Galveston County Judge Mark Henry doesn’t hide his frustration with the glacial pace of disaster assistance.
Post-Hurricane Harvey housing programs have reached only a small percentage of residents in Galveston County who needed help.
“Most people are pretty self-reliant,” Henry said. “If they have to choose between the government doing it and doing it themselves, they’ll do it themselves if they have the means.”
But many residents in Galveston County didn’t have the means to repair their homes after the historic natural disaster hit Texas on Aug. 25, 2017, Henry said.
Those are the people who needed the short-term disaster housing options right after Harvey hit, and that is who Henry wants to help, he said. He’s irritated by how slow the process is, he said.
DOOR TO DOOR
The Texas General Land Office has two basic-repair programs designed to get Harvey victims back in their homes fast. The money and the regulations for how it is spent come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, however.
One of those programs is the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering Program, which pays for $20,000 in basic repairs per house. The other one, Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair, offers $60,000 worth of repairs. Neither one will completely repair a home, and both are considered temporary fixes to allow residents to stay in their homes while making other repairs.
More than four months after Harvey, contractors have completed 64 homes in Galveston County as part of the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering Program. That’s up from 20 completed homes the land office reported Jan. 12.
But 20,000 households in Galveston County requested help after Harvey hit.
Henry asked why the contractors weren’t marketing the program, but he learned state and federal rules do not allow contractors to do that, he said.
So, now Henry is marketing the programs.
“We need to go door to door,” Henry said.
U.S. Rep. Randy Weber also is frustrated with the snail’s pace of disaster assistance, he said. People aren’t back in their homes and some are even sleeping in cars, he said.
His frustration comes from collaborating to get the federal money for the programs in Texas only to discover all the FEMA requirements weren’t in place to roll out the programs, Weber said.
NOT TOO LATE
A lingering question about federal and state housing assistance programs has been whether people who qualified for assistance, but didn’t wait for the slow-moving programs to make repairs, could be reimbursed for at least some of what they spent.
State officials have said that’s not likely, but federal officials say reimbursement is not out of the question.
“Although the application deadline was Nov. 30, FEMA doesn’t turn anyone away,” FEMA spokesman Tobe Nguyen said. “We would still encourage homeowners to apply for those that didn’t wait for federal assistance and went ahead to fix their homes.”
Homeowners would need an itemized statements from a contractor on completed work that specifically stated that the damage was from Hurricane Harvey, which caused severe flooding throughout the county in late August. And they would need a reason why they didn’t apply earlier, Nguyen said.
As short-term housing programs drag out, long-term recovery weighs heavily on homeowners and government officials. The short-term programs were just a steppingstone so people get to a point where they could take on the work of replacing what was lost and rebuilding what they had.
Homeowners have spent more than four months chasing permits and comparing what the Small Business Administration allows with what the Federal Emergency Management Agency dictates, only to get conflicting information from state and local officials.
SOME GOOD NEWS
Some residents have made repairs and are back at home.
Dickinson resident Bill Bonham made repairs after getting money from FEMA, insurance claims and loans, he said. Now, Bonham is back home and life is somewhat getting back to normal.
“We were not going to wait,” Bonham said, noting people have “to get moving with these things.”
While repairing Harvey-damaged homes with 4B Disaster Response Network as a volunteer, Bonham met a woman who was in that limbo, he said. He asked her whether she had gotten an estimate from a contractor and if she had considered selling her home. People need practical advice, Bonham said.
Mark Buxton also is back in his Dickinson home, he said.
He began filling out paperwork Aug. 26, the day the flooding began, and soon after, he bought a travel trailer to live in while repairing his home, Buxton said.
A lot of negative press ignored the positive community bonding and volunteers who came to help, he said. Getting back in his home on his own terms is part of a positive story, he said. But Buxton has an important caveat.
“We did have flood insurance,” he said.