Officials have no details on housing relief

Marina Riker By Marina Riker

Oct. 8, 2017 at 9:03 p.m.

Laurie Avila, 42, holds her dog, Winners, while Mark Avila, 39, holds his son, Matthew Avila, 1, in front of tents  they have been living in with four other family members at their home in the 1100 block of Isolda Street. The Avilas' home was flooded by the Guadalupe River and suffered water damage along with mildew they did not want their children inhaling. They were denied Red Cross assistance but are waiting to hear back from FEMA.

Laurie Avila, 42, holds her dog, Winners, while Mark Avila, 39, holds his son, Matthew Avila, 1, in front of tents they have been living in with four other family members at their home in the 1100 block of Isolda Street. The Avilas' home was flooded by the Guadalupe River and suffered water damage along with mildew they did not want their children inhaling. They were denied Red Cross assistance but are waiting to hear back from FEMA.   Olivia Vanni for The Victoria Advocate

Neither federal, state nor local officials know exactly how or when Victoria's Hurricane Harvey victims could see housing relief despite the state recently announcing new recovery programs.

More than a month after Hurricane Harvey ripped apart roofs and soaked hundreds of homes in Victoria, there's still nowhere for people to seek shelter or temporary housing in the county.

This comes just two weeks after federal and state governmental agencies announced new programs to help people who lost homes, which include paying for more permanent home repairs and offering trailers as temporary housing.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has received more than 18,500 applications for financial help and inspected almost 7,500 homes in Victoria County. More than 200 families are staying in hotels paid for by FEMA because their homes aren't livable.

Victoria's residents are getting impatient. But officials say they don't have details about when residents can expect relief from the new programs.

"The frustrating part is it all works so slow," said Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek. "Governmental bureaucracy at times gets in the way."

During past natural disasters, FEMA paid for limited repairs to make sure homes weren't dangerous, including repairing structural damage to roofs or walls. But the program wasn't intended to pay for permanent fixes.

After Hurricane Harvey, state and federal officials wanted to find new ways to help Texas' communities. They came up with several programs, including one that would fix apartment buildings and another to more permanently repair homes.

Government officials touted the relief programs as the first of their kind, designed to let local officials to take the lead.

But two weeks after the programs were announced, local officials don't have exact details about when Victoria residents could see help. Hundreds of people have been kicked out of damaged apartments, while others don't have the money to fix homes.

"It's kind of frustrating," said County Judge Ben Zeller. "But we're still waiting to get those answers and the details."

At the city level, Polasek said officials would consider waiving fees for trailer or RV parks used for temporary housing. Opening the city's RV park near Riverside Park also could be an option once repairs to the property are finished.

Meanwhile, Julie Fulgham, who oversees development for the city, said she was planning to talk with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about long-term housing programs. But she didn't have details about temporary housing relief such as trailers for people who lost homes.

"It's like nobody knows what is going on," Fulgham said. "And I think it's because they're trying to develop the programs."

During previous natural disasters, FEMA took the lead in addressing housing problems, said Jann Tracey, the agency's spokeswoman. But Hurricane Harvey has been different.

"With this disaster, it is a different system where the state and locals are figuring out their needs," Tracey said. "And FEMA is in the background paying the bills and determining eligibility of the applicant."

Instead, the Texas General Land Office is leading the charge on the new programs. But their officials are still working to hammer out the details.

"We know the four or five programs that we would like to administer," said Pete Phillips, a top-ranking official at the agency. "But as far as the details and specifics, we're still working those out with FEMA."

Phillips said local government commissions would work with cities and counties to identify relief needs - for instance, manufactured housing for people who lost homes.

In Victoria, the agency in charge is the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission. But the planning commission, too, is in the dark.

"I wish I had more to tell you," said Joe Brannan, the executive director. "But they are, like day by day, telling us a little bit more."

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

Day 24: Refugio: 'We're trying to get back to normal'

Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Day 27: Refugio schools find way to reopen

Day 28: Bloomington schools begin year in different classroom setups

Day 29: Methodist church serves those in need after hurricane

Day 30: Scientists measure damage to endangered species' habitat (w/video)

Day 31: Medical community feels impact of Harvey

Day 32: Harvey's speed leaves many in harm's way

Day 33: After Harvey, Seadrift couple forced out of home

Day 34: Bloomington Elementary School educates students in FEMA dome

Day 35: School districts share issues with state, US senator

Day 36: VISD students observe See You at the Pole

Day 37: Expectant family struggles after Harvey (w/video)

Day 38: Woodsboro pulls together after Harvey

Day 39: Housing options slim for displaced families

Day 40: SBA approves more than $500M in disaster loans

Day 41: Hunger greater in Crossroads post-Harvey

Day 42: 'Harvey broke me'

Day 44: Goliad baby born as hurricane swirled toward Crossroads

Day 45: Mother recalls 'scary' birth during Harvey

Day 46: Harvey devastates homeowners without insurance

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

Goliad park, historic sites recover from Harvey

Altars offer celebration of life

Tourism trickles back into Crossroads

Making your donations count after a tragedy


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