More than a month has passed since flooding from Hurricane Harvey damaged 20,000 or so houses and displaced perhaps 40,000 people in Galveston County.
As each day passes, it becomes more questionable whether the state and federal governments can deliver a program meant to pay for emergency repairs to make those houses livable in time to make much difference.
About a week ago, the Texas General Land Office announced it had reached an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for disaster housing assistance. Among the options for displaced homeowners is Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering, the land office said.
Details about the program and the program itself would come later, they said.
The program generally, though, would provide minor repairs to homes in areas with limited housing options. It’s meant for properties with limited damage, officials said.
The program provides basic, emergency home repairs and pays contractors a set amount of money to make those repairs
The program in the works now is at least conceptually the same as one called Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power, which has existed since at least 2013 when it was used successfully after Superstorm Sandy. It proved itself again in 2016 after a flood in Louisiana.
As we’ve understood it, the program aims to get houses gutted of flood-damaged drywall and flooring and ensure they are outfitted with adequate electrical and plumbing systems, along with cooking and toilet facilities.
The program would be a better alternative to FEMA mobile trailers, such as the ones used after Hurricane Katrina.
The “problem,” which, admittedly, is an odd word to describe the reality at hand, is that people all over the county already are doing, or have themselves done, what the program aims to do.
They’ve gutted their houses and have made them basically livable. Each day, more of that work gets done without a federal program.
On one hand, it’s good people have the wherewithal to get the work underway themselves. But the weeks it has taken for government agencies to decide how the program should work sets up a dilemma and raises some questions.
The dilemma is this: Should people who’ve already done what the program envisions be reimbursed for that work or should the funding be restricted to people who couldn’t get it done without government assistance?
If the funding is limited to people who couldn’t move ahead with the work, won’t that just encourage people not to carry flood insurance?
Officials said the state-run program would offer multiple options designed to allow residents to shelter in their own houses or nearby in their home communities while continuing long-term rebuilding.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said the program offers options.
“This agreement marks the beginning of a new model for simplifying and expediting the transition out of sheltering to short-term and long-term housing recovery efforts.
“The primary objective is to provide flexibility and options so that the effort can be locally led, state supported and federally funded.”
But marking that beginning required making a new program, delaying implementation for weeks, when the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power already was there, already was tested and ready to go.
Why was a new program needed?
Politicians tend to want to rebrand programs they think will be popular to get the political credit for having come up with them.
We hope that’s not the case here and the program truly will be new and improved, not just the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program by another name, in a new package and weeks later than necessary.
• Michael A. Smith