Frank Ortis: PACE sets consumer protection industry standard for home improvements - Florida Politics

Frank Ortis: PACE sets consumer protection industry standard for home improvements

City of Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis

As a mayor, job creation, healthy neighborhoods, and public safety are my top priorities. That’s why Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is such a winning idea for Pembroke Pines and, in my view, cities across Florida. PACE lets property owners leverage their home’s equity to finance hurricane-hardening, energy efficiency and renewable energy home improvements, like solar panels, roofing and windows. Homeowners then pay for improvements over time through an additional line item on their property taxes.

Most homeowners scramble to replace these home systems with the cheapest option — or don’t make the improvements at all. That’s not good for them, or our neighborhoods. PACE is a great tool that empowers homeowners to invest in their homes in a way that makes them more prepared for the next storm and lowers their long-term energy costs.

What makes PACE even better is the job creation impact it has. By boosting home improvement activity, cities and counties can give a boost to local small businesses. That, in turn, grows high-quality construction sector jobs that can support families and boost the overall economy. They are also the kind of jobs that can’t be shipped overseas or automated.

But PACE does much more for our homeowners than make them better prepared, or save them energy. The consumer safeguards provided through PACE financing are unparalleled. PACE financing can only be offered by licensed contractors in good standing with the state and only those efficient or high-performance-rated products can be installed using PACE financing. Reverse mortgages, home equity lines of credit and credit cards don’t come close to offering that type of oversight. In addition, the contractors who complete projects funded through PACE don’t receive a dime until homeowners sign off that the work was completed to their satisfaction.

And even in the short time we’ve had PACE in Pembroke Pines, we’ve seen even more progress. Mortgage-level disclosures, modeled after federal “Know-Before-You-Owe” forms, with comprehensive details spelled out clearly, are now standard. PACE financing companies also manage disputes between homeowners and contractors. Could you imagine a credit card company doing anything like that?  The answer is no.

These consumer safeguards are all enshrined in enhanced standards, released in February by nonprofit advocacy group PACENation. These standards include measures like requiring that all homeowners receive a live, recorded phone call to confirm financing terms and reinforce written disclosures. They also instruct all PACE providers to develop forbearance programs for customers who encounter unexpected financial hardship. And some companies, like the nation’s leading residential PACE provider, Renovate America, have specific protections for seniors and have developed systems to help homeowners identify contractors that offer top-quality customer service. Top PACE companies also have dedicated staff to assist homeowners and real estate professionals when selling a home with a PACE improvement—which is important as PACE becomes more common across Florida.

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PACE financing brings energy efficiency and hurricane readiness within reach for many homeowners who might otherwise delay.

From where I sit, that makes PACE a promising program for cities and counties throughout Florida.

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Frank Ortis is the mayor of the City of Pembroke Pines in Broward County.

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