Are Hurricane Harvey assistance programs working?

KPRC 2 Investigates looks at what went right and wrong.

HOUSTON – As Hurricane Harvey barreled toward Texas, do you remember that familiar anxious feeling? Or when you realized what happened to so many of us was an absolute catastrophe? Government leaders spent hundreds of millions of public funds to rebuild in the five years since Hurricane Harvey. However, the spending is not done yet because a new $1.2 billion bond is in the voter’s hands come Nov. 8.

Now KPRC 2 Investigates is looking into what went right and wrong with the assistance programs.

Homeowners Woes trying to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey

“Well, I call it the ‘Harvey Homeowners Punishment Program’ because it was a real punishment,” says Hurricane Harvey survivor Leslie Friedrich. “It was more stressful than the storm.”

Friedrich lives in Houston’s Memorial Area. Like thousands of others, she was flooded out by dam releases. Her dining room table still bears the watermarks inside her townhome.

Leslie Friedrich describes the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (KPRC 2)

She reached out for help and thought she found it with the City of Houston’s Harvey Homeowners Assistance Program or HoAP. The roughly 180-page application was her first sign that getting reimbursed wasn’t going to be easy. She says it got worse from there adding, “I was berated. I was insulted. I can’t say a kind word about any of the people I dealt with.”

According to Friedrich, it took four years before she got any money. She may be an outlier or maybe she isn’t.

“I brought all my paperwork in, including all this confidential information,” Jan Kramer tells us, “It was a mess. I got a call back a couple of weeks later saying they lost all of my paperwork.”

When Kramer was flooded in Harvey, she says she had better luck with other assistance programs.

“The HoAP was a mess,” she says. “Nobody knew what was going on. And then they started the fight between the city and the GLO. And nobody knew what was going to happen then, you know, because they were so busy fighting, they forgot to do anything with us.”

The city’s administration of the $1.2 million endowment was deemed by many as disorganized and inadequate. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) stepped in pausing the program during 2020. That partnership appeared rocky as well as officials started the program back up in 2021.

Jan Kramer tells KPRC 2 Investigates Joel Eisenbaum about her HoAP experience. (KPRC 2)

Houston’s Housing and Community Development tells KPRC 2 Investigates, “The only way to improve programs and speed up the process is to eliminate the GLO from the equation! Unfortunately, going through a third party creates additional requirements, steps, and delays, which means delays in getting much-needed assistance to our residents.”

181 Harris County Flood Control Projects

Despite a heroic effort, our infrastructure failed us five years ago. While you can argue that 50 inches of rain will do that, antiquated drainage compounded the disaster.

Harris County Flood Control Dr. Tina Peterson is responsible for the 23 watersheds across the county. She says, “the truth of the matter is we are better off now than we were when Harvey hit because of the bond program.”

Harris County Flood Control District (KPRC 2)

In 2018, voters approved a massive $2.5 billion bond. It allowed Harris County Flood Control to tackle 181 separate projects.

“We’ve probably completed 20 out of those 181, but we are at various stages of completing all of those projects,” Dr. Peterson adds. “We’ve completed almost 230 components of different projects.”

Notable achievements include dredging and channeling an equivalent of 350,000 dump trucks of sediment from our waterways, creating detention basins, and removing 11,000 homes from the 100-year flood zone.

“And so, we have completed a significant amount of work to reduce the risk of flooding already,” says Dr. Peterson.

Voters will decide on $1.2 Billion Bond Measure

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tells KPRC 2 Investigates Joel Eisenbaum, “There’s so much more to do. That flood bond that passed it was not enough money.”

Now voters will need to choose to accept another $1.2 billion bond with $900 million earmarked for drainage, roads, and transportation.

Harris County Commissioners Court (KPRC 2)

Commissioner Jack Cagle and Commissioner Tom Ramsey say there are transparency problems with the bond proposal.

“This is one of those things where they say, ‘Trust us, vote for it,’ then find out what’s in it,” says Cagle.

Ramsey adds, “You have hundreds of millions of dollars sitting there unused, and they don’t want to answer the question of why we are having a bond issue again.”

Hidalgo pointed toward party politics responding to the Commissioners by saying, “They can’t side with me right now, because we’re right at the election, they have to demonize anything I do.”

It’s not exactly a collegial environment among Harris County Commissioners, State, and City Leaders these days. Again, voters will get to chime in on the $1.2 billion bond package this upcoming Election Day on Nov. 8.

About the Authors: