Fourteen months after Hurricane Harvey, Donna Jackson is living in an RV that’s parked inside a metal barn on Deats Road.
Not far from where she’s parked is the empty lot where her home once stood. Flooded by Harvey, the house had to be torn down because of the severity of the damage wrought by the storm.
The house was a goner, and Jackson still doesn’t know how she’ll build a new one on the lot. She had no flood insurance, and so is hoping a federal program will pay to help her rebuild a home that’s above flood levels.
Right now, her focus is on a program she was told about that will pay for 75 percent of the cost of a rebuild. She’s not sure whether she’ll qualify for that program, which she couldn’t remember the name of, but was hopeful she and her husband would, eventually, find a way to pay for the cost of a new home.
“I feel confident that this is going to work,” she said.
Across Galveston County, thousands of homeowners are in similar waiting games. More than a year after Harvey made landfall, the Texas General Land Office, which manages the state’s disaster housing recovery programs, has not begun accepting applications for major housing recovery programs that will be funded with some of the $5 billion the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the state after the storm.
The programs would potentially rebuild or replace some of the more than 20,000 homes in Galveston County that were damaged or destroyed by Harvey in late August 2017. Many of the homes were damaged by flooding that persisted for days.
In some areas of the county, houses now sit abandoned or derelict, while owners wait to determine whether they’ll qualify for disaster recovery money.
A timeline of housing recovery, which the land office published Sept. 6 in its action plan, estimated the state would begin accepting applications sometime in September, and that construction would start near the beginning of 2019.
An earlier version of the action plan had proposed the application process would begin even earlier, sometime between May and July.
Despite what’s in the plans, state and local officials said they don’t think housing recovery had been significantly delayed, given the sheer size and complexity of the program.
“I’m still not sure when they’re going to start building houses,” said Gary Scoggin, chairman of the Galveston County Recovery Long Term Recovery Group, the organization working with the state to assess and identify people who might qualify for long-term housing aid. “I still think it’s going to be a while.”
In all likelihood, local people might not see the start of new home construction through the federal program until some time in 2019, Scoggin said. Scoggin had been hopeful the housing program would be further along by now, but hesitated to say it was delayed.
“They’ve got to get clients, qualify clients, get a contractor, line it up,” he said. “It’s a process that takes months.”
The timeline of the Harvey programs so far isn’t dissimilar from what happened locally after Hurricane Ike in 2008. After that storm, Galveston County and the city of Galveston did not start accepting applications for home repair programs until December 2009, about 15 months after the storm.
The home rebuilding program in Galveston stretched on for years. In 2014, nearly six years after Ike, local groups were still searching for homes that would qualify for repair under federal housing guidelines.
While applications for the Harvey program aren’t open yet, work is being done to prepare local people for the program, said Lynda Perez, the director of disaster case management for the long-term recovery group. The land office has determined what kind of information people will need to provide to qualify for the program, she said.
The information, in some cases, is extensive, she said.
It could take a lot of time to gather application material for people who didn’t keep good documentation, or who lost documents in the flood, Perez said.
Case workers with the long-term recovery group were still completing housing assessments and educating clients about the questions they will need to answer to get assistance, she said.
Perez helped manage housing recovery efforts in Galveston County after Hurricane Ike in 2008, she said. Harvey’s housing damage was far more extensive, she said. She estimated rebuilding wouldn’t start until late 2019.
“It’s complicated and there are a lot of moving parts,” she said. “It takes a while to get into place.”
It’s too early to say how many homes in Galveston County will be rebuilt through the state programs. Limits set on how the money can be split between low-and moderate-income homeowners and higher-income properties, as well as the individual circumstances of applicants, will determine how many Harvey homes will be built in the county.
Among the unknowns is the types of homes that government programs could build in master-planned communities on the mainland, where some of the worst flooding was concentrated.
“The block grant homes will be appropriate in some areas of the county, but not in all areas of the county,” she said. For example, there may be situations in which a program typically builds a two-bedroom house, but that can’t be done because a homeowners association allows only bigger homes.
“We don’t know yet whether the state will take that into account or not,” she said.
There’s also a question of whether people who might qualify for some housing programs will want to participate.
In Dickinson, Donna Jackson said her focus was on building a home to her own specifications. She said she didn’t want to participate in a program that offered her a limited number of choices.
“If the government doesn’t want to help with that, that’s fine,” she said.