Five years after Hurricane Harvey devastated neighborhoods across the coast, Harris County victims are still waiting to fix their homes after countless appeals to the Texas General Land Office.
Earlier this year, a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found the GLO unlawfully discriminated against Black and Brown Texans in awarding funds under a 4 billion federal grant.
Recently, Harris County residents shared their experiences on how the lack of financial help has hurt their quality of life, home sustainability, and health with Texas Land Commissioner Democratic nominee Jay Kleberg.
Due to the impact of Harvey, Imelda, and winter storm Uri, Melrose Park resident Dana Jones said she had endured problem after problem in her home over the past five years.
Despite the presence of termites, mold, plumbing problems, cracked concrete, and flooding, Jones said the GLO alerted her that she was on the waitlist despite the City approving her home twice for a rebuild.
Consequently, Jones was recently forced to wash her dishes in the bathtub after a plumber found cracked pipes underneath her house.
“I am demanding a case review from the GLO as to why I have been twice deemed ineligible to have my home rebuilt,” Jones said. “I will not survive; my home will not survive any type of storm. I don’t have time for politicians to continue to play footsies and games.”
Additionally, Jones is requesting lead, black mold, and soil contamination testing on her property.
Kleberg said the GLO has discriminated against counties like Harris and Jefferson in disaster relief aid because of politics.
According to Kleberg, across the board, in disaster relief funding and mitigation funding, the GLO’s money distribution process has disadvantaged communities most impacted by the storm and benefited rural communities less impacted.
“We were in Robstown a couple of weeks ago and what we see is in a town of 12,000 people, more than 80 homes had been rebuilt by the GLO,” said Kleberg. “They have discriminated against this community, Ms. Jones, and more than 200,000 people in this community who did not have or were underinsured and have been underwater not since just Harvey, but every year after.”
Kleberg added that fifty percent of the damages from Hurricane Harvey were in Harris County, but less than 10 percent of relief has been distributed. And despite a billion-dollar federal mitigation grant, Houston received zero dollars in Harvey aid, according to reports.
Like Jones, Northwood Manor resident Ronald Demery said he was also approved and later disapproved by the GLO for rebuilding his home.
“In 2020, we were approved to get a new home built here, and then my mother got sick in 2020 of November she didn’t get a chance to see the house torn down,” he said.
Demery’s mother passed away in December 2020. Still, in 2022, he’s waiting for some help.
“I don’t understand how you can be approved one day, and two months later, you’re disapproved. I don’t think it was right how they did it, and I am seeking help.”
Demery gave the Signal a tour of his home, where visible mold in the ceilings, creaky and unsupported floors, leaking water on the walls, and towels under the door to soak up rainwater show what experiences during a weather change.
At the same time, Northeast Action Collective co-founder Doris Brown was a part of the team that filed a lawsuit against the GLO because she said she was tired of the state disinvesting funds into her community.
“We never seem to recover from one disaster before another one hits, and this practice has gone on long enough,” Brown said. “You discriminate [against] Houston, Harris County, Port Arthur, all of the Black and Brown communities that were hit the hardest. I would think you would address the worst first.”
Lottie Minor, who has lived in Northwood Manor for 50 years, said she’s not asking for a lot but just to live comfortably and safely. The Texas GLO has denied Minor three times but said she is not giving up.
“Harvey has really devastated myself as well as other neighbors,” she said. “My house has been flooded three times, so all I’m asking is assistance and help. All I asked for was repairs, and the repairs [don’t] exceed $65,000.”
Kleberg said the Texas General Land Office needs to protect and take care of Texans regardless of political ideology or race.
“We’re a state that leads the nation in billion-dollar natural disasters; why we don’t have the best disaster recovery program in the country is completely beyond me,” he said. “I want to shepherd in a new era of an organization that cares about the citizens of Texas regardless of whether they are a Republican, Democrat, or what their zip code is.”
Kennedy is a recent graduate of the University of St.Thomas in Houston where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Celt Independent. Kennedy brings her experience of writing about social justice issues to the Texas Signal where she serves as our Political Reporter. She does everything from covering crime beats, Texas politics, and community activism. Kennedy is a passionate reporter, avid reader, coffee enthusiast, and loves to travel.