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Houston Might Set New Rules for Floodplain in Harvey’s Wake

Houston Public Works has just released their analysis of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive impact, providing data that will hopefully guide new rules being considered by Houston leaders. One proposal from Mayor Sylvester Turner would change the zoning laws in the floodplain, forcing home developers to build at a higher minimum elevation.

The report from Public Works show that 80 percent of homes damaged by Harvey would have been spared had they been built at the elevation being proposed by the mayor. Public Works also found that up to 15,900 homes in the floodplain could have been spared had they been built according to the city’s current standard.

First Priority: Recovery. Second Priority: Prevention.

Our firm has reported extensively on the failures of past (and current) city administrators to prepare for a storm like Harvey—a storm whose scale may become more common in the years to come. The city’s chief responsibility now is to ensure residents aren’t paying for a brand new home every 3-4 years—especially as we come up on 7 months since Harvey made landfall.

Houston has long enjoyed a reputation for being a city where families have a chance to live the American Dream—to own a home, have a good job, and leave in a peaceful community. The affordability and access our city offers doesn’t have to be compromised; at the same time, we can’t force families to suffer through a natural disaster every few years.

We’re encouraged that Public Works has publicized the need for updated rules. Houston doesn’t look like it did 20 years ago, and our city’s infrastructure needs to reflect that.

At the same time, we sincerely hurt for the 15,000 families who lost everything because housing developers couldn’t be bothered to build a little higher—and the city couldn’t be bothered to warn homeowners that their homes were at risk for flooding.