Local nonprofit Katy Responds estimates nearly 2,000 families in the Katy area are still homeless two years after Hurricane Harvey flooded and damaged thousands of homes and businesses.
The nonprofit organization defines homelessness not only as those who are displaced in hotels or living with relatives but also families who have remained living in poor conditions in homes needing repairs or rebuilding.
“As Harvey becomes more of a memory, the community is unaware there are still close to 2,000 Katy families not yet restored in their homes,” Katy Responds CEO Tom Pretti said. “This will be the third holiday season that some of these families have been displaced.”
Several organizations, including Katy Christian Ministries, Katy Responds, Hope Impacts and several churches in the Katy area, are working together to help everyone in the community recover.
Living on Bartlett Road, Ann Zanfardino, 92, and her youngest son, Mark, 59, have lived in a home damaged by Harvey for two years.
During Harvey, Mark Zanfardino said his mom sat in a chair inside the house with water up to her knees until she was evacuated, but he decided to stay and ride out the storm. Once the water receded, they continued to live in their home with debris, mold and cracks through the walls.
“I had no other place to go,” Ann Zanfardino said. “We lived here so long. My husband and I [were] married 50 years. He passed away in 2015, and he was about 90 years old. Some days I wonder why I wake up.”
Surveying the damage
According to Katy Responds, homelessness in the Katy area has risen by 1.5% since Harvey, and 13,800 Federal Emergency Management Agency claims were made. Of that number, 130 homes are still unlivable and 1,500 are still notably damaged.
Rice University released the Hurricane Harvey Registry Report in February. Residents were asked to share their Harvey experiences through the study, which captured the living environments of over 39,000 residents spanning over 13 counties in the Greater Houston area.
Out of the 9,798 registrants, about 46% reported having to leave their homes and were displaced for an average of 20 weeks before returning.
While displaced, 59% lived with a family, 14% lived in a hotel and 9% lived in an apartment, according to the survey.
“Every day, more than 100 local partners are working tirelessly to provide street outreach, housing, case management and employment services to people experiencing homelessness,” said Ana Rausch, senior research project manager for Coalition for the Homeless Houston.
Pretti said people affected by the storm as well as many churches and businesses that helped with recovery following Harvey became physically exhausted and emotionally fatigued. Funding is also exhausted in many cases.
Earlier this year, Ann Zanfardino walked into Katy City Hall looking for the mayor to ask why her home had not been repaired since someone who she assumed was with FEMA evaluated her home immediately after Harvey but did not return.
Katy Mayor Bill Hastings said one of the reasons many families are not back in their homes or living in damaged homes is because no one knows who they are.
“We have to know that they need help,” Bill Hastings said. “Like Mrs. Z[anfardino], I would have never known she needed help until she came down to my office.”
Brittany Eck, director of communications at the Texas General Land Office, said the office offers a homeowner assistance program and a homeowner reimbursement program to those affected by Harvey.
The HAP helps affected homeowners remodel or rebuild their homes, while HRP can help reimburse residents up to $50,000 for certain out-of-pocket expenses related to recovery following the storm, she said.
But many residents are in the same position as the Zanfardinos were in months ago: unaware of the resources available to them.
“This is a program that fully restores homes,” Eck said. “People don’t believe it. We are trying to ramp it up in these areas where we are seeing low turnouts for applications. We hope those who are receiving reimbursement encourage their neighbors to do the same.”
Eck said the community should promulgate the programs before funds exhaust in the following months.
KCM Director Susan Hastings said she knew it would be a community project when she learned of Ann Zanfardino’s case through her husband, Bill Hastings.
“The next day, the mayor and his wife, everyone showed up to help,” Ann Zanfardino said.
Churches, volunteers and nonprofit organizations have set out to repair Ann Zanfardino’s house by Oct. 1, Chelsea Lucas with Katy Responds said.
“This is a perfect example of how our community members come together when someone has a need to be met,” Bill Hastings said.
Lucas said Katy Responds has helped 30 families move back into livable homes since the nonprofit was established in 2018. Including the Zanfardino household, she said the organization is helping rebuild four other homes and will soon begin three more projects.
As time and volunteers allow, the organization canvasses homes to find those who still need help. One project they completed in March was one to help Sylvia Trevino’s family.
Trevino said she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, beat it one year later, and then had surgery due to congestive heart failure in 2017.
“Then Harvey hits in August,” she said. “I had never felt so helpless. I couldn’t live at home for six months and even [upon] returning home, I still had a nonworking kitchen because the money from FEMA plus my personal money ran out.”
Trevino said she hopes her story will inspire others to help and to seek help.
“I couldn’t believe how many people from church groups came,” she said. “Rebuilding my home was the miracle only God could make happen.”