Two years after Harvey, recovery funds are in abundance

Programs help homeowners rebuild and also reimburses past expenses

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Two years ago Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc across the region and there are still plenty of funds available to help people recover, but few takers in Austin County.

“Unfortunately, what I’m here today to talk to you about, especially with this program, is that in Austin County we only have 32 applications for this program out of almost 12,000 and we know that there are folks in this county and in this area that desperately need some of this help; whether it be $1,500 worth of work or possibly a new home,” Melissa Washington, with the Intergovernmental Affairs and Community Relations department of the Texas General Land Office (GLO), told the Sealy City Council at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Washington gave a 12-minute update about programs the GLO has to offer for Hurricane Harvey recovery, focusing on two programs for homeowners. One is for construction for people who are still rebuilding and the other is for reimbursement of personal funds spent to rebuild.

Washington first explained the construction program to the council.

“Those homeowner programs are still helping people in need,” she said. “There are people in our areas that are fine, they’re doing great. They had insurance, they were able to recover quickly, they go about their business, they go to jobs and they’re pretty OK after two years. But There’s a lot of folks who go to work and they come home and their front yard’s been mowed and their flowers are re-planted and they close the door and they still don’t have sheetrock. And they don’t have flooring and some people are still living with mold on their cabinets.”

She said the GLO wants to use the federal funds to help people affected by the storm to move on with their lives.

“So there is still a large amount of money available to individual homeowners and that is not being utilized here in the county,” she said.

The process begins with establishing eligibility and having a contractor determine the scope of work to be done.

“Once they get that scope of work, they have to do an environmental clearance and they have to do multiple other things but once that project is cleared we are typically turning around houses in about two to three months,” Washington said.

She said the program will rehab homes with up to $65,000 worth of work to be done.

“If that scope of work goes above $65,000 then the house turns into a complete reconstruction, which could be a very good thing for people who happen to be in a low-lying area and need some elevation work, but in saying that, at $65,000 they build you a new home,” she said. “A lot of folks are not wanting to be able to do that because they want to keep the structure that they have.”

The second fund is for reimbursement of money already spent to repair a damaged home.

“We encourage anybody, no matter what their income is, to go ahead and apply and let us work through everything to be able to get them what they need,” Washing ton said. “In any income range. For those people who had insurance, who had FEMA, who got other different kinds of

assistance but still needed more, they were under-insured, they didn’t have enough, for whatever reason there was a gap for what they had covered and what they needed to be covered and was able to pull money out of their 401(k), out of their personal savings, out of their different sets of money pools we have what we call our reimbursement program.

“That program has no income eligibility requirements. It’s the first time the state has ever done a program like this. If you pulled money out of a personal liquidable asset, you can turn in pictures, receipts, have a contractor come to your house to look at the work that you did and the state, through federal funds, will reimburse you through a direct deposit in your bank account. This program has a limit of $50,000. That may not sound like a lot, but for somebody who had to put in $150,000 and is deciding whether or not they want to go eat pizza tonight or if they want to fix their floors, it makes a big difference,” she said.

She said so far in Austin County there have only been seven applications for the reimbursement program.

“This is not just a ‘my home was destroyed and I’m still living in it’ this is for folks who have gotten back to their normal routines and they just want to put a little bit of money back into their pockets. These programs are for their primary residence. It is not for cars, it is not for furniture, it’s not for anything like that, it’s to be able to help get your structure back,” she said.

Washington said the program will also help some mobile home owners.

“The assistance program will help those who were in a mobile home unit. We do not do repairs to an MHU, but if you own the land and it is a lot big enough to put a home on, not just a slip, but a large enough lot, they will go ahead and build a stick-built home for that family. Any home that is built is built to two feet above the base flood elevation, which is pretty substantial for some folks to be able to get out of harm’s way,” she said.

She said for people wanting to apply for assistance, the main regional office is in Sugar Land at 1 Sugar Creek. There is a satellite office in Sealy open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hill Community Center.

“I don’t think a lot of your residents know that. I wanted to be able to get out, let them know that the homeowners’ assistance program is here to be able to help them with applications, to be able to answer questions, and to be able to get all that pertinent information moving for them,” she said.

The homeowner reimbursement program has two satellite offices, one in Brookshire and another in Wharton. They are open on Mondays.

“One thing we don’t want people to do is count themselves ineligible before we even start. There’s a lot of people who say ‘I make too much money’ or ‘it really wasn’t that much and there’s other people who can benefit from this more than me.’ The storm didn’t care if you had money or where you lived or what happened. Everybody was affected in some way. So what we’re here to do is to give people as much relief as possible,” she said.

People can learn more at the website Recovery.texas.gov. They need to click on the button for individuals. They can also call Washington at 512-578-8947.

“Application takes an hour and a half. They’re given a manager to walk them through the process and that manager stays with them until the end,” she said.

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