HOUSTON — County officials in the Houston area have decided to spend $20 million to purchase more than 200 homes flooded during Hurricane Harvey.
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to use the funds to speed up the buyout process, the Houston Chronicle reported . The county typically waits months to receive funds from federal grants.
“We want to get to the people sooner rather than later,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “We’re taking a more active stance.”
The plan involves purchasing homes in the flood plain in unincorporated areas that were heavily damaged in the storm. Harvey dropped more than 50 inches of rain across the county, flooding an estimated 136,000 structures and causing billions of dollars in damage.
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Many homeowners in the area have yet to move back into their damaged homes or begin costly repairs.
Officials aim to complete some home purchases by the end of October. The effort is part of the county’s goal to buy and demolish about 3,300 homes that sit at least 2 feet below the flood plain.
If homeowners in the targeted areas refuse to sell, county regulations require they raise their homes more than a foot above the base flood level.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg of what needs to be done,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and co-director of Rice University’s center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters.
The county and other jurisdictions will likely conduct more buyouts in Harvey’s wake, Emmett said.
County officials said they hope to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or another federal or state agency.
FEMA is also looking into ways to speed up the buyout process, said FEMA spokesman Peter Herrick.
The Commissioners Court asked the federal government for $17 million earlier this month to purchase more than 100 homes that are at high risk of flooding, based on data from 2015 and 2016. The county likely won’t see those funds until next year.