A federally backed housing rebuilding program, meant to help low-income homeowners rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, could result in the construction of up to 2,000 new homes in the county, according to the Texas General Land Office.
That would leave as many as 8,000 homes that could qualify for the program untouched, according to the land office’s own estimates.
The land office’s Homeowner Assistance Program on Monday will begin accepting applications from homeowners in Galveston County, and five other nearby counties.
The applications will help decide which local homeowners receive a portion of the $258 million in federal housing recovery grants to rebuild and rehabilitate homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017.
The storm damaged as many as 20,000 homes in Galveston County, but state and local officials said the home assistance program will only potentially serve a fraction of that total.
The number of county homeowners who receive aid through the program is limited by the number of people who apply, and by the federal income restrictions on who can receive funds, officials said.
The land office roughly estimated there are 10,000 homes in Galveston County that could qualify for the program, agency spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.
Of those, the land office estimated the county would receive funding to rebuild between 1,500 and 2,000 homes, Eck said.
Case workers with the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Group already have identified as many as 3,100 local homeowners that could qualify for the program and will be helped to sign up starting Monday, said Lynda Perez, the director of disaster case management for the recovery group.
The recovery group is a network of local agencies and nonprofit organizations that have worked together since the storm to help vulnerable people recover from the storm.
The group anticipates that more people will come forward to sign up after the application process begins. But applying for funding quickly could be challenging for some people who qualify for recovery funding, particularly if they haven’t been preparing for the applications to open, Perez said.
The assistance program will award money on a first-come, first-serve basis, making getting applications in early even more urgent, said Gary Scoggin, the chairman of the long-term recovery group.
“The person that gets in line for it might not be the person of highest need,” Scoggin said. “So, we worry about what measures there are to make sure the money goes to folks that are in most need.”
Guidelines set out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development require that 80 percent of the housing funds be given to low- and moderate-income homeowners, Eck said. On average, the land office will spend between $100,000 to $150,000 on each home, she said.
The recovery group has worked for months to help clients gather information and set up basic requirements, like a functioning email address, to prepare them for the rollout of the program.
“A lot of people that we contract with don’t have an e-mail,” Perez said. “They need to be educated and assisted to set up an e-mail address, and monitor it, and respond to it if they get a notice that they’re missing documentation.”
But Scoggin was worried the land office hadn’t done enough outreach in the area to generate interest in the program, he said.
“There’s going to be folks that are falling through the cracks that are going to be harder to find and get into this program,” he said.
The land office has been conducting outreach for months — pointing to online documents with checklists that told homeowners what kind of information they need to collect to qualify for the program — and planned to do more after the application period opened, Eck said.
“I think we are out there in the communities trying to do the outreach,” Eck said.