Representatives of the housing and insurance industries, along with members of Congress and key congressional staff, are urging Congress to act quickly to enact comprehensive federal national natural disaster legislation.

The National Association of Realtors hosted the Federal Natural Disaster Policy Symposium Monday to help identify appropriate federal policies for dealing with a potential crisis.

About 100 people from a variety of associations, nongovernmental organizations, congressional offices and federal agencies attended, NAR said. The Realtor association has lobbied Congress to ensure the availability and affordability of disaster insurance.

Cynthia Shelton, NAR Commercial and Business Specialties Group liaison and a Realtor with Northstar Brokerage Services in Orlando, Fla., moderated Monday’s meeting. She noted that natural disasters are not only a concern to a few select states. “Natural disasters come in many forms and affect many different areas of the country,” said Shelton. “Beyond hurricanes and floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires and ice storms can cause significant damage and can result in catastrophic costs. Whatever the event and wherever it may occur, we must prepare now.”

Without a comprehensive federal policy to plan for natural disasters and mitigate their effects, the American taxpayer will pay the price, Shelton said.

Keynote speaker Kevin McCarty, Commissioner of the Office of Insurance Regulation for the State of Florida, said, “If I leave you with one message today it is this: Natural catastrophes are a national problem that requires a national solution.” McCarty noted that Hurricane Katrina highlighted many of the pitfalls in today’s insurance structure. “State resources are not sufficient to handle mega-catastrophes; we must engage in planning before a disaster; and we are confronting an economic problem, not an insurance problem,” said McCarty.

McCarty said that when a catastrophe hits it affects far more than insurance companies and the victims of these events. “It places stress on the home builders market, the banking market, land development markets, real estate values, community tax bases, unemployment rates, and ultimately affects the economic security of all Americans,” said McCarty.

Other participants at the symposium included L. James Valverde, vice president, economic and risk management at the Insurance Information Institute; Chris Wilson, managing partner at First Choice; Mitchell Glassman, from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; Mike Grimm from FEMA; and a host of congressional staff representatives.

Recent research conducted by NAR in Florida concluded that the lack of affordable or available homeowner’s insurance in that state contributed to the slowdown in Florida real estate, impacting the overall economic activity in the region. In earlier congressional testimony, NAR stated that a strong real estate market is a linchpin of a healthy economy, generating jobs, wages, tax revenues and a demand for goods and services. To maintain a strong economic climate, the vitality of residential and commercial real estate must be safeguarded, NAR said.

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