Crossroads might lose much-needed Harvey help

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Dec. 2, 2017 at 5:42 p.m.
Updated Dec. 3, 2017 at 9:17 a.m.

No one knows the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey and how or when state and federal relief dollars will arrive.

This bureaucratic quagmire hardly inspires confidence that Crossroads residents will receive the help they need to recover. The best hope for the region is Placedo native John Sharp, the head of the Governor's Commission to Rebuild Texas.

Sharp has shown throughout his long political career and then as chancellor at Texas A&M that he remembers his roots. As Harvey czar, he already has visited Victoria and surely won't forget the Crossroads.

Even so, the recovery red tape hardly inspires confidence. As the Victoria Advocate reported recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't provided data showing which homes were damaged. Compounding that, the General Land Office, the state agency in charge of handling FEMA's recovery programs, hasn't determined how to work with local governments to distribute aid.

Under a new plan for Texas, the General Land Office and local councils of governments are supposed to work together to help local residents.

"The rollout of the GLO effort has been a rough start, obviously," Victoria County Judge Ben Zeller told the Advocate. "And that's caused issues all the way down the line."

Unfortunately, officials are barely even at the starting line in terms of recovery efforts. They can't even say with any certainty the extent of the damage. No local, state or federal assessment has been conducted.

This glaring oversight is because no single agency is in charge of U.S. disaster recovery efforts or tracking the full extent of the destruction. As the Texas Tribune recently reported, housing advocates are worried this will mean many Texans will fall through the cracks.

FEMA has started to recognize this and is trying to find a way to estimate the damage. Most local officials have not done anything more than "windshield surveys," as Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek described driving around to look at some damage from the street.

John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, explained the problem with this approach to the Tribune: "Sometimes local governments are not in the best position to determine the rebuilding needs of Texas households, and they undervalue them."

Victoria and other Crossroads cities are in danger of being undervalued and not receiving the help they need. In Victoria alone, FEMA has inspected about 11,500 homes for damage. That's a huge number that can't be understood or appreciated from a windshield survey.

Local officials can't solve this problem alone, but they need to stand up and be heard on behalf of their residents. They need to make sure Sharp understands the depth of the damage in his hometown and is prepared to make sure the recovery dollars flow where needed.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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