The state’s land office on Friday announced a new housing repair program focused on longer-term recovery, providing assistance for permanent repairs in badly damaged homes.
Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush was in town for an event at the home of the first benefactor of the Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair program: Sharlene Hearne of Dickinson, whose home on Dickinson Bayou was flooded by more than 4 feet of water during Hurricane Harvey.
The program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered by the land office, grants residents who lack flood insurance and qualify for the assistance between $17,000 and $60,000 for home repairs.
An assemblage of local elected officials attended, including Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters, County Judge Mark Henry, state Sen. Larry Taylor and County Commissioner Ken Clark.
“If it wasn’t for this program I don’t know what would happen, we’ve been brainstorming how to make it all happen” on a budget, Hearne said. “It means a lot to me. It’s so surreal. I’m grateful for my government.”
Hearne moved back to her childhood home on Pine Oak Street in Dickinson in January and had been renovating it with her fiancé, Tim Shefcik, before Harvey made landfall on the Texas Coast on Aug. 25 and dropped more than 40 inches of rain in Dickinson.
Hearne, a flight attendant, didn’t have flood insurance on the home after being denied because the windows weren’t to code, she said.
She fled her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 27 as rising waters from the bayou flooded her house, she said. Her son registered her for FEMA assistance the same day, she said. Hearne was selected as the first applicant because her disaster relief application met the requirements, land office spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.
HOW IT WORKS
Residents apply for the aid by registering for FEMA disaster assistance, agency spokeswoman Erin Gaddis said. To be eligible for the program, the person must lack flood insurance and have damage estimated at less than 50 percent of the market value of the house, she said.
A person may be eligible for the program if they have received other forms of FEMA aid, Gaddis said.
The emergency management agency didn’t know how much money was available total for homeowners because the total depends on how much disaster relief is approved by Congress, she said.
Harvey victims who have already registered for disaster assistance should not reapply for disaster aid, Gaddis said. The agency is continually reviewing applications for aid, she said.
The program pays for between $17,000 and $60,000 in home repairs, depending on need, Gaddis said. FEMA inspected the home before the aid was granted, Eck said.
“This is for limited, but potentially permanent fixes,” Eck said.
WAITING FOR AID
The land office has so far announced five different housing programs for rapid disaster recovery, but residents and local elected officials have criticized how slowly the programs are rolling out, with many residents still waiting for housing aid.
On Friday, Bush said the land office was taking “due diligence” to ensure the contracting companies awarded work with the grant money are reputable and will not misuse tax dollars, which takes time, he said.
Bush pointed to the much-criticized $300 million Whitefish Energy Holdings contract awarded for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico as an example of what the land office was trying to avoid. The government has since ended its contract with Whitefish Energy.
“It’s an example of why we have to be careful to cross the Ts and dot the Is,” Bush said.
The land office has been following federal procurement requirements for its contracts with disaster relief money, including limits on contractors’ profits, said Pete Phillips, senior deputy director of Community Development and Revitalization at the land office.
CHANGES TO LAND OFFICE
The land office anticipates it will receive about $1 billion in federal assistance for housing disaster relief for Harvey, which will be allocated over the next few years, Bush said.
The office was hiring 40 to 60 disaster relief professionals to administer and provide oversight for the housing programs, he said.