Miami-Dade greenlights extra guardrails for problematic home upgrade program
Image via Facebook.

Kevin Marino Cabrera Facebook
They join others protections the county recently enacted.

A controversial loan program to help Miami-Dade homeowners upgrade property to be more eco-friendly and resilient will soon have even more protections under an ordinance County Commissioners approved this week.

The measure, sponsored by Kevin Marino Cabrera and co-sponsored by Marleine Bastien, establishes new reporting and notification requirements for companies offering Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program loans in the county’s unincorporated areas.

It also sets a new funding reserve minimum for PACE providers and additional standards by which the county must monitor contracts.

“Our community deserves peace of mind when investing in energy-efficient improvements for their homes,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “This (ordinance) helps keep PACE honest and serves as a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to protect our community.”

The measure, effective Feb. 16, mandates that PACE providers in Miami-Dade must have at least 75% of the funding for a given home upgrade project available before commencing with the project. It codifies additional enrollment strictures for PACE participation, including a ban on PACE agents or contractors filling out applications for loanees and a requirement that the county conduct a final inspection of the project before the PACE provider gives final payment to a contractor.

Further, the measure sets hard deadlines by which a PACE provider must inform the county of service interruptions, cancellations, terminations or suspensions. The provider must also offer clients with impacted services one-on-one assistance.

By March 1, each provider operating in Miami-Dade must submit to the county a list of its plans or contingencies to address service problems and provide updated lists every two years.

Financing through PACE programs has been available in Florida since 2015 to help residents outfit their homes with hurricane shutters, impact windows and doors, new roofs, solar panels, electric car chargers and other improvements. Rather than pay money upfront, the program uses the home as collateral through a lien on the property, with interest and fees collected yearly through ad valorem taxes.

But unlike regular property taxes, PACE loans are not subject to discounts for early payment.

PACE has come under fire since it arrived in the Sunshine State for financially harming rather than helping senior and low-income property owners, saddling them with crushing annual fees that make it difficult to keep or sell their properties.

Officials in Miami-Dade, which has more PACE clients than any other county, tried to add guardrails to the program for the better part of a decade.

Former Commissioner Dennis Moss sponsored two items regarding the program in 2019, including one that would have required a “PACE customer disclosure form” in all client agreements. The following year, ex-Commissioner Jean Monestime — Bastien’s predecessor on the dais — filed a measure to require stricter oversight by the Mayor’s office, an income-verification process, and ability-to-pay confirmation.

At Moss and Monestime’s request, all three items were deferred “to no date certain.”

Little improved until last September, when an almost entirely new County Commission unanimously approved a measure implementing the changes Moss and Monestime’s bills contemplated and several other safeguards addressing common PACE gripes.

Under those guidelines, PACE providers must obtain paper signatures for contracts with people over 65 and fill out detailed disclosure forms showing homeowners how much they’ll owe over the length of their agreements, the interest rate, and the estimated charge tacked onto their annual property tax bill.

The measure, which Cabrera also sponsored, also mandated that PACE providers warn every loanee that nonpayment could cause them to lose their home.

Such was the case for several residents of California, where PACE originated. And it nearly happened to Julnor Jean, a Miami Shores octogenarian who spoke limited English but agreed to a plan that would have added $2,100 to his annual property tax bill until he reached 100.

Ygrene Energy Fund, the largest of four PACE companies operating in the county today, ultimately forgave Jean’s debt and ended its relationship with the contractor that sold him the policy, Group Solar USA, which it had failed to vet properly.

Ygrene vanished from the Florida market for months in late 2022, leaving contractors and homeowners in dire financial straits, prompting dozens of lawsuits and over 100 consumer complaints.

Cabrera cited investigative reporting by the Miami Herald of the issue in his two PACE measures that the County Commission approved.

He also filed a resolution that would have booted Ygrene from Miami-Dade by ending its agreement with an appointed board that oversees its operations in the county, calling the arrangement then in place “government-sanctioned exploitation.”

The measure cleared committee review on a 3-2 vote. Commissioner Raquel Regalado, a fellow Republican, criticized Cabrera’s proposal as “punitive” rather than prescriptive and shortsighted rather than “forward-looking.”

After Cabrera’s first round of PACE protections won sweeping support from his peers, he withdrew the Ygrene-targeting measure.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said there is no way to spread out PACE repayment over time rather than in a single sum paid in tandem with property taxes. Homeowners who wish to pay monthly can pay through an escrow account if that’s how they normally pay their property taxes.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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