Five Years After Harvey: Disaster Recovery In Texas Is An Ongoing Disaster

In a series of blogs, Texas Housers is observing the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by examining the responses from local, state, and federal leadership and talking about what needs to come next. John Henneberger, Texas Housers’ co-director when the storm made landfall back in 2017, recalls below this organization’s response at the time and remarks about what has and hasn’t changed in the five years since.

With a sense of frustration, disappointment and exhaustion, Texas will recognize the five year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey and the bungled state and local multi-billion dollar initiatives to assist the survivors of Texas most extensive natural disaster.

There is no need to recount all of the specific details here. The media has done an excellent job of documenting the delays, misuse of recovery funds, and the brazen and unrestrained racial discrimination by government agencies including the Texas General Land Office and the City of Houston. 

Our state and local governments have flat out failed Texans who lost their homes to Harvey and needed their government to effectively use the billions in federal funds to help them rebuild.

In 2005, Americans watched in horror the bungling of disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. People demanded reform. Federal government disaster aid administrators FEMA and HUD responded by ceding responsibility for the administration of federal funds for disaster recovery to state and local governments. Over the years more major disasters followed — Hurricanes Rita, Dolly, Ike and then Harvey.

The State of Texas, cities like Houston and counties across the state were anxious to get their hands on the federal money to use as they saw fit. The State of Texas promptly got to work finding ways to permit local politicians to direct the funds away from the people who lost homes and needed help — notably people of color and also renters. Funds were directed away from home rebuilding into pork barrel projects that have little to nothing to do with responding to disasters. Federal oversight of state and local use of funds as been halting and tepid. Many of the most needy families couldn’t navigate a byzantine and often discriminatory application process. Home repair programs are delayed for years and often produce unsatisfactory results. 

We have documented these problems in great detail. We have exposed the misuse of the recovery funds. We have worked with survivors to help them speak out. Our formal complaints to the federal government have been investigated and sustained. Our efforts to reform the Texas disaster recovery program continue. In the latest development, HUD gave Governor Greg Abbott until next week to correct the racial discrimination we documented that has deprived communities of color in Texans of billions in federal funds to prevent future flooding of their homes and communities.

Texas Housers developed a disaster recovery framework that would correct this. The State of Texas has refused to adopt the necessary reforms to make disaster recovery fair and effective.

And so, five years after Hurricane Harvey and seventeen years after Hurricane Katrina, disaster recovery in Texas is an ongoing disaster.

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