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Letters to hundreds of District E residents went out Friday, Dec. 15, advising homeowners that their homes have been designated as Substantially Damaged. The designation applies only to homes located in the 100-year flood plain that were damaged more than half of their value (land not included).

Jessica Beemer, chief of staff for Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, said that 391 homes were surveyed by FEMA since Hurricane Harvey and deemed “substantially damaged” in District E.

Those getting the letters must comply with FEMA’s policies regarding these homes, but essentially the property owners must elevate their homes above the flood level or abandon their homestead.

The City of Houston cooperates with FEMA to identify the homes and to send the letters to property owners.

“You are receiving the attached official substantial damage letter because the best information available to the City indicates that the damage to your home in the recent flood will cost 50 percent or more of the value of your home (not including the land) before it was damaged,” the cover letter stated.

For homeowners whose homes are “substantially damaged,” it means the lowest living floor of the home must be elevated above the base flood elevation in order to get a permit for repairs. The other option is to appeal the letter.

Owners can knock down their home and build one that’s elevated above the base flood elevation or they can elevate their existing home above the base flood elevation. Homeowners can apply for a grant to elevate their home. Even if the grant is awarded, it can take two years or more to actually receive the funds and have the elevation done.

Beemer said this is the first group of letters to go out.

“District E has the most homes to get letters in this first round as we were flooded earlier than other parts of the city,” she said.

“We do expect some more letters, depending on FEMA,” Beemer added.

According to Public Works, if a homeowner can’t elevate their home or tear down and rebuild to put their home in compliance, they can’t get a permit to repair the home. Some other options are applying for the Harris County Buyout Program, applying for an SBA loan or, if they have FEMA flood insurance and they raise their home, they can be eligible for the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, which is $30,000.

If a homeowner doesn’t come into compliance, the City of Houston is required to notify the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The homeowner potentially may not be eligible for flood insurance or future disaster assistance.

“In ZIP code 77339, we had 28 requests for the substantial damage designation, 22 of which were determined to be substantially damaged and six are still pending,” Beemer said. “But so far, 391 in our district, which includes parts of Huffman and Clear Lake, in addition to Kingwood and Atascocita, have been designated as substantially damaged.”

Cynthia Calvert
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A trained journalist with a masters degree from Lamar University, a masters from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as extensive coursework toward a masters of science in psychology from the University of New Orleans, Calvert founded the Tribune Newspapers in 2007. Her experiences as an investigative, award winning reporter (She won Journalist of the Year from the Houston Press Club among many other awards for reporting and writing), professor and chair of the journalism department for Lone Star College-Kingwood and vice president of editorial for a large group of community weeklies provides her with a triple dose of bankable skills that cover every aspect of the journalism field. Solid reporting. Careful interviews. Respect and curiosity for people and places.