Questions over Hurricane Ike recovery program arise

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

BAYTOWN, Texas - A Baytown man who has spent the last five years trying to rebuild his home after Hurricane Ike, claims a Harris County program designed to help residents, has been a frustrating experience.

"If I knew then what I know now, I would have just taken my little bit of insurance money and gone down the road," James Ward said.

Ward was one of hundreds of Harris County residents who signed up with a program called Harris County Disaster Recovery.

"At the end of the day we're going to have over 500 families in new homes," program director, Daphne Lemelle said.

Harris County was allocated 300 million federal tax dollars following the 2008 storm for infrastructure improvements, and for residents to rebuild.

But since, the program's inception, Local 2 Investigates has documented a series of problems in getting homes rebuilt in a timely manner.

Some of the original obstacles seemed to center around bureaucratic red tape with federal, state, and local agencies trying to coordinate rules, funding, and timelines.

James Ward spent years frustrated with those issues, but now he is at wits end because the contractor Harris County hired to work on his home did a slow, shoddy, job in his estimation and quit before the work was finished.

"On the website it says home ownership made easy. Wrong. It's not made easy," Frank Ward, James's father said.

Frank Ward has pulled more than $20,000 out of his retirement account to help his son finish his home. The Wards refuse to let another Harris County hired contractor back in their home.

Harris County Disaster Recovery has offered another solution, reimbursing James Ward after the work is finished and inspected, but the Wards have said the option is less appealing than it sounds.

"They would put a lien on his house, and if they find anything they don't like they'll figure out a way not to pay it," Frank Ward said.

And there is yet another, perhaps more daunting complication facing James Ward. He has cancer, now in remission.

"I was trying to do all this and work with them while I was in chemo and stem cell therapy," James Ward said. "I'm not waiting on them anymore."

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