The financial mess that defined the early 1980s actually sowed the seeds for what eventually became the Housing and Redevelopment Insurance Exchange (HARIE) 35 years ago.
In fact, the financial stagnation generated by the 1979 taking of U.S. hostages by Iran was dragged into the 1980s and it is widely considered to be the most severe recession up to that time since World War II.
Hard hit by the financial dysfunction caused by double-digit inflation, big insurance companies had their accountants sharpening their pencils as they sought ways to stop their bleeding and — more importantly — fatten their stockholders’ wallets.
Two to three hundred percent insurance premium increases passed on to housing and redevelopment authorities were common. Moreover, some big insurance companies had determined that housing and redevelopment authorities were money pits and simply just canceled coverage for some authorities without notice.
One agency caught up in the big insurance companies’ unquenchable thirst for more premium was the Carbondale Housing Authority, where its deductible was increased from $1,000 to $50,000 with no reduction in premium.
Budgets for these authorities across the state were tight due to the recession, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) had taken the position that authorities should stay with their current carriers because there were no other carriers at the time writing authority insurance policies.
In 1984, the late Paul Cusick, then Executive Director of the Scranton Housing Authority, invited several executive directors in the Northeast to a meeting with recognized insurance expert, the late Charles J. Volpe Sr., who had theorized that it may be possible for authorities to form their own insurance company.
Suffice to say, the late Mr. Volpe’s plan took flight and was welcomed by both the Eastern and Western Housing Authority Directors Associations, leaving only HUD approval left to obtain. To that end, a pair of meetings with HUD officials were held, first in the Philadelphia Region III offices and then in HUD’s Washington, D.C. offices. Then, by 1985, HUD had not only embraced Mr. Volpe’s idea but also issued an insurance waiver, lifting bidding requirements for authorities doing business with the approved start-up company.
Now, 35 years later, HARIE has grown exponentially since the first original 10 clients signed in 1986. HARIE is a domestically licensed reciprocal insurer, writing policies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is subject to insurance commission examination every three to five years.
On behalf of HARIE’s Board of Directors, Board President Ed Christiano said, “HARIE’s commitment then and now, 35 years later, is to make available guaranteed, reasonably-priced insurance coverage to authorities and other public entities without worrying about having their insurance canceled.”
Mr. Christiano went on to say, “HARIE continues to this day standing with our partners at PAHRA by sponsoring events at PAHRA conferences, providing safety grants to clients and awarding scholarship funds to scholastic standout residents in public housing to further their education.” The president continued, “We are proud to continue this commit- ment for years to come.”
Charles J. Volpe Jr., C.E.O. of Excalibur Insurance Management Services, HARIE’s attorney-in-fact, credited HARIE’s board members through the years for the non-profit company’s growth. Chuck, as he is commonly referred to, is the son of insurance expert Charles Volpe Sr. whose idea evolved into HARIE.
The board to which Chuck refers to has been made up from day one with people who make the day-to-day decisions that affect tens of thousands of people. “Who’s better qualified to make decisions,” said Chuck, “than people who sit on the front lines every day.”
HARIE has grown from serving the original 10 authorities to underwriting coverage for over 400 municipal entities, including housing and redevelopment authorities, counties, cities, boroughs, townships, and even school districts.
Chuck, a young lawyer when the pieces of HARIE were being put into place, wore several hats during that period. He said HARIE’s continued growth is a direct result of having board members, all of whom are part of the fabric of their respective geographical locations, who are on the same page and very familiar with making sound financial decisions.
Of course, it goes without saying that the relationship between PAHRA and HARIE contributed greatly to the success of both entities for 35 years. “Conferences three times a year,” said the Excalibur C.E.O., “provide opportunities for our clients to bring any concerns they have to HARIE’s board, Excalibur’s underwriters and/or adjusters.”
Chuck said, “Working together toward the same goals, like keeping required insurance affordable, solving issues before they become problems, and generally being available to answer insurance questions makes HARIE, PAHRA and Excalibur stand out when the subject of insurance comes up.”
Lines available from HARIE include: fire, auto, crime, workers compensation, directors and officers, general liability, inland marine, and fidelity.