(TNS) - Sound echoes inside Carolyn Modica's home as she walks. The rooms are empty, except for one bedroom, and the new sheetrock on the walls is bare.
Modica and her husband, PJ, exhausted their initial FEMA assistance having their Tram Road house gutted and the walls rebuilt after floodwater rose almost to the ceiling.
"We figured we'd rebuild, one room at a time, as we could," she said. Though she usually hosts family at her house for Christmas, she told her granddaughter they couldn't this year, because she didn't expect the place to be finished in time.
A new program launched by the General Land Office and FEMA could have the house ready much faster, if all goes according to plan. The Modicas are the second family in Texas to qualify for the Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair, or DALHR, program, which provides up to $60,000 for repairs to homes with "moderate damage," or those with repairs determined to be less than half of the house's value.
It's one of five housing assistance options operated by the GLO, and one the agency believes is cheaper and more effective than the "FEMA trailers" provided in past disasters.
GLO has agreements with contractors who assess eligible homes and determine what work can be done to make the home safe and habitable for between $17,000 and $60,000. DALHR money isn't used for aesthetic improvements, but can pay for electrical and plumbing work, as well as walls, floors and ceilings.
GLO Commissioner George P. Bush, who visited the Modicas' house Tuesday, said the program has been well-received because it keeps people in their homes, without having to live elsewhere during repairs.
GLO's Jet Hays, who toured the house with Bush, said DAHLR projects are cheaper than providing an RV or trailer while work is done. Contractors told the Modicas Tuesday that they expect to be done with the work in two weeks, if not sooner.
Bush said the program has previously only been used in northern Alaska. The first Texas household to receive DAHLR funds was in Rockport. Hays said that FEMA considered DAHLR a lower priority option for housing help, but the state believes it will work better for homeowners.
Asked about the speed of the agency's response and the availability of housing options, Bush said that while "it can never be fast enough," the GLO has provided assistance "a full month faster than last year's East Texas floods." Trailers and other manufactured housing options have been slow to arrive, which Bush said is due to a shortage. "Those units are being deployed," he said. The agency did not respond Tuesday when asked how many have been distributed.
Bush projected that about 8,000 people will qualify for short-term housing assistance, including DAHLR, manufactured housing, and other options.
Carolyn Modica said she applied first for FEMA assistance, and received money for repairs, as well as for a hotel stay in Silsbee. She and PJ both use walkers and power wheelchairs, which were destroyed in the flood, and decided to return to the partially finished home because commuting from the motel to their home was difficult.
"I don't know how we were chosen for this program," she said. "It's amazing."
Some of the repairs will make the home more accessible for them as well. They've already installed wider doors that will accommodate their chairs, once they're replaced.
The GLO is operating housing programs with FEMA, and administering them locally through Councils of Governments, including the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission.
According to an analysis by the Episcopal Health Foundation, residents in eastern parts of Port Arthur had the highest number of requests for FEMA assistance of any zip code affected by Harvey, and residents of eastern parts of Orange County, including Vidor and Rose City, had the highest number of requests for homeowner assistance.
FEMA spokesman Ken Higginbotham said that as of Monday, more than 2,500 Southeast Texas households are still checked into hotels using vouchers from the agency, while thousands more are staying with friends and relatives or in tents and trailers on their properties.
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