Montgomery County applies for Hurricane Harvey home buyout program

Montgomery County Commissioners Court met for a a regular meeting Aug. 13.

Montgomery County Commissioners Court met for a a regular meeting Aug. 13.

Montgomery County Commissioners Court unanimously submitted a housing grant application to the federal Community Development Block Grant Program on June 11 for the buyout of county homes flooded by Hurricane Harvey.

The buyouts are done on a voluntary basis and must be owner-occupied homes, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said at the June 11 meeting.

Noack asked County Director of Emergency Management Darren Hess about the low- to moderate-income, or LMI, housing requirement portion of the program since some areas—such as Timber Lakes and Timber Ridge—would not necessarily qualify as LMI homes and 70% of money in the program must go to LMI individuals, Hess said.

“There are several subdivisions that we have that standing on their own would probably qualify for LMI, but they reside within census blocks that elevate those numbers, so to overcome those obstacles we have to do stronger public outreach and go out and … do door-to-door surveys and establish those LMI requirements for those targeted areas,” Hess said.

The county is requesting $12.9 million for the program, according to the application attached to the June 11 meeting agenda.

The county is working with the state and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine if that 70% requirement can be reduced as the state reassesses its total number of LMI homes, Hess said.

“As the program evolves, [the] HUD wants to be certain that their targeted homes, the LMI communities, are receiving the greatest impact. … Once they see that progress it’s our belief they’ll lower those restrictions, allowing us to expand the program to areas of the county that wouldn’t ordinarily qualify,” he said.

Noack asked what would happen if the county gets the grant but finds it does not have the resources to find enough individuals who meet the LMI requirements.

“I see we could spend millions of dollars on outreach and not be able to buy the homes we need to buy,” he said.

Director of Community Development Joanne Ducharme said 350 homes from the 2016 floods qualify for the buyouts under the LMI standards, of which the county should be able to buy out no more than 60.

County Judge Mark Keough asked the department heads what the county would do if it did not use all of its buyout money, to which Hess responded the county would ask the state to lower the restrictive LMI amount and expand the program outside of that standard.

“If we take the resources, we can resolve … some of the issues we have had with homes that need the buyout, and if there’s reserve [left over], we can take that money … and expand those we are able to go to," Keough said. "So why would we not want to take the money?”

Refusing the funds could potentially jeopardize future programs, Hess said.

Several residents, including Porter resident Tammy Gunnels, spoke on the item during the meeting. Gunnels noted her struggle with flooding over the years and asked for relief.

"We have flooded 12 times [since 2008]," she said. "We are not in a floodway or flood zone."

The 2016 program has not yet started, so residents have been waiting at least that long to receive money from the program, Ducharme said.

“People have been inconvenienced a long time,” Keough said.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.