Financial impact of repeat flood areas, numbers surrounding home buyouts

By Mario Diaz - Reporter

HOUSTON - Philip Whitaker retired on a Friday in 2015.

His home in Meyerland flooded that weekend.

His life has been pretty much underwater ever since, “For the last three years I've done nothing in my retirement but deal with floods."

Whitaker recently met with Channel 2 Investigates in what is the shell of his home, "We took a hit, we took a big hit, between the three floods.

It cost us a lot of money."

It's not only taxing those with flooded homes, but it's also costing every other taxpayer. The National Flood Insurance Program has paid more than $6.1 billion dollars to homeowners flooded in the 2015 Memorial Day flood, The 2016 Tax Day flood, and of course, Harvey. In some cases the same homes flooded multiple times and received multiple NFIP payouts. Whitaker did the calculations that has become common arithmetic for some, "If you've got a house that say got the full value of say $250,000 dollars and you've flooded four times well they've paid you $1 million."

ZIP codes like 77079 in Memorial had more than $262 million dollars in payouts, 77546 in Friendswood had more than $213 million and 77084 on the West Side where the Addicks reservoir sits comes in just shy of $200 million.

The Harris County Flood Control District says most of these events are unpredictable, although the 77096 ZIP code in the Meyerland area might be the closest things to an exception.

The last three years, homeowners in 77096 near Brays Bayou have received more than $444 million in flood insurance payouts.

Rep. John Culberson admits the primary challenge concerning home buyouts is the bottom line, “There has not been enough money in the pipeline to purchase all the homes out there that need to be bought."

Culberson represents part of the city's West side -- hard hit by recent floods. His colleague to the north of the city, Rep. Gene Green says funding for government buyouts of flood prone properties has been slow to arrive, "We are having trouble getting Congress to respond to it."

Since 1985 more than 3,000 Harris County homes have been purchased by FEMA, the Flood Control District or the Army Corps of Engineers. Various ZIP codes have benefited, but the number of buyouts has come to a screeching halt in the past five years according to data examined by Channel 2 Investigates with just over 120 homes bought out.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says buyouts can take up to a decade, "Some of the buyouts that we just completed are from the 2015 storms and we are still doing some buyouts that are left over from Ike, that was from 2008."

However, after months of inaction a ray of hope emerged just last Friday as Culberson helped secure nearly $90 billion for Harvey relief in Washington D.C. It's for programs to prevent or reduce flooding as well as voluntary buyouts for some properties that flood repeatedly. Culberson says it is the financial injection the area needed. "There is enough money in this bill to build for the future. For us to protect against the next big flood."

Whitaker believes in funding fixes for the future to ensure homeowners find dry land, "It's, it's a tragic situation in a lot of ways. I don't know that I have all the answers, or any one person has all the answers, but the main thing is to do everything there is to prevent floods that are preventable."

More than 3,500 property owners in Harris County alone have expressed interest in a voluntary buyout after Harvey.

This as more than 107,000 residential parcels remain with the regulated flood plain.

You can learn more about the repeat flooding and those ZIP codes impacted the most by clicking onto the interactive map ESRI has produced showing neighborhoods with repeat flooding and how much each ZIP code has received in flood insurance payouts in the last three years.

Channel 2 News Investigates partnered with mapmakers, ESRI, to make interactive maps to show you right down to the ZIP code the extent of Hurricane Harvey’s dollar damage to homes.

We took data from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program to show how much was paid out in NFIP claims by ZIP code in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Click in the center of a circle to pop open information about how many claims were in that particular ZIP code and how much was paid out.

We’ve also used data from the Harris County Flood Control District to let you see where home buyouts have occurred since 1985 and which agency funded each buyout.

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