Government program for low-income Galveston homeowners at stand-still

Hundreds still left waiting to get into homes

Published On: Aug 30 2012 03:34:26 PM CDT   Updated On: Aug 19 2012 10:00:00 PM CDT
GALVESTON, Texas -

Almost four years after Hurricane Ike, Local 2 Investigates found hundreds of homeowners were still waiting for their homes to be fixed as part of a government recovery program.

"The cabinets and everything are gone," said Yvonne Gerard, a Galveston homeowner participating in the government Disaster Housing Recovery Program.

Gerard's house isn't really a home these days. Most of the walls are gone, much of the plumbing has been taken out, and there's no electricity.

"They came in and they tore it up and left it," she said.

That wasn't part of the sales pitch when Gerard and hundreds of other Galveston homeowners signed up for the recovery program. The promise was contractors would rehab and remodel homes left damaged after Ike. The paperwork said it would take just three months.

"The promises were just lies," said Gerard.

Gerard has now been out of her house for almost a year. No work has been done in at least six months, and she has no idea when she willl be able to move back in her house.

"I get tired of the run around," Gerard said. "I talked to this person. I talked to that person. They say this procedure is why it was stopped. No. I don't want to hear that anymore."

Across town, Freelander Little also been out of her home for a year. All construction has stopped, but she can't even check on the progress because she's been locked out by contractors.

"This is the forgotten story," Little said. "I'm almost dull to the pain, but I'm sensitive to the fact that I need to be home. And who's going to help me?"

By taking a drive through Galveston's inner-city neighborhoods, you see Gerard and Little are not alone. On street after street, signs touting the recovery program sit in front of unfinished homes. Local 2 Investigates discovered there are at least 500 Galveston homeowners either still waiting for work to be done on their homes or for construction to even begin almost three years after the program began.

The rebuilt homes aren't just a problem for homeowners who've been waiting months. In the meantime, some of the houses are unsecured and accessible to anyone. Inside the homes, there are clear dangers like broken glass, no outside walls and holes in top-level floors.

"We've had a lot of problems with the program," said Galveston City Manager Michael Kovacs. "We do have a lot of people who have been out a long time and we're offering our apologies to them."

Kovacs said all of the issues seem to be symptoms of a big government program. Federal tax dollars funded the project, but it's run by the state.

So far, three different state agencies have overseen the program. The City of Galveston had to fire the company it hired to run the local office, and three contractors were replaced for not finishing the work. What's left are hundreds of unfinished repairs that are the result of what city leaders call a bureaucratic mess on every level.

"The only way we're going to prove to people that we're better is by building houses and building them quick," Kovacs said.

Homeowners just want to get back in their homes.

"All I'm doing right now is keep praying that someone will come and do what's supposed to get done and get me back in my house," Gerard said.

Kovacs said the state's General Land Office is now overseeing the entire program. That office hired a new administrator and new contractors are now at work.

Kovacs said he hopes the changes mean all the work can now be finished in six months. The City of Galveston said 360 homes have been either rebuilt or remodeled during the program, but those 500 homes are still not finished.

Homeowners in the program do not have to pay for the repairs or construction. However, they still pay mortgage and taxes during construction and beyond. They also must commit to staying in the home for three years after it's complete and maintain flood insurance on the property.