October 12, 2007 — According to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service (TxLIHIS), NLIHC’s state partner in Texas, long-term housing recovery from the damage wreaked by Hurricane Rita two years ago is unattainable for most lower income homeowners in Texas under the current state plan. A report released September 24 reveals the inadequacies in federal funding due to inaccurate damage estimates and the confusion in state and federal planning that has led to an extremely slow recovery process for homes in southeast Texas. Out of the 75,000 homes destroyed or damaged in more than 29 counties, as reported by the governor’s office, only 13 houses have been rebuilt with assistance from state programs.
According to the report, more than half of the owner-occupied houses that were destroyed in Texas by Hurricane Rita had no homeowner’s insurance, and 47% of homes damaged were mobile homes. From this, TxLIHIS concludes that a large percentage of those homes in need of long-term recovery assistance are lower income households. However, the long-term recovery programs designed by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), the department in charge of recovery efforts, do not cater to these homeowners who need the most help rebuilding. TDHCA has set the maximum benefit level for those receiving public assistance at $40,000 per household under the future Round 2 program, whose budget and scope are far greater than the current Round 1 program. Many homes may cost much more than this to repair, leaving the homeowners to fill the financial gap with private resources. Because many lower income and elderly homeowners have little savings and cannot qualify for loans, this leaves them unable to rebuild their homes.
Delayed and inefficient federal funding is one of the main reasons the report gives for the slow recovery of the owner-occupied housing stock in Texas’ affected counties. In the shadow of Hurricane Katrina, Texas has received federal recovery funds allocated by HUD far more slowly than Mississippi and Louisiana.
According to the report, the funding still falls short of meeting Texas’ rebuilding needs, largely due to inaccurate damage estimates. According to counts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Hurricane Rita severely damaged 1,498 homes and left 9,697 homes with major damage – a far cry from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s estimates of 75,000 homes that were destroyed or suffered major damage. The report dismisses FEMA estimates as “inconsistent” and “not comprehensive.” Additionally, the report argues that the state government underestimated the cost per damaged home in its funding request to Congress. Texas assumed, incorrectly according to the report, that only those 40,000 uninsured homeowners would need any public assistance and that the average cost of repair would be only $8,000.
The TxLIHIS offers a number of suggestions for improvement in the Hurricane Rita long-term housing recovery programs in Texas, including increasing maximum grants and expanding the definition of damage.
The report, Two Years After the Storm, can be found here: www.texashousing.org/txlihis/hurricanehousing/Two_Year_Rita.pdf.