It’s tempting, although maybe not fair, to argue that nobody at any level of government really knows what’s happening with the housing recovery efforts underway after Hurricane Harvey.
It is fair, however, to wonder whether anybody at any level of government knows what anybody at any other level of government is doing in that effort.
And if we were betting on it, we’d have to put money on the proposition that none of the right hands know what any of the lefts are up to at any given time.
More evidence supporting that appeared last week when we learned about Dickinson resident Jeff Jenny, who has parked in his yard one of the very few Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster housing trailers extant in the county.
The trailer has been there for a couple of weeks, but Jenny is still living in his truck because there’s no power connected to the trailer. There’s no power connected to the trailer because crews need to erect a temporary pole in his yard, but can’t because the city of Dickinson won’t allow it.
We’re not sure who’s responsible for this snag, the city, the state or the federal government, but what’s clear is that none of them, or at least not enough of them, are communicating about things that should have been worked out in fine detail before that trailer landed in Jeff Jenny’s front yard.
Not only were the fine details not nailed down before the FEMA trailers began very quietly trickling into the county, apparently neither were the broad ones.
County Judge Mark Henry said last week he didn’t know the trailers were coming at all.
“Not only have we not been included in that decision, we have had no communication,” Henry said. “I’m a little frustrated that local government is not included in these decisions.”
The one thing the government has been able to deliver in large amounts in the post-Harvey disaster housing effort has been frustration. If the judge has been experiencing it, think of the people who are displaced from their homes and living for three months in motel rooms, with relatives, or, like Jeff Jenny, have been for practical purposes homeless, living in their cars and trucks.
Three months after Harvey, about 170 manufactured housing units were in different stages of installment in Galveston County, a Texas General Land Office spokeswoman said.
Of that number, one was occupied. Three months, one trailer.
The land office, which has been spearheading immediate disaster housing programs in the state, talks as if disaster recovery was just unheard of in Texas before Harvey; as if this were a completely new experience for everybody involved. That’s nonsense, of course. The land office ran many of the disaster recovery efforts after Ike as well.
What’s true is that Commissioner George P. Bush, when he took over the post, got rid of all the staff employees experienced with disaster recovery, and with them went all the institutional knowledge acquired during those earlier storms.
That was his prerogative, but the land office can’t now claim honest inexperience as a mitigating factor for any bungling after this storm. The staff may be inexperienced, but the organization can’t claim to be.
This isn’t just nitpicking. What we see in this are signs of gross inefficiency; indications that people who should have a had a detailed plan are just making it all up as they go along.
That’s always more expensive and more open to abuse.
None of this is abstract, either. One of the few certainties about these programs is that they’ll cost the American taxpayer dearly. The less efficient the delivery, the higher that cost will be.
• Michael A. Smith