State takes over Houston's Harvey home repair program

In this photo taken Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, Houston resident Alice Torres sits inside her home, which had been damaged during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Torres says she has not unpacked boxes of belongings in her living room because she is still waiting for help from a city program to finish repairs in her home. This week, the state of Texas took over the program over what it says is slow progress the program has made in repairing homes. Torres and other residents who have applied for assistance say they're worried the takeover could lead to more delays. (AP Photo/Juan A. Lozano)
In this photo taken Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, Houston resident Alice Torres sits inside her home, which had been damaged during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Torres says she has not unpacked boxes of belongings in her living room because she is still waiting for help from a city program to finish repairs in her home. This week, the state of Texas took over the program over what it says is slow progress the program has made in repairing homes. Torres and other residents who have applied for assistance say they're worried the takeover could lead to more delays. (AP Photo/Juan A. Lozano) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – All Houston resident Alice Torres has wanted in the three years since Hurricane Harvey hit was to repair her family’s flood-damaged home so her 85-year-old mother can feel safe and settled again.

But when her mother, Dolores Torres, died from COVID-19 on Aug. 2, her family was still trying to get help from a Houston program that has been criticized for its slow pace in repairing homes damaged by the massive storm. The state took over the program this week and Torres and other residents who have applied for assistance say they’re worried that could lead to yet more delays.

“She deserved so much better. She deserved her house. She deserved to have seen it nice,” Torres, 54, said Thursday. She said her home still has Harvey-related electrical and plumbing issues due to insufficient help from insurance and shoddy work from a contractor.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called the state takeover a “power grab,” while the Texas General Land Office, which now runs the program, said its actions are justified because the city’s lack of progress in repairing homes was unacceptable. Housing advocates say they worry that the discord between the city and state will result in vulnerable people who still need help — including the elderly and disabled — being left behind.

The GLO announced this week that it has received federal approval to take control of the $1.3 billion the city was awarded to repair and rebuild homes, provide rental assistance and create new affordable housing. A third of the funding — nearly $428 million — went to a program for home repair and reconstruction.

Harvey dumped up to 50 inches (1.3 meters) of rain on the Houston area following landfall on Aug. 25, 2017. It killed 68 people and caused about $125 billion in damage in Texas. In the Houston area, Harvey flooded more than 150,000 homes, with more than 16,000 residents identified as potentially needing repair help.

GLO spokeswoman Brittany Eck said the city has only fixed or rebuilt 88 homes and has reimbursed 93 people who did their own repairs. In its own program, the land office has fixed more than 2,000 homes and has approved nearly 2,900 reimbursements statewide.

“To those homeowners that are still waiting three years after the storm, (the takeover is) really the only option to get them any assistance,” Eck said.