Nearly three years after Houston received federal funds for voluntary residential buyouts for those affected by the 2015 Memorial Day Flood, city officials refined the application process, reigniting discussions among council members about the pace of the city's disaster recovery.

Single-family home applications clarified

Prior to revisions approved by Houston City Council on Jan. 15, the buyout application for single family homeowners stated that the amount of money they were eligible to receive was based off of the value of the property prior to the disaster rather than after the disaster. In reality, Harris County Flood Control District, which facilitates the program, has always required reimbursement be based off a property’s post-disaster value.

Newly-elected At-Large Position 4 City Council Member Letitia Plummer said she was disappointed to discover this inaccurate wording had been on the books for years.

“We need to do a better job crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s because we’re misleading our community,” she said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the clarification in the wording does not negatively affect any of the homeowners already helped by the program because they were informed that their reimbursement was based on post-disaster values after they applied for the program.

“There is no substantive impact at all,” he said. “Just in the paperwork, we’re bringing everything to compliance with the county.”

Using post-disaster values streamlines the process, Assistant Housing and Community Development Director Derek Sellers said during a November Housing Committee meeting regarding the clarification. If a homeowner applies for aid after more than one disaster, using the pre-disaster value would require the county to subtract previous aid received by that homeowner from the pre-disaster value and complicate the process, he said.

For that reason, he said the flood-control district has always used the most recent post-disaster value to determine aid funding.

“The struggle that we have is that when you have storms that have happened in ‘15, ‘16, ‘17 and we just turned around with Imelda as well, the potential to get FEMA funding creates a duplication of benefits would have to prove how much you put into the home with previous funding.”

To expand eligibility, Council also approves new prioritization guidelines that expand the definition of seniors and families, two groups that are given highest priority.

The changes state that seniors are now defined as 62 years old and up rather than 65 years old and up and families are defined as households with children under 18 rather than under children under 5.

Multifamily buyouts get more time

Also among changes approved Jan. 15 was an additional year added to the voluntary buyout program for multifamily properties affected by the 2015 flood. As of 2020, 19 buyouts have been performed and two are pending for a total $3.2 million allocated out of the $10.6 million federally funded budget, according to Houston Housing and Community Development Department data.

The city also received $23 million for multifamily buyouts following 2016 flooding, however that funding has already been allocated, Housing and Community Development Department officials said.