Thanks to $25.6 million in federal funding and $8.6 million in local matching funds, the Harris County Flood Control District announced Monday it will buy some 169 flood-prone homes across the county in its first post-Harvey buyout. Months after Hurricane Harvey hit, that's a fraction of the 1,000 homes the flood control district identified in its April application requesting $163.5 million in federal funds from the state. More funding allocations are expected, according to a statement from the flood control district.
In the meantime, the homes that will be targeted with the first round of funds were chosen because they were considered "substantially damaged" by the county or city. With that much damage, the assumption is it would cost 50 percent or more of the home's market value to repair it.
The broader 1,000 homes identified by the district also had to meet a set of requirements, according to the release, including:
- The home is located in Harris County, Texas.
- The home’s flooding is from a bayou, creek or smaller tributary that feeds into the bayou system.
- The home is located in a mapped floodplain and/or subject to repetitive flooding caused by out‑of‑bank bayou flooding.
- A home buyout must be the most beneficial solution to a home’s flooding problem (as opposed to a structural solution, such as a channel conveyance improvement or stormwater detention basin).
- The home is strategically located for potential or future flood damage reduction projects and/or floodplain preservation.
- The home is located in a community that has expressed general support for buyouts.
Additional allocations would address those properties. The rest of the funds are still under review by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, according to the statement. "This is just the first allotment of FEMA funding for home buyouts, and we are looking forward to the ability to do more work for our residents,” said County Judge Emmett in the release.
But even those 1,000 homes represent a fraction of the interest. More than 3,500 households applied to participate in the buyout program after Hurricane Harvey, according to a recent Kinder Institute for Urban Research report.
Nationally, most of the federal hazard mitigation grant program money has gone to buying out single-family homes rather than multifamily properties, though both are eligible. Between 2004 and 2016, Harris County received the largest share of these funds, "making it the single largest program in dollars spent and properties acquired," according to the report.
One of the major criticisms of the current buyout process that emerged from that report is the slow timeline. So while the storm hit more than nine months ago, affected households would only now be getting buyout offers from the county. Meanwhile, investors rushed in to buy up damaged homes after the storm. Even those with insurance have long waits for those payouts. And so selling to a hungry investor is often the most appealing option.
There are, however, alternatives. The report highlighted multiple case studies where various municipalities were able to speed up the buyout process, like creating local rainy day funds to help purchase flooded homes in the wake of a storm and even using technology to accelerate the timeline.
Read more here.