Update on City’s Federally Funded Housing Recovery Program
HOUSTON – The following is a memo to City Council members from city Housing and Community Development Director Tom McCasland about the HUD-funded program to help residents repair Hurricane Harvey damage to their homes.
I’m writing to update you on the ongoing housing recovery effort in Houston. More details below, but the bottom line is that we are moving people through a complex federal, state, and local system that has taken longer that we would have liked, but we are starting to rebuild homes across Houston.
- So far, more than 16,000 Houstonians have taken the Harvey Recovery Survey. Such a large response to the survey helps us understand the true need in Houston and to better match people with the right program for their needs.
- Almost 5,000 households have been invited to apply to one of the Homeowner Assistance Program options. These households are now working to collect documents and fill out the required paperwork to determine if they meet the many eligibility criteria for the program.
- Our focus remains the most vulnerable Houstonians – those who have the fewest resources to recover on their own. More than 50% of the survey respondents are very low-income residents, thanks to a big outreach effort. Our team has participated in more than 300 community events, knocked on more than 150,000 doors, and launched a targeted print, radio, and social media campaign in multiple languages to let people know about the program.
- Help is also available for higher income households. For these residents, reimbursement-only for work already completed is the fastest way to get help. More than 600 people have been invited to apply for this option, and the first reimbursement-only checks will go out in the next few weeks.
- There are many steps to get people from completing a survey, to working through the application process, eligibility, review by the state, and then permitting. The program is starting to ramp up to scale, with about 100 completed applications having been sent to the state for review and many more to come this summer. So far, eight households have moved into the construction phase and four of them have been completed. We are working to make this process move faster so that we can help thousands of Houstonians in the next couple of years. As the program gets off the ground, we are clearing obstacles in our working relationships with state and federal agencies. For example, we do not yet have approval on the size of home we can rebuild for smaller 1-2 person households and are seeking guidance from both the state and HUD on this important issue.
Thanks to each of you and your staffs for continuing to bring issues to our attention. A few common things we’re hearing:
- Communication: We are streamlining our procedures to make sure people are getting quicker communication once they take the survey. Anyone who has taken the survey can call (832) 393 – 0550 to find out their status. You can also check your status online at https://recoveryportal.houstontx.gov/en-US/.
- Priority groups: Please see attached for a visualization of the priority groups. In each of the program options, we will move through the highest priority groups before serving lower priority groups. That is why reimbursement is the best and fastest option for people in priority groups 5 and 6.
- Document verification: Because these are highly regulated federal programs, there are a lot of forms to fill out and documents that must be verified. We are working to create efficiencies in document review, even as we recognize that this will be an ongoing pain point for applicants. The purpose of the thorough review at the beginning of the process is to mitigate the possibility of having to pay back funds down the road, as some homeowners had to do in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York after previous hurricanes.
- Status updates: Many of your staffs are fielding calls from people who are also in touch with the program. Ryan Slattery in the Mayor’s Recovery Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) is available to assist in communicating with callers to your offices. We also encourage you to offer the call center as a resource for updates on their status: (832) 393 – 0550.
What you can do
- Encourage your constituents to take the Harvey Recovery Survey. It’s the first step in getting needed assistance. The survey is available online at recovery.houstontx.gov or by phone at (832) 393 – 0550. Residents can also visit one of four Housing Resource Centers. The survey takes less than 15 minutes to complete and doesn’t require any documents.
- Help people stay engaged and not lose hope. It’s been a long time since Harvey, and like you, we’re working as hard as we can to get people the help they need. This isn’t an easy process, and you can help people stay engaged by encouraging them to take the survey and stick with the application process even if they hit a bump in the road.
- Continue to raise issues as you see them. Your feedback is important as we develop the program and rise to meet new challenges in delivering a program at this scale. With your help, we’re confident that this will be Houston’s biggest and most successful disaster recovery effort ever.