As he ramps up his re-election campaign, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush is taking hits over his handling of housing-relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Four months after Harvey flooded out tens of thousands of homes in Houston and the Coastal Bend, work has been completed on just two residences under a program called Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair (DALHR).
And no homes have been repaired through another program, Partial Repair and Essential Power for Sheltering (PREPS).
Compare that record to the experience in neighboring Louisiana, where the city of Baton Rouge was deluged by 30 inches of rain in August 2016.
Tapping a variety of local, state, and federal sources, officials in the Cajun State coordinated repairs of 4,333 storm-damaged homes in the first 60 days of recovery. After 90 days, work on 7,786 homes was completed. At the 120-day mark, the number of repaired residences stood at 10,017, according to a state website.
Bush has blamed a slow-moving bureaucracy at the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Texas’s staggering start. Yet Louisiana, defying its reputation as a backwater of corruption and inefficiency, managed the FEMA machinery while engaging additional relief programs.
Jerry Patterson — a former three-term Texas Land Commissioner who is challenging Bush in a four-way Republican primary — is using the issue as a bully pulpit as 894,414 state residents sit on waiting lists for Harvey-related assistance.
“So far, $1.5 billion has been spent putting up Harvey victims in hotels. Maybe if the General Land Office had not waited four months to implement PREPS and DALHR, folks would’ve made it back home, and taxpayers would’ve saved a boatload of money,” Patterson said.
GLO spokeswoman Brittany Eck confirmed last week that only two residences had been repaired through DALHR and none through PREPS. She said 15,027 displaced Texans are currently residing in 1,334 hotels.
The Land Office says 670 Texas families have received direct housing help by landing a trailer or manufactured homes.
As of mid-December, 8,057 Harvey survivors in the state still showed a need for a trailer or manufactured home and 2,600 of them remained under review for DAHLR aid.
“Harvey victims still living in tents along the coast are, at least in part, victims of a politician’s desire to look good for the next election by being a ‘small-government Republican,’” Patterson charged.
Patterson added: “Within six months of Commissioner Bush taking office, 12 experienced hands of the GLO Disaster Recovery office had been fired, or quit, knowing they would soon be fired.”
A Politifact analysis rated Patterson’s findings as “mostly true.”
Bush insists that the feds are the holdup.
“Just to give you a small anecdote, we had 150 empty trailers that were available on the private markets to either rent or lease that we could bring evacuees to,” Bush told a House committee in Corpus Christi this month. “But because of restrictions placed on us by FEMA, we were unable to transport the evacuees into these assets.”
Rockport Mayor C.J. Wax agreed that federal bureaucracy was slowing the Texas recovery.
While noting that about 150 local families had been relocated by the GLO into housing at RV parks or had trailers placed on their property, Wax said far more people got tired of waiting and found their own relief elsewhere.
Two weeks ago, the GLO signed a contract with H2Bravo Inc., to screen the 70,000 homes FEMA designated as possible candidates for PREPS or DALHR.
H2Bravo began managing Baton Rouge’s relief and repair efforts just weeks after the floods there.
“Here in Texas, a contract wasn’t approved until almost four months after Harvey,” Patterson said. “Four months after the 2016 Baton Rouge floods 10,017 homes were made livable. Here, we’re just getting started.”
Kenric Ward can be reached at [email protected].