There was a little good news near the end of last week about disaster housing programs to be funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and managed by the Texas General Land Office.
A lot of questions remained, however, such as when people driven from their homes by Hurricane Harvey flooding and living now for more than six weeks in various other accommodations would actually begin benefiting from the programs.
Meanwhile, Austin officials were downplaying one of the programs, the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering program, which, as best as we can tell, is in large part just the pre-existing Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program with a new name.
Some of the good news was that state officials Friday reached an agreement with the federal agency about how four disaster recovery housing programs will operate.
The four programs are multifamily lease and repair, direct leasing, manufactured housing options and direct assistance for limited home repair.
The manufactured housing options program includes mobile homes and recreational vehicles, some of which the state has already ordered, land office officials said Thursday.
It was unclear Friday where in the vast disaster area stretching generally from Corpus Christi in the south to near Beaumont in the north, and running miles inland from the coast in some places, these programs might be implemented.
Mobile homes are just another name for FEMA trailers, of course, and local leaders have said they consider that option to be among the least desirable.
State and federal officials were still working out details about the Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering program, also called PREPS, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
The land office had announced Sept. 23 that it had signed a deal with FEMA for all the disaster housing programs including PREPS, but it later learned that PREPS has different requirements with different funding streams, the land office said last week.
The PREPS program is similar to the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program used after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The program gives contractors a set amount of money to make basic repairs, such as on plumbing and electricity, at homes damaged during natural disasters. It’s an alternative to temporary housing programs like trailers or rental assistance.
Local officials had made their interest in the program known to the state very soon after the flooding and had expected to see it rolled out pretty soon after that.
That interest doesn’t seem to have waned among local leaders who are not much interested in seeing scores of trailers trucked into their communities if there’s a way to avoid it.
League City Mayor Pat Hallisey, for example, said last week he had been calling Galveston County Judge Mark Henry every day for news about the alternative program. Henry said he’d been calling the state every day but was getting no news to relay.
Meanwhile, the land office last week said the STEP program never had been an option for Texas. The land office said it had been only a pilot program and interest in it had been whipped up by the contractors who stood to benefit from the work.
It’s true the program began as a pilot in New York in 2012 and that the first people we heard talking about it were disaster contractors. It also seems to be true, however, that the state of Louisiana used the program, pilot or not, after a flood in 2016. The program seems to have worked well both in 2012 and 2016.
And taking some advice about disaster housing programs from disaster housing companies is no more outrageous than taking advice about repairing your car from an automobile mechanic or about treating cancer from an oncologist.
The good news about the program in Texas is that it apparently will allow for reimbursement of work already done. That’s good because most of it will be done before the program to pay for it ever exists.
• Michael A. Smith