Mack Sullivan has been living the hotel life for three months now, and his room at the Candlewood Suites in League City off Interstate 45 has that lived-in feel.
Bills are scattered around a personal computer on the table. There’s a cat wandering in the living room, and a pair of parrots perched in the bathroom. There’s an urn, containing the cremated remains of Sullivan’s brother, who died earlier this month, sitting on a table.
“It’s great,” Sullivan said of life in the hotel. “They go above and beyond anything I’ve seen. It’s not home, but they’ve made it as comfortable as possible.”
Sullivan and his wife, Patricia, moved into the hotel Aug. 28, a day after their house on Wagon Road in Dickinson was flooded with more than 4 feet of water.
Their house was 3,400 square feet. The two-room hotel suite is about 450 square feet.
They are among thousands of Texans still working to get back into their own homes, now more than three months after Hurricane Harvey.
The Candlewood Suites has at least a half dozen Harvey refugees, and other hotels nearby have even more.
At least 18,000 Texans were receiving transitional shelter assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as of Nov. 13. The assistance is one of the ways the federal government helps people who have been displaced by natural disasters.
Earlier this month, FEMA and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended the time period some Harvey victims can continue to receive assistance into January, meaning at least some people will probably spend Christmas and New Year’s in their hotels.
The long wait is causing some frustration. Some of the hotel residents are critical of permitting requirements Dickinson officials have placed on rebuilding homes, and think that other cities, like League City, have more effective policies.
“I think everybody’s ready to get into their houses,” said Selina Metcalfe, who is staying at the Candlewood Suites with her husband, Chris. “Dickinson is not making it very easy to do that.”
There’s no exact count available of the number of homes and businesses damaged in Dickinson. City officials have said about 80 percent of the 7,725 structures in the city were damaged in the storm. That’s almost 6,200 homes and business for which owners are expected to get permits before rebuilding or repairing.
Since the storm, the Dickinson planning department has issued about 630 permits, city spokesman Bryan Milward said.
Dickinson’s permitting was working as well as it could be expected given the scope of the damage, he said.
“We’ve tried to make the process as easy as possible,” Milward said. “We understand there’s frustration with it. It’s a long process given the scale of the damage.”
The city has waived fees for permitting work that is done below light switches, but more intensive work requires more extensive documentation, he said, including photos and scope of work plans. The documentation is meant to protect residents, and people who might end up buying Harvey-damaged homes later, Milward said.
Sullivan said FEMA had approved putting a trailer near his home, and was working to connect utilities. He said he hoped to move out of the hotel this week.
As they wait for progress, the residents of Candlewood Suites have fallen into something of a routine.
When they tire of their rooms, they head down to the main lobby to watch Sunday Night Football or to talk. They share information about permits, and about FEMA, and about how to apply for grants from the city. Together, they talk about going to a future city council meeting.
Sometimes, they go out to a back patio to smoke. From there, they can see some Dickinson neighborhoods that were spared the type of damage their homes sustained.
The hotel residents know their homes aren’t going to be rebuilt quickly. But Paul Ruiz, one of the other hotel residents, who is staying in a room with his 89-year-old mother, said when the day comes to move out of the hotel — it will feel like progress.
“Every one of us is in a slow walk, a slow march to get back home,” Ruiz said. “Every one of us wants to be in a normal situation.”