Montgomery County region seeking federal funds for Harvey relief

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One year after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, many residents and officials in Montgomery County have addressed immediate needs—but many are also still waiting for relief grants and reimbursement.

Montgomery County survivors have already received $255.2 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $70.5 million in loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, while 2,320 residents filed claims through the National Flood Insurance Program as of July 27, according to FEMA.

While some funds—such as temporary hotel housing assistance—have been depleted in recent months, additional money from other sources continues to be provided to help Harvey victims. A $5 billion round of disaster relief grants for Texas was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on June 25.

Jan Mynhier, the owner of a flooded house in River Plantation, said she is now living on her elderly parents’ living room floor with her two dogs and four sons since her transitional housing assistance ended July 1, while she renovates.

“When it comes to government, state and county, the very entities that should have taken care of the people, didn’t,” Mynhier said. “I had a certain amount of help…but with school starting, my kids still don’t have a place to call home, somewhere to lay their heads every night.”

Money on the way

In the aftermath of Harvey, various local, regional, state and federal entities allocated millions toward disaster relief.

In total, FEMA has put $13.8 billion in Texan survivors’ pockets as of July 23. To Montgomery County, FEMA has obligated $2.2 million toward public assistance—which assists government organizations and nonprofits—and $38.4 million toward individuals and household programs (IHP), which helps individuals with immediate necessities. In Conroe, public assistance funding is still in review, and $10.7 million has been approved toward IHP.

Meanwhile, local nonprofits have helped bridge the gap for families in need. Nonprofit United Way of Greater Houston offers programs that help people understand applications and has filled in needs with private donations after they apply for federal grants.

After FEMA stopped renewing temporary housing hotel assistance July 1, United Way put together a strike team to help 400 Montgomery County families find other housing or extend their hotel stays.

“We had a whole group of folks living in mobile homes who lost their homes, so we’ve been looking at other ways to find resources to help them gain housing,” said Anna Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston.“You will have people totally back in their house, but they may be living on the second floor. They’re still in need of getting their appliances in or need flooring put in.”

United Way invested $926,000 in Montgomery County this past year for food and basic needs. It secured $51 million in private donations for survivors.

“If people were displaced from their houses and then had to find temporary shelter or rent somewhere else, they still had to pay their mortgage on their house, so we’re helping them with housing and utility bills that still exist whether they’re in their house or not,” Babin said. “We’re not going to get their homes to pre-Harvey state, but it is safe and secure.”

Darren Hess, director for the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said in April the process to apply for funding from FEMA for Harvey is ongoing. The county has applied for grants for home buyouts and infrastructure projects. Once the county is approved for funding, it can take up to 12-24 months before the funds are acquired and letters are sent to homeowners, Hess said.

Renovations in Conroe

The city of Conroe has picked itself back up from damages sustained to city facilities, but it still has not seen any reimbursement relief from the funds it already spent on cleanup and precautions.
“[What] we’re dealing with now [is]at what point we’ll see FEMA [and]insurance come through,” Conroe City Administrator Paul Virgadamo said. “We believe we’ll be reimbursed through FEMA…we’ve spent close to $10 million.”

Conroe’s cleanup of private homes and trash was dealt with within days from a city standpoint, but facilities such as the police shooting range, the water and the sewer plant were also flooded and all the equipment had to be replaced, Virgadamo said.

“We’re trying to mitigate so if it happens again we don’t lose as much, and are trying to prevent it from happening again by raising bonds [for prevention studies],” Virgadamo said. “We raised all our generators…so when it floods again, the generators don’t flood.”
Virgadamo said he believes FEMA will reimburse the city soon, but could not provide numbers or a timeline.

Affordable housing funding

In July, grant money totaling $250 million was set aside for Texas’ new Affordable Rental Housing Program targeting affordable housing rehabilitation, reconstruction and new construction through the Texas General Land Office.

On July 16, land office representatives came to Conroe to talk about the new program. Andy Teas, vice president of public affairs at the Houston Apartment Association, attended the meeting. The HAA is a nonprofit trade association that represents apartments across Houston including Montgomery County.

“We [the HAA]had, at the peak, something like 20,000 apartment units that were out of commission,” Teas said of Harvey’s damages last year. “Some of those received fairly minimal damage and were back on screen pretty quickly. Others are still down. It was pretty devastating.”

Although not much pre-existing affordable housing was damaged in Montgomery County, the area could use more affordable housing units today, Babin said.

“We had a problem with affordable housing before the storm—let’s be honest,” Babin said. “The storm just added to the problem for us.”

According to the 2018 Homeless Count & Survey, conducted Jan. 22 by the Houston Coalition for the Homeless, Montgomery County has 203 sheltered but homeless residents and 74 people without shelter. That’s up from 2017, which counted 149 sheltered and 44 unsheltered.

GLO Multifamily Manager Jeff Crozier said at the July 16 meeting the grants will not equal the damages.
“[$5 billion] sounds like a whole lot until you think about [how]the devastation value was over $100 billion,” Crozier said.

An additional round of $5 billion in HUD funding is expected in autumn, GLO Deputy Director of Operations Chelsea Buchholtz said.

“It will probably be a lot of infrastructure with a housing component, but we don’t have the details on that and won’t for the next several months,” Buchholtz said. “It was just approved less than a month ago. Harvey has been about a year ago—that can give you a picture of how long this takes.”

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Jules Rogers
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Jules Rogers has been covering community journalism and urban trade news since 2014. She moved to Houston in June 2018 to become an editor with Community Impact Newspaper after four years of reporting for various newspapers affiliated with the Portland Tribune in Oregon, including two years at the Portland Business Tribune. Before that, Jules spent time reporting for the Grants Pass Daily Courier in Southern Oregon. Her favorite beats to cover are business, economic development and urban planning.
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