In yesterday's blog, we talked about how the old floodplain maps that guide Houston's housing policies no longer apply to real-life situations. It's not just a matter of inaccuracy–it's an issue of irrelevancy. Homes that ostensibly have less than a .2 percent chance of flooding in a given year have flooded every year since 2015.
But for the families who do live in the floodplain, they're facing a difficult choice too: their homes could flood as soon as this upcoming hurricane season, and many of them are still in the middle of renovations that cost between $60,000 and $100,000. Their homes are worth little more than half of what they paid for them.
The New York Times recently did a heart-wrenching report on the families in Canyon Gate, a suburb in West Houston. It focuses on family after family all asking the same question: is it time to leave Houston? Canyon Gate was built in the 1990s, more than half a century after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers set aside the land for purposeful flooding in order to protect downtown from flooding. The land developers who sold Canyon Gate to homeowners neglected to publicize that fact, which is why we're here now.
Canyon Gate Is "Worth Saving"
Hugh Durlan, an employee at an engineering firm and former member of the homeowners association board in Canyon Gate, believes that the suburb is worth saving. He posted a survey from the community's Facebook page, and 200 of 202 responders were in the middle of renovation efforts. "This is going to be a brand-new 20-year-old community," he said.
At the same time, the people in the middle of those renovations aren't sure it's worth it to pour their life savings, college funds, and last pennies into rebuilding a home that could flood in a few months. Mr. Durlan believes the suburb should put their hope and efforts behind a proposal to deepen the reservoir and build a levee.
"This Used to Be My House. Now It's Just a Shell."
Many homeowners expected to spend the rest of their lives in Canyon Gate. Paulette Archer, interviewed in the New York Times report, was one of those people. She bought her home for $200,000 in the 1990s, and watched it grow in value to $300,000. More importantly, it was the home where she spent her last days with her husband and her mother, where she hosted guests with pride, where she raised her son. Now, it would cost $100,000 to renovate...and FEMA only offers a fifth of that or less.
Ms. Archer was told again and again that she didn't need flood insurance. She had no idea her home was in reservoir land. In 2015, she got a reverse mortgage: she converted her home's equity into cash. Now, her home is worth less than the loan balance. Thankfully, the lender negotiated with her. The home has been sold for $125,000 in a short sale.
She's moving near Dallas to look for a job. She, like many families, is starting over. You can read their stories here.