Amid growing criticism of efforts to provide temporary housing to Texas residents displaced from their homes by Hurricane Harvey, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Thursday put blame on the federal government for some of the delays.
Some 1,200 people have received temporary housing aid through one of six programs being managed by the Texas General Land Office, Bush said during a visit to Galveston County.
Another 5,800 people have applied for and are still awaiting help from the agency, he said.
The land office is also reaching out to more than 70,000 Texans to offer them an opportunity to participate in the agency’s repair programs, a spokeswoman said.
Before Christmas, the land office had “hundreds of workers” ready to respond to hurricane victims and set them up in temporary housing, Bush said.
Many of them ended up waiting on the federal government for information before they could act, he said.
“One of the choke points from FEMA is that we need quality information,” Bush said. “There’s a breakdown in terms of quality control of information.”
Bush met Thursday with Renee Carlisle, whose home in the county just outside Santa Fe remains mostly unrepaired since the late-August storm.
Carlisle signed an agreement to participate in a program that will provide up to $60,000 to repair her bathroom, kitchen and a bedroom.
“It’s like giving me a new life, it means everything,” Carlisle, 58, said. She has been splitting her time between an RV in her driveway and her mother’s house since the storm, she said.
She’s had to use a shovel to kill water moccasins that had made their way in the house, she said.
The land office plans to continue its temporary housing programs through 2018.
In the four-plus months since Harvey, storm victims have been offered a variety of housing programs — from ones that offer to repair a home to minimum livability standards to ones that provide a trailer or recreational vehicle.
Some of those programs have caused confusion among victims. In some instances, people have received trailers, only to find that they’re not allowed to use them until they receive final permission from federal or state authorities.
Bush called such incidents “last-mile problems,” and put some of the blame on poor pre-storm planning between the state and federal governments.
“We were tapped a month after the fact in creating a brand-new program out of thin air,” Bush said.
Ideally, there would have been an agreement in place before a storm to manage housing assistance, he said. The land office signed its agreement with FEMA three weeks after Harvey made landfall.
Details also are pending for long-term home rebuilding programs for more substantially damaged homes, Bush said.
More information about those more costly programs will be released after Congress approves another round of disaster recovery funds, Bush said. In December, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve an $81 billion package — which includes funding for Texas, Florida, Louisiana, California and Puerto Rico.
The relief bill still has to be approved by the U.S. Senate.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday said the relief bill likely would be tied to a vote planned for Jan. 19 that would continue funding the federal government.