energy (PACE) program within the city, and a third-party administrator to serve as a provider.

The idea was that PACE could help provide contractors to build a seawall, as well as provide loans to pay off the project. It could be used by any resident or business owner for any purpose, from seawalls to installation of solar power.

City Manager John Szerlag called the plan “another arrow in the quiver” of options for homeowners, something that could be used if insurance, cash, or a small business or bank loan is not an option.

To Sawicki, that made it seem like a last resort. She was concerned about the possibility of predatory lending for those with that lone arrow.

“Who is this being marketed to? I don’t want residents to be taken advantage of. It’s a profit-making effort and technically we would be the marketing arm,” Sawicki said.

Assistant City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn said he didn’t believe the loans would be predatory, they would be set between 6 and 8 percent. Homeowners would be allowed to bid out the contractors and the loan.

Councilmember Marilyn Stout then voted in favor as the loan terms would be fair enough. Councilmember Richard Leon said he liked allowing the private sector to come in, provided everyone did their due diligence and read the fine print.

Sawicki cast the lone opposition vote.

“I like the PACE program. I just don’t like that we don’t have the information and that it could lead to predatory lending,” Sawicki said. “They are not under any legislation that prevents them from being unethical. If we provide these loans, we need to know what we’re providing them.”