- Written by Sarah Mertins
Alan Potok, a retired engineer who specialized in water resources for 40 years, has started a petition calling on officials to take immediate action to prevent the San Jacinto River from flooding the areas that were inundated during the Hurricane Harvey aftermath.
The petition is titled “San Jacinto River Corrective Action Petition” and it reads: “We, the following undersigned residents of the Kingwood/Humble area in Texas, having suffered physical, economic and environmental damages caused to our community by what appears to be irresponsible actions by the San Jacinto River Authority during Hurricane Harvey, make the following requests to our local, state and federal government representatives: (1) to pursue modifications of the roles and responsibilities of the appropriate governmental authorities managing Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River West Fork as necessary to make sure such a tragedy is less likely to occur in the future; (2) to advance administrative enforcement and penalties as appropriate against public and private entities that contribute to the unlawful deposition of sediment, including increased flood flows which threaten to increase the risk of future flooding to the Kingwood and Humble area communities; (3) to bypass traditional engineering and environmental studies to the extent allowed by law in favor of initiating the dredging of the San Jacinto River West Fork to provide immediate relief to flood risk to the Kingwood/Humble area in compliance with the City of Houston’s responsibility under the National Flood Insurance Program.”
Potok is a resident of The Enclave in Kingwood, which was entirely flooded with 3-4 feet of water in homes. He and his wife happened to be on vacation in California when his home started to flood.
“Our daughter called us in California and said, ‘You need to come home, your house is flooding.’ As we headed back, we bought supplies that weren’t available here, such as a generator and dehumidifier,” he said. “We have a one-story home and everything was destroyed. We were devastated along with the half-million people who were flooded. But we are grateful for two things: we had a car still and a suitcase full of clothes, and we have the resources to rebuild, while so many others don’t.”
As an engineer, Potok worked in flood mitigation and regional water supplies in California and later in the Houston area. He says he knows the key players in the area: the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), the City of Houston, and the Harris County Flood District.
“While I was in California, I was watching the rainfall gauges here. Then when the flooding happened, I was confused. I knew the river authority had documents to deal with this kind of situation that had been approved by the state,” he said. “My complaint is not why they did it, it is when they did it and to the extent they did it.”
He is referring to the SJRA’s decision to release a large amount of water from Lake Conroe downstream, flooding areas that had never flooded before.
Potok said the petition was somewhat of a response to City of Houston Council Member Dave Martin, who has implored those affected by Harvey and the subsequent flooding to stand up and get involved.
“I see no practicality in suing the SJRA; I want to bring them to the table and have them lend to the solution. Let’s do it to extend better protection to the people affected. We need to get the river dredged so Kingwood has some level of comfort and confidence that this will not happen again. People are wondering, ‘If I rebuild, will it happen again?’ As long as that sand is in the water, people will be nervous,” Potok said.
Potok plans to hold the petition open until Jan. 8. As of Dec. 15, there were already 1,600 signatures. The petition is being spread by volunteers standing in front of Kingwood businesses and going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods.
- Written by Community Reports
HOUSTON - While the effects of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation continue to reverberate throughout the city, significant help is on the way for residents who have been approved for FEMA assistance. City Council today accepted an allocation of up to $424.5 million in FEMA funds for direct housing assistance and approved an interlocal agreement with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), which is administering the funds at the state level. Locally, the city’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCDD) will play a lead role in implementing the housing assistance programs, the first of which will be FEMA’s Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair (DALHR) program.
During Wednesday’s council session Mayor Turner stressed his desire to focus on housing needs, noting the significant shortage of resources. HCDD Director Tom McCasland echoed these sentiments and sense of urgency saying, “My team will be working through the holidays to ensure we have hammers swinging (on the home repair program) by the second week in January.”
Today’s acceptance of funds is the first of two City Council actions required to meet the mid-January start date. The second is slated for next week, when City Council will consider a measure to appropriate funds and award contracts for single-family home rehabilitation, reconstruction and new construction services related to the DALHR program.
The DALHR program will provide permanent repairs to homes with significant damage for homeowners who applied for FEMA funding prior to the deadline. FEMA will be responsible for determining eligibility for applicants on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing homeowners who have exhausted all other forms of housing assistance. Harvey survivors without alternative housing options or cost-effective solutions will also be given preference.
With so much work to be done, there are additional programs forthcoming. FEMA’s direct temporary housing assistance program allows funding to be used for leasing and repair of multifamily properties, direct leasing of typically unavailable properties like corporate lodging, and manufactured homes and recreational vehicles. While not all of these are appropriate options for Houston, HCDD will be evaluating those that are and gearing up programs to address the city’s needs.
With more than half of the Houston population renting, their needs are an immediate topic of concern for the mayor and HCDD, both of which pledged to continue work on solutions as the DALHR program is under way.
For information on disaster recovery, assistance and available programs, visit www.houstonrecovers.org and www.houstontx.gov/housing. Additionally, you may sign up to receive updates via the City Newsroom at http://cityofhouston.news/.
- Written by Community Reports
AUSTIN - Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued the following statement today informing residents with damaged homes and businesses in the 60 Texas counties that were declared disaster areas following Hurricane Harvey that they have the option to pay their 2017 and 2018 property taxes in installments rather than a lump sum that is due before February 1, 2018:
“Helping Texans who are recovering and rebuilding after the storm is my top priority. That’s why, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I called on counties and other local taxing entities to initiate disaster reappraisals so that those with damaged homes and businesses would not be assessed for property taxes on the value of their property before the storm hit. Some taxing entities stepped up immediately to begin disaster reappraisal, but others have refused. I will continue to fight for disaster reappraisal but in the meantime, I want to make sure property taxpayers know they have another option that could be helpful both this year and next year.
“The Texas Tax Code 31.032 allows homeowners and small businesses that were damaged in the hurricane and are in a declared disaster area to pay their property taxes in four installments instead of one lump sum without penalty or interest. All single family homes, even if not an official homestead, and other residential property with no more than four units are eligible including small businesses with gross receipts of less than $5.7 million. I'm familiar with this law because I helped amend it in 2009 to make it stronger.
“This will not lower appraisals or property taxes, but it will spread out what is owed over several months and eliminate penalties and interest.
“In the last session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 717 which would have required appraisal districts to reappraise all property after a major disaster but the bill died in the Texas House. I will make passing the disaster reappraisal bill a priority for the next legislative session and I continue to call for all local taxing entities in declared disaster areas to reappraise damaged properties.”
Residents in counties that have been declared disaster areas must take the following steps in order to pay their property taxes in installments:
By January 31st, pay 25 percent of your property tax bill and inform your local taxing unit that you intend to pay the balance in installments.
March 31st – the second 25 percent payment is due.
May 31st – the third 25 percent payment is due
July 31st – the final 25 percent payment is due.
Eligible residents can pay both 2017 and 2018 property tax in installments.
- Written by Community Reports
HOUSTON - Mixing a sense of urgency with the need to be accountable and transparent to the public, the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund today announces the distribution of $28.9 million in donated funds to 90 local non-profit organizations that will provide financial aid and services to Houston/Harris County flood victims.
The fund was founded by Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett to channel the exceptional generosity and compassion of Houston and Harris County area residents -- as well as companies, foundations and individuals from across the United States -- into tangible ways to help their neighbors in need as soon as possible.
Today’s announcement marks the second round of fund disbursements even as officials are working on the third round to be completed by January. Since its founding after the hurricane, the fund has collected more than $100 million and, with today’s announcement, has distributed more than $36 million. The fund will continue to collect donations through December 31, 2017.
“Bouncing back from disaster is hard work for flood victims trying to repair homes, pay for temporary housing, replace damaged personal belongings and start their lives over,” Judge Emmett said. “So, the administrators of the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund are working hard to meet their needs. It’s a process that is making a difference.”
Mayor Turner added, “I am heartened to see that round two of the distribution of donations from so many kind donors is based on data about needs in the community and will boost the well-being of the entire Houston area with direct financial aid and services that government simply cannot supply. The relief fund will never cease honing its effectiveness and speed as the distribution of funds continues to aid seniors, children and everyone else in need. The reach of this round’s distribution is deep and will improve the lives of many in our city. Our work will continue as we identify the best and most meaningful ways to distribute the funds over the next months.”
Using data to pinpoint needs
Today’s distribution is guided by a study using FEMA data and call data from the city’s 2-1-1 help line as a way to confirm where and what the city/county’s greatest personal flood recovery needs are. It was conducted by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.
The 90 non-profit organizations selected are trusted, experienced groups with the proven ability to identify clients and their needs and then assist them directly.
Direct funding and services to be provided by the non-profit recipients include but are not limited to:
- Assistance with paying for food, clothing, rent, mortgage payments and utilities
- Home repairs
- Replacement of flood-damaged furniture and appliances for those who did not have flood insurance.
- Case management for elderly, disabled, and other individuals who need help applying for assistance and developing a recovery plan.
- Trauma/crisis intervention
- Job training and employment services
- Grants for families with children
A list of non-profit organizations in today’s distribution of funds, the amount each receives, and the services and aid is available at:
See ghcf.org for more information about this disbursement.
The funding is expected to support these organizations’ efforts over the next 120 days.
Flood victims who have not been in direct contact with the non-profits receiving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund grants should call 2-1-1 for assistance.
Halfway through its 90-day service period, the first round of disbursements -- $7.5 million to 28 organizations -- has quickly lifted many lives:
- 75,884 households have received basic items such as food, clothing and hygiene products
- 3,553 households have received case management services
- 2,464 households have received direct financial assistance
- 1,123 households received home repair or housing services
- 432 households have received furniture
The assistance has produced many touching stories. Here is one.
“Joyce is 89. She lives off her deceased husband’s railroad retirement pension so she manages her funds very carefully. When Harvey hit, she was forced out of her home due to several feet of standing water. She has been living with her son and daughter-in-law. Construction contractors told her she would be scheduled to move home a few weeks ago but that didn't happen because there were things that still needed to be done at the house. Joyce had made a list of items she needed to replace in her home for when she goes back. When she came to West Houston Assistance Ministries for assistance, WHAM told her that it was her lucky day because it had Walmart and Kroger gift cards for individuals affected by Harvey. This definitely made her day and will help her save her pension funds for other things she needs.”
Mayor Turner and Judge Emmett turned over administration of the fund to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a highly efficient, proven and deeply community minded grant-making organization, and created a board to provide oversight of the distribution of hurricane relief funds. The board is co-chaired by Turner appointee Tony Chase, a civic activist and businessman, and Emmett appointee Bill Jackson, the county budget director.
- Written by Community Reports
The Lake Houston Musical Arts Society, which supports the Kingwood Big Band and the Kingwood Chorale, invites the public to attend two fall concerts free of charge. Many of the performers, supporters and advertisers were directly affected by the flooding and the indirect impact on those who were not flooded has taken an immense toll as well.
Donations will be accepted at the concerts with 100 percent going to the Lake Houston Area Relief Fund, a charity recently formed by Insperity, Somebody Cares Humble, Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, Humble Area Assistance Ministries, the Tribune Newspapers and other community leaders. Insperity will match up to $1 million for all contributions made to the LHA Relief Fund.
The Kingwood Big Band will perform Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Strawbridge United Methodist Church, 5629 Kingwood Dr.
The Kingwood Chorale will perform “Calm after the Storm: Songs of Hope and Healing” on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Kingwood, 5520 Kingwood Dr., and Sunday, Nov. 19, at 7 p.m. at Atascocita United Methodist Church, 19325 Pinehurst Trail Dr., Humble. For information, visit LHMAS.org or call 832-779-1492.
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