Confusion Over Floodplain Leaves Homeowners with the Bill

A Port Arthur, Texas, City Councilwoman is one of the people whose request for reimbursement was declined by the Land Office because she didn’t raise her home, which is in the floodplain, while completing repairs.

by Kaitlin Bain, Beaumont Enterprise, Texas / November 4, 2019
Flood waters have risen into the Lakes on Eldridge North neighborhood near the Addicks Reservoir West Houston, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with several feet of rain. TNS

(TNS) — A federal mandate to use preliminary floodplain maps to determine program eligibility has left at least a dozen Port Arthur residents, who say they weren’t aware of the rule, without reimbursement for repairs to their Tropical Storm Harvey-damaged homes.

But the Texas General Land Office, which is administering the money, says the rules of the program were made clear even before it was launched in February.

Port Arthur City Councilwoman Charlotte Moses is one of the people whose request for reimbursement was declined by the Land Office because she didn’t raise her home, which is in the floodplain, while completing repairs. In part as a result, she’s looking for answers for herself and her constituents.

“I believe our citizens are due that money,” she said.

The homeowner reimbursement program run by the Texas General Land Office reimburses homeowners up to $50,000 in out-of-pocket expenses to repair their Harvey-damaged homes. A total of $100 million was allocated for the program that follows rules set but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The program includes a variety of regulations for who is eligible for the funding, including that homes in Houston and Harris County will be funded through a specific allocation and homeowners who received prior disaster relief for a home located in the 100-year floodplain must have maintained flood insurance.

At issue in this situation is the rule that homes in the 100-year floodplain that were substantially damaged by Harvey must be at least 2 feet above the base flood elevation. To be labeled “substantially damaged,” repairs and improvements to the home must cost 50 percent or more than the appraised replacement value.

When looking at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s effective floodplain map, Moses’ home wasn’t in the floodplain. But in the updated preliminary floodplain map, which HUD is requiring the General Land Office to use, Moses’ home was in the floodplain by about three blocks on each side.

According to FEMA, releasing preliminary flood hazard maps gives community members an updated look to flood hazards before the map is passed.

“That is the determination by HUD that we have to use the latest information, so even if the maps are preliminary, that’s the latest and most effective information we have,” General Land Office spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.

If the Land Office doesn’t abide by the rules set forth by HUD, it puts that funding at risk and could force the state to pick up the bill instead of the federal government, she said.

The city of Port Arthur counters that it wasn’t aware these maps would be the ones used and, as a result, local officials believe the Land Office is giving residents “incorrect information,” said Port Arthur Planning and Zoning Development Services Manager Pamela Langford.

“In the case of our councilwoman, her property isn’t even in a special flood area,” she said. “She isn’t even in the floodplain but she received the letter.”

Langford added that the city of Port Arthur has an ordinance that requires new builds or substantial improvements to be constructed 1 foot above base flood elevation so that should have covered people over and above FEMA’s requirements.

The area that Moses lives in went from no FEMA-required elevation, to having a 3-foot base flood elevation.

Moses is appealing her denial, and all residents have the ability to file a written appeal within 10 days of the decision. Otherwise, there’s not much that can be done to address the situation.

Repairs to the damaged homes had to have been completed before the program began accepting applications in late February.

Additionally, the cost to raise a home starts at about $100,000 and the reimbursement program’s max back to homeowners is $50,000.

Eck said the Land Office is considering using some of the $4.3 billion in government aid allocated for flood mitigation for home-elevation projects. It’s unclear if that ultimately will be included in the state’s action plan for the money, which she expects to be released in mid- to late November.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

———

©2019 the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas)

Visit the Beaumont Enterprise (Beaumont, Texas) at www.beaumontenterprise.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs