Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast and poured historic amounts of rain over the Houston area. In the year since, displaced Texans have turned to local, state and federal agencies for help rebuilding their lives. Where do recovery efforts stand, and what are those agencies' long-term plans for getting neighborhoods and towns back on their feet?
At a Texas Tribune event in Houston on Thursday, four public servants looked to answer those questions: Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush; Marvin Odum, chief recovery officer for the city of Houston; Traci Brasher, recovery division director for FEMA Region 6; and Beth Van Duyne, regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The panel was moderated by the Tribune's urban affairs reporter, Brandon Formby.
What was different about Hurricane Harvey?
Besides the enormous amount of rain, virtually all panelists agreed that Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida, and Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, affected the state's recovery process even though neither directly impacted Texas because FEMA and other federal agencies had to share their personnel and other resources. “You’ll see many people that have been supporting Harvey unfortunately having to go to another event and people from that event having to come to Harvey,” Brasher said.
What's next for hurricane recovery in Texas?
In short, more federally funded, locally administered programs. After the storm, Gov. Greg Abbott tasked Bush's General Land Office with running short-term housing programs and supervising long-term recovery. Panelists agreed this system has made the recovery process quicker and more efficient
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Van Duyne said the number of agencies involved in disaster recovery can lead to a problem of "too many cooks in the kitchen": “All of them want to have a say in what happens, and they should. From the federal perspective, is to try to empower at the most local level possible. You don’t want — especially in Texas — you don’t want D.C. coming in and telling you what your recovery is gonna look like.”
Odum told the audience that the Houston area needs a "regional mitigation flood blueprint" — a set of plans for preventing flooding in the next 10, 20 and 30 years — but to get that, Texas would need funding from federal lawmakers. After that plan goes into place, "we can have a rational discussion about how important this area is to the country."