Relief from those dreaded special assessments that condo owners must pay to fund building repairs is a considerable way off.

But a bill recently introduced in Congress by Florida Reps. Charlie Crist and Debbie Wasserman Schultz could take some of the pressure off associations whose member-owners are hard-pressed to pay, according to the Community Association Institute, a Virginia-based industry advocate that supports the measure.

Under the Securing Access to Financing for Exterior Repairs in Condos Act, owners would be able to obtain low-interest loans to fund repairs through two programs guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The CAI views the bill as a safety act because it would lower the financial barriers faced by many owners who are unable to help pay for increasingly high bills to repair roofs and balconies and other major structural items.

The group cites the doomed Champlain Towers South building in Surfside that partially collapsed on June 24, 2021, killing 98 people, where owners faced a $15 million assessment.

The residents had been warned of “major structural damage” in the building by an engineering report in 2018. In a letter to the condo association months prior to the collapse, the board president described progressive decay at the building, saying damage in the garage had “gotten worse” since an initial inspection. She also noted that discussions among residents about the building’s problems had continued on for months and even years.

The disaster sent shock waves around the state of Florida, where tens of thousands of people reside in older buildings facing expensive repairs. It’s uncertain whether a federal financial program would have helped expedite the repairs required in the Surfside tower.

Rescue personnel work in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Friday, June 25, 2021, in Surfside. Advocates of a new bill in Congress to provide federal financial aid to condo owners whose buildings need expensive structural repairs cited the disaster as a key reason to offer the assistance. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) (Gerald Herbert/AP)

But Crist, in a statement, says the bill “would build on a home improvement program under the Federal Housing Administration to provide an affordable financing option so seniors and families can stay in their condo safely and avoid another preventable disaster.”

The program, which originally was intended to help finance the rehabilitation of apartment buildings, would be amended to include the following:

Allow condo unit rehabilitation mortgages to fund special assessments for condo project structural repairs
Make it easier for condo associations when condo owners use the program to finance a special assessment that will fund structural repairs
Streamline a property improvement loans program to insure private lenders against losses when lending to individual condo owners for special assessments.

Said Wasserman Shultz in the same statement: “While we still mourn all those we lost in Surfside, the harsh reality is that untold numbers of aging condos just like Champlain Towers South may face similar structural safety problems. In the months and years ahead, countless Florida residents may be living in an unfolding tragedy—and not even know about it or have the tools to stop it.”

She asserted the bill would take “meaningful steps to help prevent that from ever happening again by helping make it easier for condo owners to afford special assessments when costly structural and safety repairs arise.”

The bill comes after the Florida Legislature declined to deliver a package of promised condo safety reforms during its spring session this year.

While responding to questions from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, a Crist staff member acknowledged that while much of the authority to regulate condos is up to the states, “there are areas where the federal government can step in. Guaranteeing loans is one of them and expanding access to financing for structural repairs is one of them.”

No companion bill has been offered in the U.S. Senate.