Texas Lawmakers Receive Sobering Lessons on Hurricane Housing Money

AUSTIN -- Five southeast Texas lawmakers said Thursday they're distressed the state has very little cash to bestow on Hurricane Harvey victims who have lost their homes.Several also fretted that Hurricane Irma may cause huge damage when it hits the nation's East Coast, slowing Texas' recovery by straining federal funds and federal agencies' manpower.Two influential state representatives said Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, the governor's new hurricane-rebuilding czar, must quickly finalize Texas' plans to provide temporary housing to storm victims and help homeowners rebuild."We know that federal funds aren't endless," said House Urban Affairs Committee Chairwoman Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. "Time is not on our side in light of the fact we have another major hurricane that will be hitting U.S. territory soon."Alternative to trailersAlvarado and Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, urged Abbott and Sharp to strongly consider an alternative to putting displaced storm victims into trailer homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency - a program called Sheltering and Temporary Electric Power, or STEP.Under STEP, the federal disaster agency would pay building contractors to "de-muck" and treat a home for mold. They'd replace drywall and fix enough plumbing and electrical systems to make the house habitable. Owners then could return while more comprehensive renovation work continues."The governor's office is reviewing that with FEMA," Alvarado said after holding a hearing on what the state can do for the housing needs of Texans displaced by Harvey.The federal agency used STEP to help New York City homeowners after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012 and displaced flood victims last year in Baton Rouge, La., she noted.The cap for the spending to make Baton Rouge homes habitable after the floods was $18,000 per house, said Austin lobbyist Lee Woods, who represents J. W. Turner Construction Co., a Tomball-based builder that specializes in home repairs after natural disasters. Woods distributed a factsheet that said FEMA's "modular housing units" can cost as much as $100,000 to buy, transport and install.'Back to normal'Schofield, who represents heavily flooded portions of western Harris County, was one of two southeast Texas House members who attended Thursday's meeting, even though they don't sit on Urban Affairs. The seven-member panel includes three Houstonians.Although mobile homes were used extensively after hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita, Schofield said he sees promise in STEP."You have to get these people back to normal as quickly as you can," he said. "We have to get the kids back in their regular schools [and] the parents where they're able to make their regular commute to work."Trailers don't provide "an ideal living situation," he said. Besides, they'll be in short supply after a double whammy from Harvey and Irma."If we can shelter in place, that's going to be a much superior short term fix," Schofield said.Between 30,000 and 40,000 homes have been destroyed in the Houston area alone since Harvey struck the Coastal Bend on Aug. 25 and went on to cause unprecedented storms and flooding, according to Alvarado.  Continue reading...

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