Recently, Houston received a $1.2 billion federal grant to aid with housing recovery for damages related to Hurricane Harvey. While thousands of victims desperately need this money, even after spending significant amounts of their own money on rebuilding, only four people have received the aid they’ve needed since the massive 2017 hurricane.
Houston began accepting applications for aid in March, and the city’s records indicate that approximately 1,100 people applied for the aid and 3,000 more are in the process of doing the same. Tom McCasland, the director of Houston’s Housing and Community Development, indicated that the goal to get aid to successful applicants is between six and nine months. However, he admits that this is too long of a wait for people who have already needed assistance for the last two years.
"I am furious that right now the United States has a disaster recovery program that takes this long. That's unacceptable. McCasland said in a statement to ABC13. “It should not take this long to help people recover," he continued.
In November, McCasland told the city council that his staff was prepared to work long hours to get reimbursement to struggling Houstonians by December so that rebuilding could begin by January. Four people have received aid since and, at this rate, it could be months before more checks are sent to those who need them.
One Company is Receiving Payments
The company hired to run the housing program by Houston officials may not be sending to checks to residents, but it is receiving them from the city. So far, ICF Incorporated has received nearly $1.7 million in funds and the program’s manager, APTIM, has received $4.6 million.
McCasland said these payments to the companies and the slow start to the program is meant to protect funds and ensure that the right people receive them. He hopes that about 200 people will begin receiving approval each month and that 5,000 families will eventually get the funds they need to rebuild.
"It's about ... making sure that we're balancing the interest of speed for the homeowner, which is extremely urgent, especially for those people who are living in unlivable conditions," he said. "But also ensuring that we're not moving so fast that we're putting the taxpayers at risk of paying hundreds of millions of dollars back,” McCasland said.
7,000 Are Asking for Help in Harris County
Harris County also has a relief program, and 7,000 applicants are seeking funds from it. The program has identified nine people who qualify for help, and officials expect the approval process to reach completion by August. As damaged homes line Harris County streets, residents wonder if their lives will ever reach the pre-Harvey levels of normalcy.
"I don't believe there will be any help through the city," said Harris County resident Sharai Poteet. "This program probably should've left and been left in the hands of FEMA because the city doesn't know what they're doing."