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99% more? Ben Rappaport talks proposed home insurance rate hikes in the Cape Fear

Floodwaters rose to the top of the garage on John Pike's home from Hurricane Florence in 2018.
John Pike
Severe weather — like Hurricane Florence, which hit the Cape Fear hard in 2018 — is just one of the many reasons why North Carolina's insurance companies are proposing much higher rates.

The North Carolina Insurance Bureau came under fire last month for proposing a series of home insurance rate increases that many homeowners saw as excessively high. Insurance commissioner Mike Causey rejected the rates on Tuesday. But what can homeowners expect now? WHQR’s Nikolai Mather spoke with Ben Rappaport from the Border Belt Independent about what these proposed increases mean for the Cape Fear region.

NM: Hi Ben! Thanks for joining me today.

BR: Hey Nikolai. No problem.

NM: So, your article in Border Belt covered kind of a shocking move by the North Carolina Rate Bureau. The Bureau just proposed an increase to homeowners' insurance rates. Tell us about it.

BR: So like you said, the Bureau, which represents insurance companies across the state, they propose a rate hike increase of a statewide increase of 42%. But then that rate varied widely between counties and in coastal areas like Columbus and Brunswick and New Hanover. And that rate was much higher than that statewide 42%. In some places, it was closer to 99%, like in Brunswick and Pender counties. So and there are counties that we cover in the border belt – like Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland. Over there, the increases in insurance were proposed between 56 and 63%, which again, is just higher than that statewide proposal.

NM: Longtime residents will know that those numbers are far from, like, your typical rate increase. In 2017, the bureau only asked for an 18.7% increase.

BR: well, the increase largely comes because there was a moratorium on rate increases by the state insurance commission during COVID. So insurance companies also said that they're facing higher costs for materials and labor. And I think a lot of that also goes back to something we're seeing in all facets of life right now, which is just widespread inflation.

NM: Oh yeah. And I think anyone on the coast could point to the weather as a huge factor.

BR: Yeah, absolutely. And really, a lot of this comes down to just those risk factors, you know, insurance rates in our part of the state that the southeastern part of the state really rose a lot after 2016 and 2018, with hurricanes Florence and Matthew, of course, just causing widespread damages, and displacement of people, destruction of homes, etc. All of those things bring increased insurance risk. and increased insurance rates. And, you know, so a proposal to keep increasing those rates for homeowners. It is really daunting to a lot of citizens.

NM: For sure. But Mike Causey – he's the insurance commissioner – he rejected those rate hikes, right?

BR: Mike Causey did reject that rate hike, I believe. And like I said, he's also rejected previous rate hikes from the insurance or from the rate Bureau, or he's at least works, as we talked about to negotiate and lower that proposed rate from the rate bureau. So now, that really sets up more negotiations, and potentially a court date if the rate Bureau and the insurance commissioner can't agree, sort of on a statewide proposal for insurance rates. As of now, that court date is set for October 7. So they still have quite a while to work things out. And in the past, they have and you know, Jared Chappell, who is the head of the rate bureau says that, you know, he wasn't surprised and like, cause he struck down the 42% homeowner insurance rate proposal, he expected that an insurance rate proposal to not be approved. I think a lot of that is politics. Right. So that's kind of what's happening in this case.

NM: So all we can do now is wait.

BR: You know, one thing of note here is that Mike Causey received over 25,000 public comments in regards to this proposed rate hike increase. A lot of people were flustered or upset about this proposed rate hike that was exorbitant in coastal towns especially.

NM: I think it was NC Newsline, and I'm paraphrasing, that quoted him saying something to the effect of, "I heard loud and clear from the coast." I expect he's gonna keep hearing from the coast til the court date.

BR: Yes, absolutely. I have no doubt.

NM: All right. Well, thank you for joining us, Ben. I really appreciate it.

BR: Of course. Thank you, Nikolai.

Editor's note: This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.